Long Form, Photo

Happiness and Ephemeral Pleasure

According to Kierkegaard, “many of us pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we hurry past it.” If I ate this 1,200 calorie slice of cheesecake, would I be happy the next day? Is all pleasure ephemeral, lasting but a short moment?

I had a conversation the other evening with my friend Ward, and I mentioned that I find the pleasure derived from eating food to be ephemeral. (It would have been cooler, if I managed to actually pronounce ephemeral (“əˈfem(ə)rəl/”) properly.)

Ward astutely mentioned that all pleasure is ultimately fleeting. I agreed with him but later started thinking more about the idea.

Upon a bit more reflection, I can say that I find some cases where pleasure does last longer. For example my recent trip to China brought back memories of my trip to visit the Taj Mahal back in 2003.

My photo of the Taj Mahal from 2003*

I remember that during my visit, I smiled so much at the beauty of the building that my cheeks hurt for an hour after the visit. And the memory of that visit still brings me pleasure.

Yet, the memory of a great meal, like that of eating bistecca at Florence’s Buca Lapi or suckling pig in Madrid at Restaurante Sobrino de Botin — both great meals with good memories — doesn’t bring back any pleasure. Actually, both memories are making me hungry right now.

From our wonderful meal at Buca Lapi (Via del Trebbio, 1r). We need to return soon.

You know how people say that you should give experiences instead of objects because the pleasure lasts longer? Perhaps there is something in play here like that. And perhaps thats why we take so many photographs of our experiences, not of material possessions.

Pretty much the only photo I could find of “stuff”. Flickr needs to introduce a feature for that.

Then again, I have pretty good memories of my Mini Cooper, which I drove for about 12 years. Or is it the experience of driving the Mini that is bringing me pleasure now? Very hard to separate these issues.

While I enjoyed reading Kierkegaard in college, I’m not sure the author of The Sickness Unto Death is really the person whose lead I want to follow about pleasure.


(* Boy, digital cameras have come a long way since 2003. It’s always amazing for me to look back and see how photos from today’s iPhones take better photos than actual cameras from just ten years ago.)

Tech, Travel

Dear Google, I Missed You!

I missed Google while in China

Ten days behind the “Great Firewall of China” and for me that meant no Google, Facebook, Twitter and WordPress. The big surprise for me was how central Google had become to my life… and how replacements like Bing really didn’t cut it.

I hadn’t realized how much I liked just typing things like “red sox” into my mobile or laptop browser to instantly see the results of the game:

Terrible example, but it's been a really bad season. They did win the World Series last year, don't forget.

Terrible example, but it’s been a really bad season. They did win the World Series last year, don’t forget.

Bing would bring back links to the Red Sox website, the MLB website, etc. I would have to drill into these sites just to see how badly the Red Sox lost!

My email (both personal and work) is hosted on Gmail so I set up Apple’s native Mail.app to work with my email while I was in China. Boy does that application stink. Google’s webmail client is so superior, it’s hard to believe.

I was totally surprised that I couldn’t use Google Maps. I don’t know why, but I figured that wouldn’t be blocked. Oh, but it was. So I used Apple Maps on my iPhone to get around, but I have to say the search features on it are way worse than Google Maps.

For example, my new friend Carlos suggested that I visit an area of Shanghai named Xintiandi. Apple Maps gave me pretty shitty results when I searched for Xintiandi:

Apple Maps search results for XintiandiI guess it’s sort of my fault, right? I mean am I looking for a street, a subway stop, or what? I don’t really know, but neither does Apple Maps.

Of course, our friends at Google have no problem handling this ambiguous request:

Google Map search result for Xintiandi


Like with Bing, this then required me to go out of Apple Maps, look up Xintiandi in Wikipedia, look at their map, and then be like “oh, ok” before dropping a pin on Apple Maps to get to my destination.

They do a good job at Google, and I guess I hadn’t really realized it. I return from China with a new appreciation for them.

Photo, Travel

Shanghai Markets and Acrobats

Today I headed out to visit a few market areas in Shanghai. First stop, the Yuyan Market, which was in some really nice buildings, selling all sorts of strange items:  SONY DSC SONY DSC

Later I made my way to Tianzing Feng, which was a bunch of funky shops and eating places in the back warrens of Shanghai’s (former) French Concession:


That evening I wen to see the famous Shanghai Circus World acrobats. It was an amazing show.Chinese Acrobats

Oh, and I also figured out a way to get all of the people who were hounding me on the street to go with them to a “lady bar”. Turns out all I need to do is record our conversation on my iPhone, and they run away!

%22Do I want to go to a lady bar?%22

Photo, Travel

The Honigs Who Roamed Shanghai

I learned today that Shanghai took in over 20,000 Jews during WWII. Remember those boats of Jews that had nowhere to go? Some of them came here.
I visited their old synagogue today (pictured above) and they had a directory… And there were 6 Honigs here from Austria!
I don’t recall any stories of Uncle Isak or Aunt Berta who knew their way around a wok, but surely we must be related, right?

They didn’t stay here long. After WWII ended, almost all of Shangai’s Jews departed for Israel or the US. As Nol so aptly put it “ten minutes later they were hungry for another country”

Photo, Travel

Beijing’s Lakes: Beihai and Houhai Photos

It was a glorious day in Beijing so I explored its “lake district” which is surprisingly pretty much next to downtown. 20140722-081926-29966051.jpgHere we have Beihai Lake. Who named these lakes “be high” and “how high?” Rastafari are everywhere!
20140722-081925-29965880.jpgHouhei Lake was a bit more serene, less tourists and more guys fishing right in front of “no fishing” signs. They seemed to be catching strange looking catfish.
20140722-081925-29965724.jpgThis is the famous “silver ingot” bridge…
20140722-081651-29811094.jpg… famous for getting your photo with a white guy! I’m not sure why but lots of folks here wanted a picture with me.
20140722-081651-29811424.jpgBeautiful post office building in a hutoung in the back area between some lakes.

Photo, Travel

Lama Temple and Temple of Heaven Park Photos

20140721-090125-32485363.jpgOh, the Temple of Heaven. Who knew it was so easy to get into heaven? It was about 96 degrees in the shade that day, so it was a quick trip to the park surrounding the temple.

20140721-090125-32485683.jpgHere we see people burning incense outside the Lama Temple, which is a Tibetan Buddhist temple right in the middle of Beijing. I thought that whole Tibetan Buddhist thing was frowned upon, but I guess not!

20140721-090125-32485523.jpgThese little dragons are perched all over the former imperial buildings in Beijing. I’m strangely drawn to them.

20140721-090125-32485845.jpgHere is the outside of the Lama Temple. I — unlike the multitudes of tourists at the place — respected the signs that said “no photography” of the 25 foot tall Buddha statue inside. It was very impressive, not diminished by the sign from the Guinness Book of Worlds Records stating that they confirmed it to be carved from one singular piece of sandalwood.

Photo, Travel

Great Wall Photos

20140720-115126-42686883.jpgWhat an amazing experience. Right up there with visiting the Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Giza and Mt Sinai. I hired a guide to take me out to the Mutianyu section of the wall, which isn’t the closest section, but much less crowded.
20140720-115126-42686720.jpgI wasn’t expecting the climb along the wall to be so steep! It was hard going, especially in the 96 degree heat.
20140720-115126-42686553.jpgWe walked along the wall for about three hours with plenty of time to rest in the guard towers along the way. The views were spectacular.
20140720-115129-42689849.jpgthis is the chairlift we took on the way up. This section of the wall is between two mountains so it was pretty high up.
20140720-115129-42689124.jpgWhen the wall was used to protect China from the Mongol invaders, they would cut down all the trees on the fat side of the wall so they couldn’t sneak up.

20140720-115129-42689490.jpgon our way down, we took a metal “toboggan” ride down. (That’s Steven the tour guide behind me.)

Photo, Travel

Photos from Beijing

Tiananmen Square. That place is huge — 100 acres of cobblestones they say. Tight security.

Where did Mao get this hair done? (Entrance to Forbidden City)

20140719-221636-80196259.jpgDetail of a Lion guarding the Forbidden City

20140719-222319-80599892.jpgInside the Forbidden City where palace intrigue was in high gear when the Emperor was on the throne.


Blogging From China

20140719-172005-62405584.jpgTwo days into my China trip and I’m realizing that WordPress.com is blocked here as is Flickr. But for some reason the iPhone app seems like it’s working.
So I guess this is test. Let’s see what happens.

Update: it worked!