Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

2012 in 2012 Challenge

The Sore Foot Medal

The Sore Foot Medal

“I’ve done it! Yeah!”

I announced this to my walking group at the end of class the other night, and my friends came around to congratulate me. They all knew what was going on. For me, it was also a first in my life–I walked 2012 Km in 2012!

In January this year, many of us committed ourselves to this 2012 in 2012 Challenge initiated by our walking coach Lee Scott and our goal was to walk 2012 Km in the year 2012. The only rule was to exclude walking indoors (except for treadmill training), and walking from the car park to the shops or to the office. The idea was to power walk, or at least walk briskly enough to bring our heart rates up to achieve some health benefits. Hiking was acceptable too.

The Challenge started on January 1, 2012 and ended on December 22, 2012. Translated into actual walking routine, we were aiming for a weekly distance of 42 Km, and a monthly total of 167.76 Km. As ongoing reinforcement, we sent in our mileage at the end of each month, and the names of people who had walked 167.76 Km were entered into a draw for a gift.  We also received a gift coupon for shoes or clothing at the 800 Km and 1600 Km mark. By the end of November, some of us have reached the goal of 2012 Km. Several of us were still working hard. Due to my travelling earlier in the year, I was still walking in December. I knew I would do it, and that I could do it too.

During the year, I won a monthly draw and I loved the cap, the mitts, the shoe laces and a log book I received. I also bought shoes and clothing with my 800 Km and 1600 Km coupons.

The big day was our end of year walk that our head coach had  organized to bring people together to celebrate our achievements over coffee, tea and hot cider, as well as muffins and cookies. We gathered at Sovereign House, a building belonging to the Bronte Historical Society and ceremoniously walked 8 Km.

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Those of us who completed the challenge were awarded The Sore Foot Medal (see above) for keepsake. It was a lovely way to end the year in which I learned that my perseverance to walk 2012 Km has improved my fitness and maintained my weight. Challenge or no challenge in the coming year, I am already committed to leading a healthy lifestyle and to continue with my hiking and power walking!

Cheer Leading At The Boxing Day 10-Miler, Hamilton

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Who would like to participate in a race on Boxing Day?  There were over 800 runners and walkers out there in Hamilton, Ontario to take part in the Boxing Day 10-Miler, organized by the Harriers. Races in Hamilton had a long history, and this race was in its 92nd year. Three Olympic runners also signed up for this race.  I had chosen to  support my running and walking friends, including my husband by cheering in the race, and I could enjoy the race from a different perspective.

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It had snowed the night before, and the temperature was minus 1 degree Centigrade when the race started. There was a head wind giving a wind chill of minus 10 degrees Centigrade. The Start Line was on Hunter Street, next to the GO Station. The organizers were supportive of a walking division and gave the walkers a half-hour early start.

After seeing my husband and other power walkers off, I walked down to Bay Street in the city centre, bought myself a coffee and waited for the runners to come by. The police cruiser led the way for the front pack who took off way ahead of the others.

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The route was familiar to me since my walking buddies and I often trained on this route. At the end of Bay Street, the race course turned into the trail along the Lake to Princess Point. The racers would go up a hill of 500 metres (Longwood Drive), went through Westdale and turned up another hill at the Chedoke Golf Course to walk along the Niagara Escarpment  (I took this photo during our training walk last week.)

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After cheering the runners past, I walked back towards the Finish Line. What a change of weather we had, and this morning, the streets were wet and slippery. I took a picture from the bottom of the hill–up there in the background was the trail on the Escarpment and the racers would come down this hill, knowing that they were close to the finish, because literally, it’s all downhill from here.

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The route passed the back of the Hamilton City Hall.

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Further downhill and the GO station came into sight.

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Around the corner was the Finish Line, and there I was fortunate enough to get this candid shot of the snow plow clearing a path to lead to the Finish.

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I was well in time to see the first runner come in and it was a strong finish of 51:42, given the not so favourable climate and route today. Look at the awesome form the athlete maintained at the end of the race:

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I waited for my husband and my friends to come in, and we all enjoyed the generous treat of hot soup, fruits and cup cakes inside the YMCA building.

The finishers were awarded a snowman medal (so cute!), and there were really nice souvenirs available for the race this year. All the people I cheered on enjoyed the race in spite of the weather. Maybe I should contemplate walking it next year.

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Cookies for Christmas

When the children are old enough to bake, they become such a great help at Christmas time. We have eight     different kinds of cookies with contributions from my daughters and myself. We have been treating ourselves to these goodies since Christmas Eve, and on this Christmas Day, they will be placed nicely in platters to serve to relatives when they come around.

I enjoy the good food and the good cheer at Christmas, and my motto is: Indulge and then work out!

A Christmas Messiah at Knox Presbyterian Church

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The very fact that a church choir of about 30 vocalists can showcase a concert to the public of Handel’s Messiah is a testament of the calibre of its singers and their choir director. I am speaking of the Senior Choir of Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Toronto. After I had purchased tickets for The Messiah in Burlington with the Brott Music Festival 2012, my daughter invited me and my husband to the Messiah performed at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto. I cannot be more thrilled with my second live performance of this beautiful oratorio composition this Christmas season.

The Knox Presbyterian Church was built in early 1900 and the Church officially moved to this site in 1909. The architecture of the building encompasses the simplicity yet decorative splendour of the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival style.

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I looked around: the beautiful vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows, the beautiful Casavant organ and the Christmas wreathes. I felt ready to enjoy The Messiah.

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The evening began with a short worship with prayers and hymns, which we sang to the accompaniment of the the orchestra. The Handbell Ensemble of the church gave a performance of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.The bells came in different sizes and the players sometimes switched bells to ring out the right notes with impressive agility.

The programme included reading of commentaries in between the recitatives and arias of the Messiah. The texts were based on the book entitled Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Dr. Kariano DiGangi, a former minister of the Church. I had not come across the book before; I liked the comforting and reassuring words. The choir delivered beautifully. I want to single out the duet for Alto (Chelsea Sauer) and Soprano (Anna Casurella) in He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd. The vocalists sang with professional calibre and their voices were so compatible with each other that their parts coalesce into one duet. Choir Director Roger Bergs conducted from the harpsichord. This certainly was a feat, especially the instrumentalists were guests invited to form the orchestra, and it was understandable that on the odd occasion the coherence of the choir impressed more than the orchestra.

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Only half of the Messiah was presented, and the concert ended with the chorus Life Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates and the Hallelujah Chorus. It was an evening of a musical as well as spiritual journey. After a short prayer and the hymn The First Noel, we left the church and walked into the winter night, ready to welcome Christmas.

It was also announced that the Easter portion of the Messiah would be performed next Spring. I will mark the date on my calendar.

KnoxDay     Knox Presbyterian Church, 630 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

Walking on Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice arrived in Canada on Friday, December 21 at 6:10 a.m EST this year. Snow was in the forecast, but when I woke up this morning, the ground was only slightly wet from last night’s rain. I had planned for a walk before the poor weather set in.  It was a cool morning and still dark when I headed out.  When I arrived at Princess Point of Cootes Paradise in Hamilton, the first winter sun was beginning to rise.

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I had not walked on this trail for a while and one thing that I distinctly noticed was a much bigger beaver dam. This was a feature I noticed earlier in the year on the Desjardins Recreation Trail. It was evident that the beaver and its family were not only around, but were making their home bigger with the unfortunate result of damaging the vegetation on the trail.

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As I continued on, I was surprised to see the ducks still out. Like me, they were probably taking advantage of the weather to have another workout before winter set in. I guess on my next walk, the water will be frozen.

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My walk this morning took me to Hamilton Yacht Club, and this was where I turned around.

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I have felt refreshed after my walk and both body and mind are ready to enjoy Christmas with its festivities and socialization. I often feel hopeful on the day of Winter Solstice. Tonight will be the longest night. After tonight, the day will begin to get shorter and this is certainly worth looking forward to.

Ristorante Julia: Dining “LataLiano”

My friends who lived in Oakville, Ontario recommended me to take my out-of-town friends to dine at Julia. The moment I opened the website of the restaurant, I was attracted to the Latin music in the background. “Latialiano”–this was how the website described the type of cuisine. We decided to give this “sensuous and savory Traditional Italian cuisine with exotic and fiery New Latin cuisine” a try.

The restaurant had a warm ambience, but the decor was neither Italian nor Latin, albeit Latin music was playing in the background.

(Source: torontorestaurants.com)

We ordered four different starters to sample. The Crab and Salmon Cakes came with a very generous helping of salad.

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The Crab Dip was delicious with the corn tortilla, yucca chips and grilled flour tortilla.

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The mussels chimichurri was aromatic and could easily be shared by two.

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So was the Latin skillet shrimp which has a tasty sauce with lime, garlic and oregano.

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For entree, two of us opted for the braised ribs, which was tender and tasty.

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The sweet potato crusted salmon for the two fish lovers was nicely presented and seared just right.

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We were quite full by the end of the meal and decided not to have desserts. Service was attentive and friendly. For the price, we had very generous helpings. The food was very good, although we felt that we were unable to pinpoint exactly what was meant by Latin-Italiano cuisine and the description of the food being ‘sensuous’ in the website was missing in the tasting.

Ristorante Julia, 312 Lakeshore Road East, Oakvile, Ontario.

Julia's Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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The Messiah with the Brott Music Festival 2012

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I like Handel’s Messiah. Not a Christmas will go by without my listening to the Messiah at home (and I listen to it at other times of the year too) or at a concert venue. My Messiah treat this year was with Boris Brott’s National Academy Orchestra and the Arcady Singers.

It was held at the Burlington Performing Art Centre (BPAC), which had just turned one year old. This concert  also gave me an opportunity to experience the concert hall for the first time.

Brott’s National Acdemy Orchestra always maintains an excellent standard when they perform. With the Messiah, Brott put together an orchestra of 17 instrumentalists—mainly strings, with a harpsichord and organ, percussion and a couple of trumpets—to complement the Arcady Singers with its 30 or so vocalists. This moderate force was ideal for the concert hall which sat about 700 people, and gave an awakening contrast to the mega forces of orchestras and choirs of almost 200 strength which seemed to be the selling point of many Messiah performances these days. In fact, when Handel wrote the Messiah, it was intended to be played and sung by a moderate size orchestra and choir. The piece was also performed as such in the past.

I can fully appreciate the beauty of the performance sitting in the middle of the BPAC hall. The soloists were not just performing; they were communicating to the audience, who also became involved, as opposed to watching from an aloof corner of a huge concert hall. The soloists also brought along their individual styles besides their tonal range and colours. I like to think of the soloists as story-tellers in the Messiah. They are relating to the audience the story of Jesus from the prophecy of his coming, his life, to his resurrection. Janet Obermeyer (soprano) sang with well-controlled grace and credibility. She was so at ease with her recitatives and arias that she appeared to be confiding the story to the audience from her heart. Lauren Segal (mezzo soprano) gave her performance an operatic touch. There was drama in her facial expressions and voice. (It was also interesting to read in the programme notes that Ms Segal had a Masters degree in Physics.)  Daivd Curry (tenor) sang his part with clarity and energy, while Jason Howard (baritone) charmed the audience with his sincerity.

In the second part of the concert, the orchestra was joined by the brasses. The solo trumpet player gave a brilliant performance. I was anticipating the high notes, and he totally delivered them! Three notes into the introduction of the Hallelujah chorus, the audience rose to their feet. The surprise of the evening was when Maestro Brott turned towards the audience and conducted them to sing along with the choir. This really made my evening. I had always thought that a sing-along Messiah would be fun, and this was indeed a great start for me.

I left the concert hall feeling content and happy. I cannot find a better word to describe the feeling after the heart-warming and joyful music of Handel. I think my experience has been enhanced by the BPAC concert hall with its excellent acoustic and comfortable seating. I already like the place when I enter the door, looking up to the very tall ceiling, glass windows, and a spacious foyer. It is designed with the interest of the environment in mind. The architects, Diamond & Schmitt, also design the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre in Toronto, La Maison Symphonique in Montreal and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersberg, Russia. I also want to add that the lower boxes of the concert hall are fully accessible, and patrons in wheelchairs can sit in the boxes, where the armchairs are movable.

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The Burlington Performing Arts Centre, 440 Locust Street, Burlington, Ontarrio.    www.burlingtonpac.ca

References       http://www.lancette-arts-journal.ca/feature26.htm

Weekly Photo Challenge: DELICATE

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“Delicate” reminds me of our ecosystem, how fragile and delicate it is. This is a photo of the Mai Po Reedbed, taken on my visit to Mai Po Nature Reserve, which is situated in the northwestern Hong Kong, near the estuary of Shun Chun River in China. Mai Po assumes international significance because of its wetland, which is also listed as a Ramsar site. Mai Po Nature Reserve has been under the management of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Hong Kong) since 1983.

Mai Po is haven to over 380 species of bird– especially migratory birds– among which 35 are of global concern. Besides birds, Mai Po is also home to other life forms that can survive the salinity of the water. On my tour of the reserve centre, I have seen the shrimp ponds (gei wai), numerous rarely sighted species of birds, and several species of local trees. Mai Po is like an oasis in the concrete jungle of a skyscraper city.

Let this photo of a Great Egret perching alone on the mangrove remind us how delicate our environment is. At a distance, the city is encroaching upon us. We must work together to preserve our ecosystem.

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Book Club Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I was travelling and could not attend my last book club meeting, and so it was with great anticipation that I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for the following  meeting on my return. It was a book I enjoyed reading, particularly because I found out a lot about the German occupation of Guernsey Island during World War II, and it was a page that had been missing in my world history textbook.

Our host began with a more general question: What is your most favourite and least favourite character?   Elizabeth McKenna was the first named, because she was liked by all the characters (except Adelaide Addison) in the book and everyone had something interesting to say about her. Another person our group liked was the heroine Juliet Ashton, who was forthcoming with her feelings and her thoughts. I picked Isola Pribby, because I found her feisty and forthright. There was consensus regarding the least likable characters and it was Mark Reynold, and Adelaide came in close too.

Two book club members were born in Holland and they had much to share regarding what they had heard from their parents and families about the experience of the Dutch under German occupation in World War II. They helped us relate to the hardship and fear the characters in the book had lived through. They said that  rubber tires were removed from bicycles and people cycled on the bare frames. The mother of one person hid cheeses under her clothes, because if they had met a German soldier and he did not like them for whatever reasons, the cheese could have been confiscated. It was also interesting that the family of one member from England had sheltered a children from the city, and again, it made the experience of  Eben Ramsy’s and his grandson more real. It was also brought up that Remy’s story of the concentration camp gave perspective to what the women had gone through in France, since earlier  in the year, we read about concentration camp life in Auschwitz in Man’s Search for Meaning. I never heard of ‘todt’ (the slave in the book, and In German, it means death) until I read this book.

We liked the various surprises in the plot, such as Sydney being gay and the betrayal by Bobbie Gee. By contrast, the ending was too fairy-tale like, and not to everyone’s liking. It was attributed to the fact that probably it was the second author taking over and the onus was on her to give a quick conclusion to the story. Nonetheless, there was fair treatment of the misreading and misunderstanding of feelings among the characters– Dawsey, Juliet, Mark, Sydney and Remy– throughout the book. This helped with character development and adds to the readers’ enjoyment.

Isola made a remark in the book that reading a good book spoiled one’s enjoyment of reading a bad one. This prompted our discussion of what we looked for in a good book. We all had the experience of turning the pages through a formulaic novel. I smiled to myself, “Chick Lit!”  Individual expectations and criteria varied. Some looked for style, some looked for a good story, or interesting characters.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has succeeded in revealing the different personalities of the individual characters who penned the letters. When I compare it with other letter-writing novels I have read, I think it pales standing beside 84 Charing Cross Road and the Griffin and Sabine Trilogy. It does not have the refined subtlety dealing with emotions as in 84 Charing Cross Road, or the intense mystique and power of Griffin and Sabine. Nevertheless, it stands on its own as a good book and an enjoyable read. in fact, I found myself laughing out loud in the beginning reading Juliet’s letters. She is lively and humorous. It is always healthy to read a lighter book in between the viscerally or cerebrally demanding ones.

We digressed into talking how we missed the experience of letter writing and the anticipation of receiving letters now that email had taken over, although some of us still wrote letters and sent them through email. We lamented, “Who would bother about pen-pals when social media on the internet has taken over?” To me,  Writing a letter and addressing it to an individual (and this certainly rule out blogging) is personal and private. It is a unique media to express and share one’s thoughts and feelings.  I certainly hope that letter writing will not become a lost art.

The Interconnecting Trails in Dundas Valley

The first thing I noticed when I set foot on McCormack Trail in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area this morning was the snow from overnight on the fallen trees trunks. It was a good reminder that before too long, we would be hiking with our snow tracks. The McCormack Trail was a gentle trail which went through open fields and it had an incline at the top of which, we could enjoy the panoramic view of Hamilton.

Flanking the roadside and meadows were goldenrods which had turned silvery white.

After doing a loop on the McCormack Trail, we took up part of the Main Loop of the Bruce Trail, and hiked on the John White Trails, joined the Sawmill Trail before ending our hike from Spring Creek Trail after hiking for 14 Km.

The fun of hiking in Dundas Valley was that the trails with mostly interconnected and under the guidance of an experienced hike leader, we could customized our distances. Today we returned to the Trail Centre of the conservation area from the back, just a different view from the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail. 

King’s Cafe: Vegetarian Dining in Kensington Market

King’s Cafe meets the need of the Chinese food lovers and the vegetarian food lovers. (Interestingly, although it serves Chinese food, the restaurant does not have a Chinese name, like the ones in Chinatown nearby). The answer becomes clear when we enter the restaurant. It is obvious that this restaurant has successfully fit into the Kensington Market milieu and its multi-cultural clientele. The ambiance is simple, but refreshing. Soft music plays in the background. The atmosphere is very inviting. At one corner, there is a display of an assortment of tea and vegetarian products and they are also for sale.

The menu included sushi, dim sum, rice and noodles, and a good selection of entrees. We ordered a fried rice, and four main courses to share. The rice arrived first. The rice was light and not greasy, and added ingredients such as goji berries, endame and dried bean curd enhanced both the texture and the taste of this dish.

When the Veggie Duck with Plum Sauce was served, the aroma of the plum sauce heightened my appetite. Vegetarian Chinese cuisine always name the dishes after the meat it intends to imitate. The appearance and texture of this veggie duck could easily be passed for the real McCoy. The bite of the gluten “duck” was crispy, just like the skin of the roast duck.

The Sweet ‘N Sour Lappa also gave the appearance of deep-fried ribs in sweet and sour sauce in an non-vegetarian menu. Essentially, burdock balls were coated with flour, deep-fried and coated with the sauce, and sesame seeds.

The Sizzling Eggplant came in a hot-pot. Other ingredients included bean curd, carrots and basil leaves. Other than the fact that the sauce was a little thick, this was another aromatic offering!

The taro hot-pot had a lot of interesting ingredients such as cabbage, peas, carrots, dried bean curd and imitation Spam.

The food was so delicious that after we finished all the fried rice, we ordered more steamed rice to scope up the dishes. If you happen to be in the Kensington Market area, do consider trying out Kings’s Cafe.

King’s Cafe, 192 Augusta Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

King's Café on Urbanspoon

The Art of Feng Zikai (Hong Kong Museum of Art 2)

I came across the cartoon of Feng Zikai (1898-1975) when I was growing up and I was only too happy to see that there was an exhibition of his works at the Hong Kong Museum of Art on my recent visit. “Imperishable Affection” was the title of the exhibition. It was probably the largest exhibition of the work of Feng with contributions from his family and friends, collectors, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in China.

There were two themes in the Exhibition: “Creating a World of Compassion” and “Cultivating Life and Soul”. The exhibits revealed Feng’s philosophy on his artistic creation, and his beliefs as a person living through a turbulent period in Chinese history. They also reflected the transition of the artist’s style and subject matter in response to changes in the social milieu.

Feng called his works cartoons, but unlike modern-day cartoons which were created to entertain or to satirize, he described his cartoons to be reflective, in that they serve as a record of what and how he felt. He picked his subject matter from the ordinary people he met in the street and events happening around him. His drawings were as much works of art as they were cartoons. His earlier works had a more traditional flavour–he studied Chinese painting with his teacher, Li Shutong, who also had a profound influence in his Buddhist belief. His inspiration came from Chinese poetry. His style then became more a hybrid of Chinese and western painting, and his black and white drawings were akin charcoal sketches and wood-block printing.

His lines were simple and neat. Under the theme “Creating a World of Compassion”, with a few deft strokes, his caring concerns for everything that has life were reflected by his plea not to kill.

On a more positive note, his also had several painting to encourage the love of nature and care for the environment.

His nationalism and his dislike for the Sino-Japanese War were behind a series of cartoons calling for support for the soldiers, but his humanism shone through in the painting depicting as solider playing an er wu, a traditional Chinese instrument,  and entitled “War and Music”.

Under the theme of  “Cultivating Life and Soul”, his paintings of children, family life, and ordinary people he came across came to life in a few poignant strokes.

Even without showing much facial features, he captured the pleasure of having one’s ears cleaned by another person in one cartoon, and in another, the sense of excitement of a child dragging a elderly lady with bound feet along, and the title of the painting was “The Gongs and Drums Are Sounding”.

It was a comprehensive exhibition of the art and the artist’s message. There was a lot to learn and to see in the exhibits. Feng Zikai’s style is iconic and unmatched by other artists in his genre.

It is all accolade to Feng about his influence on modern Chinese art today. However, through his trials and tribulations, Feng was labelled an intellectual, and he was ridiculed and denounced during the Cultural Revolution in 1966, even to the time of his death in 1975. He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1978. The same Communist government which had politically persecuted him then turned around to promote him and his art.

Feng’s integrity remained unwavering throughout his life. He continued to draw to extol compassion and humanity. His affection for Life and Humanity never died. He eschewed propaganda; and yet, after his death, was he being used as a tool for propaganda? This would be such an irony.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: REFLECTIONS

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I came across this bridge when I was walking northbound by the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa. I was approaching Sussex Drive and I turned around and saw this bridge. I took this photo, and when I looked at it afterwards, it evoked an emotional connection in me to Money’s The Bridge at Giverny. I distinctively remembered one painting in which Money painted a reflection. I am not a photographer and this is no Monet. However, the emotional association is always fascinating. I wonder if you feel anything similar?

I also find this picture among my album and I think it is interesting that the reflections define the shapes of the leaves more aesthetically than the actual plants.

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This is a candid shot I have captured walking along a boardwalk crossing the swamp before that it leads to the sand dunes on Prince Edward Island. This is an ecologically sensitive area. I am pleased that it has been preserved very well.