Caturday Thoughts – Greater Heat dà shǔ 大暑 Jul 23

Bright white sun over hillscapeDàshǔ 大暑, or Taisho in Japanese, Daeseo in Korean, or Đại thử in Vietnamese is the 12th solar term. It refers in particular to the day  the Sun is at the celestial longitude of 120°. In the Gregorian calendar, it will begin this year on July 23 and end around 7 August.

During Major Heat, most parts of China enter the hottest season of the year. During Major Heat, the sunshine, high temperatures, and heavy rainfall promote rapid growth in agricultural crops. But like Minor Heat, many natural calamities such as floods, droughts and typhoons also happen during Major Heat. Therefore, the timing of harvest and planting is critical to avoid setbacks caused by natural disasters. This is especially true in parts of China where two rice crops are planted. People have to harvest the early season rice and plant the late season rice at the right time. The early season rice must be harvested before the thunderstorm wind and rain can knock down the ripened grain heads. The planting of the late season rice should be done before the end of July, so it gets a good start and has a better chance of producing a good crop. In the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang River, the Major Heat is a time of summer droughts. There is a saying in this region which goes “The rain in Minor Heat is as precious as silver; while the rain in Major Heat is as precious as gold.” These people have to respond energetically to dry spells with irrigation.

This is the hottest time of the year. There is a saying about Major Heat that says “There is no gentleman in Minor Heat and Major Heat.” It means that people have to take off their clothes due to the extreme heat without worrying about losing face. Keeping cool is a major focus.

In Taizhou, Zhejiang province there is a famous celebration during Major Heat. It is a folk tradition spanning hundreds of years. The Major Heat ship is a boat sea filled with various sacrifices of food and other items. More than 50 fishermen take turns carrying the ship as they march through the streets toward the sea. Drums are played and fireworks are lit. Both sides of the street are filled with people praying for blessings. After a set of special ceremonies, the ship is brought to the wharf, launched into the water and towed out of the fishing port and burned at sea. People believe this ritual will bring good harvests and health.

Elaborate laquer Meiji era cricket holder and carrier

By Rauantiques [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], Via Wikimedia Commons

Major Heat is a season with the largest number of crickets which are found and collected in the fields out in the countryside. Cricket fighting is a popular pastime for some country people in China during this period. The custom dates back more than 1,000 years to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Some people just keep the crickets in bamboo or other cages to listen to their “music”. This too has a long and elaborate history. Even the Imperial family kept crickets as pets and old cricket cages are now collectible antiques.Keeping and fighting crickets was also popular in Japan for many centuries.

Major Heat has it’s customary foods, as with the other solar terms. The custom of eating litchi fruits, which are really refreshing and in season at this time is widespread. Litchi is a nutritious fruit containing glucose and vitamins. People usually soak litchi in cold well water first before eating it. People believe litchi during Major Heat is as nourishing as ginseng. In Putian, Fujian province, one of the customs is that on the day of Major Heat, people cook mizao with brown sugar. Mizao is made of fermented rice. It is believed it can reinforce the vital energy of the human body. The custom in southern Shandong province is to drink mutton soup on the day of Major Heat. Many people go to local restaurants to get this special soup, which is called “summer mutton soup.”

Can of grass jelly drinkIn Taiwan the saying goes “the thing to eat in Major Heat is pineapples.” During this period they are at their best. In Guangdong, however, their saying is,  “eating grass jelly in Major Heat will keep you youthful just like the the immortals.”

Grass jelly, “Xiancaodong” in Chinese, is made by boiling the aged and slightly oxidized stalks and leaves of Platostoma palustre with potassium carbonate for several hours with a little starch and then cooling the liquid to a jelly-like consistency. This jelly can be cut into cubes or other forms, and then mixed with syrup to produce a drink or dessert thought to have cooling yin properties. The jelly itself is fragrant, with a smoky undertone,[4] and is a translucent dark brown, sometimes perceived to be black. Food coloring may sometimes be added to make it darker. It is served chilled, with other toppings such as fruit, or in bubble tea or other drinks.  It is often difficult to find grass jelly on it’s own but there are many brands of grass jelly drink available in the United States in Asian groceries. It comes in cans and when chilled thoroughly it is cooling but it in no way reaches the goodness of the fresh product. This is too bad because it really does help to cool you in Major Heat.

Sun through bushes with reflectedglare

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Friday Files

I usually think of Friday as my “day off”. Today was not, however. I actually spent an hour in the yard working on the overgrowth. A rue plant the lawn man had mowed over is coming back so I cleared away the C reeping Charlie that was trying to smother it and put some mulch around it. This is how we indicate (hopefully) NOT to mow. I attached an extended to the downspot of the gutter to move water away from the foundation. I collected dried trimmings from the bushes into a pile and picked the blackberries that were ripe. While it was neither overpoweringly hot or humid, the sun was intense. I have noticed that over the years the sun has been increasingly intense but until recently people dismissed my observations. Now the weather reports consistently report high UV numbers. The UV wavelength is the one that sunburns you and triggers skin cancer. So an hour was enough until the sun gets low in the sky.

Before that I spent the morning scraping paint, sweeping up paint scrapings and then scraping and sweeping again. When the muscles required for that (mostly forearm muscles)got tired I stated banging the wrecking bark against the volcanic rock drywall, alternating with scraping and prying the rotten bits of the subfloor. It is very slow work and discouraging.

So when the little outside cat Midnight came around to sit on the porch and jerk Charli’s chain, I went out with some crunchies for him. While he crunched his bits and took some sun on the porch I started in on the yard. Eventually he shot off in pursuit of some unseen thing and I continued until I felt me skin getting hot.

I came in and fixed some lunch and then went back to catching up on writing. Hopefully if I section the day into chunks I can eventually catch up and keep up with all off it.The late afternoon is actually the hottest part of the day and even the active Cloud sleeps through most of it.

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Minor Heat 小暑 Xiǎoshǔ Jul 7

White sun against gold sky over black outline of treesOn July 7th we entered the solar term of Xiǎoshǔ, or Shōsho in Japanese,  Soseo in Korean, and or Tiểu thử  in Vietnamese. It is the 11th solar term of the year, beginning when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 105°. In the western calendar it usually begins around 7 July and ends around 22 July . Minor Heat actually signifies the hottest period is coming but has not yet arrived.

In China, the 24 solar terms were created thousands of years ago to guide agricultural production. However, the solar term culture is still useful today to guide people’s lives. There are special foods, ceremonies and healthy living tips that correspond with each term. The terms also describe the weather and climate during the term. Storms, thunder and hail often happen during Minor Heat, though in some years there might be droughts. One of the prevailing farming activities during Minor Heat is staying on top of flood control and drought relief. The high heat and humidity during this solar term mean most people take time off of work to rest and recuperate. This is also the perfect time, according to traditional Chinese medicine, to purge winter diseases from the body. Here in Virginia we have a had similar weather, bouts of torrential rains with flash flood warnings,  several days of heat and humidity so high the index was above 100F and things began to wither and plenty of intermittent thunderstorms. And my aching ear, sinuses and jaw may be a sign my body is purging itself as I drink plenty of water and juice.

White lotus blossom in water with leaves floating behindIn Minor Heat, the high temperatures are good for the growth of the lotus flower. From Minor Heat to the Double Ninth Festival, the lotus flower is in full bloom, and always simple but elegant. It is always good on hot evenings to sit by a lotus pond and admire the blossoms and feel cooled by the water.

Small statue of child holding jar of firefliesMinor Heat is the season when fireflies begin to rise. Zhu Shuzhen, a woman of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), once described in her famous poem “Summer Fireflies” a happy scene of children playing with fireflies in the woods at night. Another poem about fireflies is “Two Poems about Fireflies” written by Luo Ye of the Tang Dynasty. He has described a beautiful scene of the moss on steps in front of the house which is decorated by thousands of winking lights, actually fireflies.

Minor Heat comes when all kinds of melons are being harvested. One custom in Nanjing, Jiangsu province has to do with enjoying small melons on the day of Minor Heat and having big melons on the day of Major Heat. The small melons are known to us as cantaloupes and the big melons as watermelons.  Dumplings are a traditional food among Chinese for a lot of occasions and when Minor Heat takes away the appetite, dumplings can refresh people’s feelings toward food. I can alway eat dumplings but when it’s really hot I also like summer rolls in the thin, light rice paper with crispy vegetables inside.

Ideal foods to eat during Minor Heat are onion, apricot, chai tea, fennel, and cinnamon. People who often get overheated in the summer can drink mint tea and eat pears, plums, celery, any kind of melon, all green-colored foods, and bitter-tasting foods. Regardless of your body constitution, it’s considered a good idea to get a foot massage or practice meditation during this time, to adjust and rebalance the body, and offset the stress of the weather.

During the Minor Heat period, with the longest amount of sunlight and the strongest sunlight radiation, many families hang their clothes out in the sun for the cleansing and disinfecting power of the sun. It’s a good tie to air out winter blankets and quilts that have been packed away for months and refresh their storage containers with herbs like lavender and artemisia.

Blue lotus blossom with yellow center


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To Do Tsunami

The Great Wave of Kanagawa woodblock print by HokusaiSince closing on the house things have been out of order. I finally got a couple of days to take poor Simba to the crematorium. I thought I was going to catch up on blogging, the classes I was taking and the work on my thesis. But then we had a heat wave of over a week with 100F plus heat index days during which I could not work on my storage, or on the outside of the house or yard, or the upstairs. It was so hot I could barely concentrate and I spent a great deal of time scraping paint because it was fairly light work. I could stop frequently to wipe the sweat off my face and sit in front of the fan. I did finish the short class and got more done on the longer class but not much else. Then last week I started having an ache that jumped from my ear to my sinuses to my upper jaw and back around. On Saturday I made an appointment with Dr. Kim it bothered me so much. It got a little better on Sunday but I still took Tuesday to keep the appointment. He could find nothing wrong and took the opportunity to do a vigorous cleaning, the soreness of which did not evidence until Wednesday, the following day. He gave me a short course of antibiotic on the chance it was a sinus infection, although I had none of the classic symptoms.

Wednesday was the day I had arranged for the estimator to come and look at the joists. I dosed myself with Advil so I could concentrate on the task at hand. The engineer had said there was damage to the joists from wetness. It turns out it looks like the damage came from above, not from dampness in the crawlspace. Since I had only started to clear the damaged subfloor in two small spots he suggested I send him the engineer’s report and pull up the rest of the kitchen floor so they could come back and get a more accurate idea of the extent of the damage. I’ll have to do this before I can get an estimate and figure out financing for the repairs.

Also, it looked like there have been several leaks under the sink over time so I have to remove the plumbing and cabinets to inspect for possible damage. The pipes running into the hot water heater come from about six feet up in the wall and it’s along this wall that there is a lot of rot in the subfloor. I asked the estimator if he thought it might be a good idea to check the sill plate at the bottom of the wall and he said yes, I was right to be concerned about it. He couldn’t figure out from the damage pattern where the wetness had come from. We figured it was an old plumbing or hot water heater leak in the past that nobody had bothered to check for wetness in the structure before replacing the heater.  So the sheetrock has to come off this wall, too. By now my list is becoming a bit overwhelming, a to-do tsunami.

I spent the rest of the day after the estimator left working on the kitchen demolition. This is not classes or blogging or working n my websites, the things I also need to catch up on. And it’s not easy either. It’s not like those television shows where they start in with sledge hammers, an example the estimator was very disparaging of. I’m still living in this house. for one thing, and I don’t want to hit the wrong thing inside the walls, either, like pipes or electrical wiring. This sheetrock is not like the modern stuff. It’s more like the volcanic rock I dealt with in geology class. If you hit it with a hammer it won’t break but if I try to pry it from the studs it just crumbles around the edge of the wrecking bar and I can’t get any lift. This is going to be a nasty job.

After making the appointment with the estimator I had gone to Harbour Freight and got a great big wrench, among other tools, this to tackle the undersink plumbing. After spending yesterday on the wall I decided to tackle the plumbing and cabinet. I thought this would be fairly straightforward because it’s these modern plastic pipes, but nooo, the ring fasteners would not budge. The U-Joint could not be gotten off and I actually heard the metal of the sink creak as it began to flex. I tried the wrench on various connections and finally, by putting my full weight behind it the connection for the right hand sink loosened up. Then I had no leverage for the rest of it as it angled diagonally back into the wall. Eventually I got the whole assembly to unscrew from the pipe going into the wall. By this time my shoulders and back were aching and I was wet and dirty but it was progress.

Beginning of a powder avalanche

By Scientif38 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Not so with the cabinets. These are old fashioned solid wood cabinets. I really want to take them out without wrecking them so I can reinstall them as workspace in the spare room, but they are as solid as the Great Pyramid. I managed only to get a strip of trim off the base at one end. I took up all the idiot stick on tiles around the base and can’t for the life of me see where it’s fastened to the floor. I guess I am going to have to saw it apart and reconstruct it all later. This started off small but is now building up to something much larger and less manageable like an avalanche which just might bury me in to-dos.

Closeup of overgrown yards with plants and bushes against fenceMeanwhile the alternating high temperatures and heavy rains make my yard look like a jungle. The lawn man finally came after three weeks, so at least that is under control. And one day I actually managed to cut away a large trunk of a bush that wants to be a tree that was getting way too close to the gas meter and line. But the exterior to do list is pretty heavy as well. It would be very easy to get overwhelmed. I certainly don’t enjoy living in the middle of a construction site and I have to clean constantly to keep the cats out of the mess. So the yard will probably get the least attention as I try to catch up on writing, finish my class and  figure out the best way to tackle the cabinets and the volcanic rock drywall. if the schedule here is a little erratic, I apologize. I may be digging out of an avalanche or trying to outrun a tsunami.

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Leo July 22 5:00 PM

Leo2Leo (♌) (Greek: Λέων, Latin: Leōn), is the fifth astrological sign of the zodiac, originating from the constellation of Leo. It comes after Cancer and before Virgo . Under the tropical zodiac, the Sun transits this area approximately between July 23 and August 22 and under the sidereal zodiac, from roughly August 16 to September 15. The sign spans the 120th to 150th degree of celestial longitude. Leo is a fixed sign along with Taurus, Scorpio, and Aquarius.  It is a northern sign and its opposite southern sign is Aquarius. The symbol of the lion is based on the Nemean lion.

Image from a vase of Hercules (Herakles) strangling the Nemean lionThe Nemean lion was a ferocious beast immortalized in Greek mythology that roamed near the city of Nemea. It was eventually killed by Heracles (Hercules) as the first of his twelve labors. It could not be killed with mortals’ weapons because its golden fur was impervious to attack. Its claws were sharper than mortals’ swords and could cut through any armor. The lion is usually considered to have been the offspring of the monsters Typhon and Echidna, as described by Hesiod in his Theogony. It is also said to have fallen from the moon as the offspring of Zeus and Selene, or alternatively born of the Chimera. The Nemean lion roamed the hills near Nemea in the Peloponnese and terrorized the city. Since it’s fur was impervious to weapons Hercules wound up having to get in close and strangle the lion with his immense strength.

Leo as Archetype

Leo is the fixed fire sign, the sun at its zenith of power, the heat of summer at it’s peak.  The archetype of Leo is the King. Majestic, dazzling the subjects as well as himself with his shine, in the way Louis XIV designated himself the Sun King. It’s the personification of pride, self-confidence and dominance. It’s the attitude by which mankind accomplishes the greatest things and also the most devastating.

Terrace of the Lions at Delos Greece, birhplace of Apollo

By Bernard Gagnon [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

When did the Lion become such a powerful and universal symbol? The first appearance of the Lion as a may have been the Great Sphinx of Giza. Next to the Sphinx figure, archaeologists have discovered the remnants of a temple dedicated to sun worship. The temple was designed to track the movements of the sun. Of course Ra was the Egyptian sun gold and as with both the Greek sun god Helios and the Roman sun god Sol all are associated with Leo. Their symbolic act was to ride the sun-chariot across the sky each day. Each was considered the source of life. Another, later sun God, Apollo, is also associated with lions.  The elaborate Terrace of the Lions is located at the temple complex dedicated to him on Delos in Greece.

Astrological image of Leo from old manuscriptAstrologists consider Leo rules the heart.  As the sun is the center of the solar system and the king the power in the kingdom, the heart is the central organ of the body. Interestingly, the ancient Egyptians always left the heart inside the mummy while removing all the other organs. For the alchemists, the heart was indeed the image of the sun within an individual, while gold was the image of the sun on earth. There are an abundance of expressions of the idea that the human heart is a synonym for courage, truth, and unconditional love. Carl Jung was a Leo who developed the concept of individuation, the quest to find and develop one’s unique individual essence. This essential self needs to reach beyond the ego and connect with higher realms. The archetype of Leo involves balancing both personal self-expression and cooperation in the service of others. The archetype of the king can devolve to become the paranoid tyrant or reach self-actualization and become the secure, enlightened ruler, serving the best interests of the ruled.

Rider Waite tarot card Strength of a woman in a white robe holding the head of a lionIn Tarot the archetype of Leo is found in the Major Arcana card Strength. While both kings and lions must be strong leaders Leos know that strength is not the only requirement. The Strength card is a reminder that strength comes in many forms, many more subtle than brute force. When faced with a challenge many instinctively respond with force, and then face very consequences ranging from undesirable to disastrous. The Leo archetype can either fall victim to this kind of reaction or develop a higher expression, showing courage, and dignity under pressure by exercising patience and self control.

Tile of Leo from Islamic zodiac with sun visage rising over lion

By JukeBoxHero 42 [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Caturday Thoughts – Fourth of July is Still Ba Humbug!

Large white fireworks burst in front of small gold burstThankfully Fourth of July was a non-event as far as noise went, unlike last year when the first fireworks went off on the night of the 25th, scaring my little foster cat Charli. I miss the pretty fireworks the Italians did from a barge in the harbor off the Naval Academy sports fields. Of course that ended with the updated security measures after 9/11 but I had already moved away by then.

Noise pollution aside I don’t really feel like making a big deal about this particular day any more. Independence of any kind seems illusive. All the things I felt impinged on personal independence last year are still around for most people. At least this year we are independent of rent on this Forth, which is actually a pretty big thing. And this is one of those old fashioned neighborhoods, there is no HOA terrorism here either. Growing up I don’t remember a single neighborhood anywhere with an HOA. The idea you actually have to pay to be bullied by people who have nothing better to do than play petty bureaucratic appalls me. I find it iron, too, that after 2008 anyone thinks such nit picking, conformist nonsense “protects property values”. Your HOA won’t save you if the economy tanks, and if they slap a lien on your house because they don’t like the lampost you put up (happened to one of my students) you could loose that value.

Gold fireworks burstSo we just ignored the whole thing, except for taking advantage of some sales that were on.  There are so many holidays that have more to enjoy I don’t miss it. I actually do more on Veteran’s Day, celebrating those who actually try to keep us free and protect us.

I get more enjoyment out of watching the baby grackles in the hollow of the tree in the front yard. This late in the summer it has to be a second batch. They have feathers now and soon will be flying. Now that is independence worth celebrating!

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History and Mystery – Inspector O

Cover for A Corpse in the Koryo by James ChurchI was perusing the mystery section in the library while waiting for a tutoring student when I found Inspector O. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a North Korean policeman as the protagonist of a mystery. The author, James Church, was identified on the back cover as “a former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia”. This made the prospect more intriguing still. So I took out Bamboo and Blood and was far from disappointed.

It was out of sequence, so I later went back and read the series in order. There are only six in total. Church was already in retirement when he began writing and by what I can gather, over sixty. It wasn’t just myself that was impressed. A Korea Society panel praised the first book in the series for its realism and its ability to convey “the suffocating atmosphere of a totalitarian state”. I have never been to North Korea but I have been in the DMZ at Panmunjom and just that brief example of the North Korean mindset made the details of the books ring true.

Cover of Bamboo and Blood by James ChurchThere are some changes to and of the cast of characters over the years covered by the books, so while they stand by themselves, if read out of order t can be a little disconcerting. The pseudonymous Church first turned to fiction in A Corpse in the Koryo (2006). In A Corpse in the Koryo, O’s odd assignment is to take a photograph of a certain car, on a certain road. This seemingly straightforward task turns out to be anything but as it embroils him in a murder plot, government smuggling, and the legacy of North Korea’s infamous abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s. Then in succession came Hidden Moon (2007) and Bamboo and Blood (2008). In Hidden Moon O returns from a foreign assignment to a new boss and an actual case of bank robbery to investigate, something that should be impossible in North Korea. Is this bizarre occurrence really connected to a possible assassination and coup?

The plot of “Bamboo and Blood,” revolves around an Israeli effort to persuade North Korea to stop selling missiles to Arab countries in return for economic assistance and and the murder of a diplomat’s wife in Pakistan. This story returns to O during the extremes of winter and the famine that gripped the country in the mid-nineties that some experts estimate left almost 1 million dead. O must deal with his growling stomach as he investigates foreign arms deals. These three novels all feature the internecine struggles between O’s Ministry of Public Security (the police) and competing political directorates and the ubiquitous presence of Kim Jong-Il, the second leader of North Korea, who took over from his father in 1994. He is never mentioned by name, but his influence as “the central” is everywhere.

Cover of The man with the Baltic Stare by James ChurchThe fourth volume, The Man with the Baltic Stare came out two years later in 2010 and the fifth, A Drop of Chinese Blood, in 2012. The final book came out in 2016, The Gentleman from Japan. As the series goes on the plots get more convoluted, perhaps mirroring the labyrinthine international political maneuvering that never makes the headlines.  The ambiguity and complexity are not to the taste of many readers.

Church’s real gift, however, lies in showing O and others around him as real people who still manage to maintain some humanity in a rigid and uncompromising system. Somewhat protected by being the grandson of a famous  grandfather, anointed a “hero of the republic” for his service in the Korean War and as an anti-Japanese guerilla, his minor rebellions are chastised but tolerated. He is able to travel out of the country and consistently returns, rather than defect. In The Man With the Baltic Stare, through O Church sheds light on the puzzling mix of motives that lurk in the North Korean who stays put. His reasons are nuanced, and often illogical. In spite of his disillusionment with the North Korean “central,” O hates what others stand for even more, and his overseas trips have shown him plenty to condemn. His political skepticism is balanced by a Spartan North Korean taste for simple living.  He especially despises South Korea’s surge into Western culture and cherishes a love for woodworking and the aphorisms passed on to him by his famous grandfather.

The fifth book introduces Inspector O’s nephew, Major Bing, the long-suffering chief of the Chinese Ministry of State Security operations on the border with North Korea.By this time, many years have gone by and O, knowing where too many skeletons are buried, is more comfortable in the People’s Republic of China, albeit in a town on the border with North Korea.  Now he assists his nephew in navigating the pitfalls inherent in his own mysterious assignment as he does again in the sixth and last novel.

North Korean stockade house in the demilitarized zoneThe history is more modern and the mysteries reflect this. Church’s books and Inspector O’s life experiences are fiction, but a fiction rooted deeply in reality. This may be the best way to get some insight into what is behind the posturing and rhetoric splashed across the headlines. This insight applies not just to North Korea but also to the countries and governments that have dealings with the North Korean regime, both overt and clandestine. At the same time you get plenty of mystery and a view of a country which you are unlikely to visit, even if you could get a visa.



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