San Francisco Travel – Discover the Mission District’s Colorful Murals

With over 600 murals, San Francisco streets are a parade of vibrant and radiant
murals that are painted on building walls and facades, fences, garage doors and
more. The colorful Mission District is the epicenter of San Francisco murals with the
greatest concentration of murals in San Francisco. Discovering
the murals of the San Francisco Mission District is discovering the hopes and
passions, joys and tribulations of the people.

The San Francisco Mission neighborhood’s love affair with murals stems from the
Mexican roots of the Mission District community. The Latino community began to
move into in the Mission neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s. Early in the 1970s,
resident muralists started following the traditions of the great muralists of the
1920s and 30s, perhaps the most famous of which was Diego Rivera.

The Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center (located at 2981 24th Street) is a
great place to begin your exploration of the murals in the San Francisco Mission
neighborhood. The Precita Eyes visitors center offers three guided mural tours on
Saturday and Sunday for between $10 and $12 for an adult. You can arrange private
group mural tours in advance. In addition, the Precita Eyes Visitors Center has a
Mission mural map of nearly 90 murals that you can use to explore the
neighborhood on your own.

At Precita Eyes, you can purchase mural-themed items, such as post cards, candles,
posters and books. Precita Eyes also sells mural arts supplies in case your are
inspired to paint your own personal mural on your living room wall. For more
information, contact Precita Eyes at http://www.precitaeyes.org/ or (415)
285-2287.

Located a block from Precita Eyes between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street, Balmy
Alley has a concentration of more than 30 vivid murals painted on fences, building
walls and garage doors. In the neighborhood densely packed with murals, Balmy
Alley is at the center of it all. Muralists began working in San Francisco’s Balmy Alley
as early as 1971. Many of the original murals are still there as well as many murals
that have been painted over the intervening years.

The Balmy Alley murals are very diverse both stylistically and in the subject matter.
Some of the murals feature cartoon-like illustrations that playful and juvenile. Other
murals along Balmy Alley grapple with difficult subjects, such as a memorial to
people who have died from AIDS or depictions of political strife and war in Latin
America. Another mural honors the great muralist Diego Rivera and his wife, the
painter Frida Kahlo. And another is a tribute to women muralists of the Mission
District. One colorless mural, depicts two men and a woman jumping through a
barbed-wire fence lined with keys. The woman has her hand held high, making the
peace sign.

Elsewhere in the Mission District on Harrison at 19th Street, mixed among blocks of
warehouses and running along a wall for nearly a block in San Francisco’s Mission
neighborhood is a mural titled “Carnaval.” As the name implies, the Carnaval mural
is a representation of the Carnaval celebration, a multicultural dance and music
festival that has its roots in Latin America and the Caribbean. The San Francisco
Mission District has been hosting a Carnaval Festival since 1978. Created in 1994 by
Joshua Sarantitis, Emmanuel Montoya, Carlos Loarca and others, the radiant
Carnaval mural is as dynamic and colorful as the festival that it portrays.

The Women’s Building (located at 3543 18th Street) boasts two walls of a dramatic
mural that pays homage to women. Created by a team of seven women muralists,
the “Maestrapeace” mural portrays women and feminine archetypes of multiple
world origins. The Goddess of Light and Creativity adorns the top of the 18th Street
facade with the waters of life flowing beneath her and transforming into fabric
designs from around the world.

The mural features such notable women as Georgia O’Keefe (an innovative American
artist) and Rigoberta Menchu (a Guatemalan of Mayan decent and Nobel prize-
winning activist). The names of many more famous women are inscribed in the
mural’s colorful patterns. The mural is meant to be inspiration and educational,
illustrating the contributions women have made to human history and society.

The Women’s Building provides resources and services to organizations that support
women and girls from multi-ethnic and multi-cultural backgrounds. For an
informational key to the mural, step inside the Women’s Building or contact them at
http://
http://www.womensbuilding.org/ or (415) 431-1180.

Solo Travel Destinations, New Places to Travel Alone, Part 5 Chile

Reading today that a 24-year old Chilean saxophonist just won the Monk International Jazz Competition took me back in time to my trip to Santiago and points south. While having only a small percentage of the world’s population, Chile has produced global figures in the arts, including two Nobel Prize winning poets: Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda.

Just getting to Chile was part of the adventure. When I arrived at the airport in Washington, there was a flight delay because of bad weather. After about 4 hours in the gate, we were allowed to board. Then it was announced the winds had shifted and the plane could not take off. I returned home for the night and started out again the next day. High over the Andes once again bad weather intervened requiring that we land in Argentina. At last, we arrived in Santiago!

Chile demonstrates the rich differences within the South American continent. Although much of the region shares a common language and a 16th century colonial history, after O’Higgins and San Martin led Chile to independence in the 19th century, it has created its own modern history.

Two features immediately struck me: First was the strong and pervasive European influence. Rather than tapas, afternoon tea was widely featured along with ads for a French Impressionist art exhibit. There was no meringue, salsa or tango. In fact, the first dance performance was at a top restaurant with Pacific Islanders performing at dinner. I soon discovered that even newly arrived, jet-lagged diners had the “opportunity” to be led off to the stage for an introduction to Island dances. (One advantage if you travel solo, there is no one to send photos back home of your first awkward steps.)

Secondly, the geographic range of climate zones and topography was immediately apparent. Chile, 2,672 miles long, felt like many countries comprised within one national border. The north was very arid as it reached into the Atacama Desert while going southward to Puerto Montt was reminiscent of a Swiss Village. From the ski slopes moving on to Antarctica Chile, the landscape was suddenly filled with glaciers and snow-covered roads.

My view of Chile had 4 distant parts. The first was Santiago, Chile’s capital. With over 1 million inhabitants, it offers an array of choices.

Although many colonial buildings have been demolished, key remaining gems include the Basilica in La Merced. Moving on towards the Plaza de Armas, you will find the 18th century Casa Colorada. The past blends in with the present when you visit the Benedictine Chapel whose architect, Gabriel Guarda, created Barcelona’s most famous landmarks.

Another top sight is the Palacio de La Moneda or President’s Palace. It was first constructed in the 18th century but most recently largely reconstructed in the 1980’s. While you are there, you can check out the colorful Changing of the Guard accompanied by a brass band.

For a more detailed view of Chile’s diverse culture, Santiago has multiple museum options, including the popular National History and Pre-Columbian museums. You can also visit the home Neruda built for Matilde Urrutia, his third wife who inspired his greatest works. It is known, as she was as, by the name La Chascona and is located in the Bellavista district.

After a day steeped in history and culture, you will want to save time to take the gondola for a view of the city from Cerro San Cristobal.

My second distinct view of Chile came from a side trip to ski nearby at the local slope Colorado. Just an hour away, it lacked the steeper inclines of the more famous slopes of Portillo or Argentina’s Las Lineas and Bariloche. However, what it lacked in challenging my Intermediate ski prowess, it more than made up for in easy access as an unexpected add-on.

My third destination was Puerto Montt located in southern Chile’s Lake District. Founded in the 19th century by German settlers, the flavor was that of a European village albeit with the addition of the Pacific Ocean. Strolling past waterfalls, you could see llamas munching along the roadside and then visit the stunning Osorno Volcano. The outdoor options in the region are varied, from hiking through the national parks to boating and horseback riding.

My fourth and final view of Chile was in its most famous destination other than the capital, Santiago: the far south in Punta Arenas, Antarctica, Chile. Traveling by bus, I was pleasantly surprised at the first class service with videos and soft drinks’ being served.

On arrival, I hired a taxi for a day’s sightseeing moving at a rapid pace over sometime harrowing snow-covered roads. Working cowboys, i.e., vaqueros or gauchos, sped by on horseback alongside us. Their weathered faces reflected life in the harsh climate.

Although a small museum in Puntas Arenas told more of the history of this remote region, the real draw for tourists is outdoors even during the wintertime. I spent a full day exploring the key attraction, the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine with snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and a large clear blue lake. At the lower elevations, it was not too cold for hiking or just long walks through the Park.

To the south is Cape Horn and the Drake Passage, the latter the gateway to Antarctica, itself. Chile is well-positioned geographically to take that next step, to head westward for the remote Pacific/Easter Island or to combine with a business or leisure trip elsewhere in Latin America.

Chile was an ideal solo destination because of:

1. Its diversity of cultures and attractions

2. The range of terrain from desert to ski slopes to glaciers

3. Its vibrant role in Latin America’s dynamic growth

4. The numerous sporting and adventure options from skiing the Andes to hiking through the Lake District of Puerto Montt to boating in Punta Arenas and down to Cape Horn.

5. Its safety and availability of 4-5 star service and tours

6. The access to the Pacific and Easter Island or on to other parts of South America and Antarctica.

If you don’t want to see the summer end, book now for December in Chile and go boating and swimming instead of shoveling snow

Beijing Travel – Confucius Temple

Confucius is one of histories greatest philosophers and teachers and in the same league as famous western philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and Socrates.

Born in 551BC, Confucius is China’s most influential philosopher and educator. The morals and principles of his philosophy are an integral part of values and ideology of modern Chinese society. He has been revered by the common people, emperors and leaders alike for thousands of years and a number of temples have been built all over China in his name.

The Confucian Temple in Beijing is the second largest Confucian temple in the world and only surpassed by a larger temple in Qufu, the home town of Confucius. Located near the center of Beijing, the Confucius Temple provides a marvellous insight into the world of Confucius and his influence on modern China.

History

Construction on the temple began in 1302, the sixth year of the reign of Emperor Dade of the Yuan Dynasty and was completed in 1306. The temple was enlarged, restored and rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty and again during the Ming Dynasty.

Grounds and Layout

The grounds of the Confucius Temple cover 22,000 square meters and are a made up of several courtyards and buildings laid out on a central axis. The main buildings on the central axis are the Xian Shi Gate, Da Cheng Gate, Da Cheng Hall and Chong Sheng Memorial Temple. There are also two rows of smaller buildings on the left and right side of the grounds.

Xian Shi Gate (Gate of the Master) – This gate houses the ticket office and the security checkpoint that tourist pass through to enter the temple.

Da Cheng Gate (Gate of Great Success) – This gate is also called the Halberd Gate because 24 of the ancient Halberd weapons that are displayed inside.

Da Cheng Hall (Hall of Great Success) – The main building in the temple and it is in this building that Confucius was enshrined and worshiped by China’s Emperors.

Chong Sheng Memorial Temple – This hall was not built until 1531 during the reign of Emperor Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty. The hall was used for offering sacrifices to five generations of Confucius’s ancestors. The Confucius Temple performances are given on the steps of this temple.

History of Confucius Display Room – This is a long narrow building on the right side of the second courtyard. The room displays extensive information on the life and history of Confucius, his family, his accomplishments and his back ground. I found a display of his family tree very interesting because it only shows male descendants. This simple omission says a lot about Confucian philosophy and values.

Development of Confucianism Display Room – On the left hand side of the second courtyard is a room displaying information on the development and state of Confucianism in China and around the world in past and present times. There is a lot of information on the importance in the modern world of the values and ideas taught by Confucius.

There were several congratulatory references to compliments and praise made by Nobel Prize winners to Confucianism. Very ironic considering the current status the 2011 Nobel Peace price winner has in China.

I saw at least three primary school groups in the Confucius Temple when I was there and over heard one teacher lecturing his students on the values of Confucius in their studies. The Chinese education system clearly places a lot of emphasis on a 2,500 year old philosophy and its teachings.

Classical Chinese Music House – This is a small building to the left of Da Cheng Hall that has been converted to a shop selling food, ornaments and jade furniture. I found a lovely jade table and chairs in the shop that would have been great to take back home.

Jin Shi Stone Tablets – Jin Shi is a name for scholars who successfully passed the examination system in Imperial China. The examinations were a prerequisite for work in the government’s vast bureaucracy and passing these exams was considered a great honour and accomplishment.

198 stone tablets have been erected at the front and rear of the temple’s entrance courtyard that list examination results of 51,624 Jin Shi from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Interestingly this examination and selection process continued until 1905.

Stone Stele Pavilions – 14 pavilions have been built in the temple’s first and second courtyards that house stone steles (tablets) recording historical information on ancient China. Some examples of these records are the successful suppression of a riot in Qinghai in 1725 and the completion of a renovation in the Confucius Temple in 1769.

Performances

Performances are often held in the front of the Chong Cheng Memorial Temple that last for around 20 minutes. I’m not sure what relationship if any the performances have with the teachings or life of Confucius but they are enjoyable to watch and the period costumes are very cute.

Unlike most travel spots in Beijing, the performances are not shown at regular times to all tourists. The performances are only held for large tour groups who purchase VIP tickets to the Confucius Temple. If you are keen on watching a performance, I suggest you discretely tag long with a large tour group when they enter the Chong Cheng Memorial Hall. This is how I accidentally crashed a performance.

Getting There

Take the subway to Yonghegong station which is at the intersection of subway lines 5 and lines 2. Leave the station using the C exit, turn left and walk several hundred meters. You will know if you have gone to far if you reach the entrance of Lama Temple.

After several hundred meters you will see a road on the right called Guozijian street. Go down that road and the temple will be on the right had side. If you have trouble finding the temple, ask a local where the “kong miao” is. You will have no problem finding people who will point you in the right direction.

Tickets and Times

The tickets are 30rmb each and the opening times are 8:30 to 6:00pm with no tickets sold after 5:30pm.