I’m not big on cities. Being in close proximity to nature has always been important to me (as evidenced by the design of this blog).
But living as close to Philadelphia as I do, I would be remiss to miss out on Chinatown so I recently took a trip down with some of my family.
Among Philly’s many sectors (Old City, Fishtown, etc), Chinatown is a very authentic and sizable chunk. While it’s impossible to replicate real immersion in a foreign country, Chinatown provides the sounds, sights, and smells (both good and bad) of the culture.
The first landmark worth noting is the front gate as you approach the main market strip. It is beautifully adorned and kept in nice condition. We didn’t stop and marvel for too long though as it was 103 degrees out and we wanted to find a nice market or store that featured air conditioning.
Littered amongst the more pedestrian buildings were a few that captured my attention.
These buildings, while historic, were certainly wearing their age. I would have loved access to explore them but there is little doubt the interiors were rough at best, unsafe at worst. A shame because even with some decay they were far more impactful than the typical city row homes.
One of our main stops for the day was The Bazaar, a deep reaching variety shop that features everything from tourist gifts to traditional instruments. The Bazaar was easily the biggest physical location I’ve ever been in dedicated specifically to Asian goods.
I had to exercise extreme self control to avoid spending a bundle. There were so many interesting scrolls, kimonos, pieces of art, and oddities that it was tough to walk passed any aisle without a second look. It was also a pleasure spotting the curiously out of place items that made it onto the shelves (such as the complete Mr. Bean collection).
Chinatown had a lot of those little quirks that you hope and expect to find. For example, one candy store was running an excellent special on their floor:
I chose to go in the Pocky direction, but the floor was tempting too.
As we sampled various shops and bakeries I couldn’t help but notice the steadfast street venders. Even out in the 100+ weather there were merchants with various forms of clothes, fish, produce, and undergarments. Basically everything you could need during your day. I chose not to indulge in the street fish though as we were headed to our primary restaurant destination.
The eatery on our radar was an unassuming facility located underneath a convention center overpass (not exactly prime real estate). Nevertheless, we had heard from a reliable Philly resource that this was a hidden treasure.
What the Dim Sum Garden lacked in flash it made up for in selection and speedy service. Traditionally, Dim Sum dishes are served by an attendant who wheels out multiple bamboo baskets with varying food items. You then take what appeals to you and are charged at the end. In fact, Dim Sum began as an exercise in tea tasting at roadside inns. Once the Chinese realized it was also pleasurable to snack while tasting tea, the destiny and development of Dim Sum was set.
Our food arrived with much less fanfare. The workings of the restaurant resembled that of a standard Chinese sit-down/take-out, except with a noticeably different kind of menu and procedure. As we ordered our Dim Sum items (such as pork and crab dumpling, steamed shrimp dumpling, etc), they came out in roughly 4-5 minute intervals. Before we knew it we had a whole sampling of delicious dishes in front of us and were enjoying it quite thoroughly.
We took a gamble heading into Chinatown during a prolonged heat wave, but we decided it was worth the trouble in order to enjoy the spirit of the neighborhood. If you ever find yourself in Philly, you could definitely do worse than a visit to Chinatown (no really, you could do a lot worse so don’t wander around).
The longer I train the more I realize the importance of wellness.
Of course, wellness may be the least glamorous part of training. After all, eating vegetables and legumes doesn’t make for an exciting youtube clip.
Luckily I get to hang around a bunch of experienced practitioners who tell stories from time to time of their tough training. Personally, I’ve been an uke since age 11 and am becoming more acutely aware of how repeated impact affects the body.
It’s because of these realizations that I recently read The Okinawa Program, a book describing the Okinawan way of life and how the Ryukyuans became the longest lived people on the planet. And fortunately, thanks to the good people at YMAA, I was able to follow up that research with Western Herbs: For Martial Artists and Contact Athletes.
Western Herbs is a unique addition to my library.
The Okinawa Program deftly lays out the lifestyle and diet of the Okinawans. Most other books regarding traditional Chinese medicine, including The Bubishi, discuss herbal concoctions that you will most likely never encounter. Western Herbs, on the other hand, takes that same pharmacological approach and applies it to vegetation and growth readily available in western countries.
Have you ever wondered how Aloe Vera works, and how to utilize it’s full effects? Did you know the capsaicin in peppers (when prepared properly) can help relieve back pain and arthritis?
This is stuff that doesn’t require a shady trip down back alleys in Chinatown. The best part is that this book grades each herbal claim via a 5 leaf system. Zero leaves means the claim of effect is completely unsubstantiated, while five leaves means you are good to go and can rely on the results.
The author, Susan Lynn Peterson, is a trained martial artist as well as researcher (she has a real P.H.D., not the weird “professorship” some martial artists prescribe themselves). Her approach is non-mystical with no heavy-handed desire to prove that eastern healing methods are the exclusive answer to all health problems. She mixes east and west in an approachable and fact-friendly way.
The book is broken up into digestible pieces that teach you…
- how to utilize herbs from a novice perspective.
- how to create various kinds of tinctures and concoctions.
- how to handle each of the most important herbs.
- how to assess your needs and safely begin herbal treatment.
- how to not make yourself dead by doing something stupid.
There’s no question I won’t be able absorb all this book has to offer in one sitting. That’s why I intend to keep it nearby as a resource to access as I slowly increase my ability to understand and improve my own wellness.
If you check any tourism guide for Pennsylvania (yes, they exist) one of the ‘must-see’ stops is Longwood Gardens. Longwood is a beautiful piece of property that is rich in both natural conservation and history. I won’t belabor the details; suffice it to say that the place developed out of an odd mixture of arboreal enthusiasm and gunpowder barronism.
Amongst Longwood’s 1050 acres of finely tuned gardens and landscapes lies a very large conservatory. Areas inside the conservatory are dedicated to different climates and varieties of plant life. One such room is dedicated to bonsai.
For those unfamiliar, the term “bonsai” refers to the growing of miniature trees in pots or amidst small landscapes. “Bonsai” (bone-sigh) is not to be confused with “Banzai” (bahn-z-eye), which is used as a cry of enthusiasm meaning roughly “ten thousand years”. Banzai also has a connection to Kamikaze pilots in World War II, so it is proper to understand the difference.
Bonsai are famous (and infamous) for the amount of skill and care that goes into their care. The number of species used in Bonsai planting is extremely vast, as is their longevity if properly cared for.
The goal of bonsai growing is to test the imagination and skill of the grower, as well as spur contemplation and appreciation in the viewer. It is not entirely unlike Ikebana, the art of flower arrangement.
Here are a select few Bonsai on display in the Longwood Conservatory. Note their age and the amount of careful guidance that has gone into their growth. Click any of the images below for a closer look, and please excuse some of the glare. These trees were kept behind glass in a carefully controlled environment.
Japanese Black Pine Bonsai. Training begun 1949. This tree represents a recognizable and well known style of bonsai design.
Sargent Juniper Bonsai. Training unstated. This tree has a particularly strong ‘Karate Kid’ feel to it. I know I’m lessening the artestry of it by saying that, but it’s true.
Loose Flower Hornbeam Bonsai. Training begun 1990. This was a really cool display as it was like a miniature forest. The ground moss helped perpetuate that feeling and worked in proper scale.
Azalea Bonsai. Training unstated. Showed great symmetry and balance via the bifurcation in the trunk.
Ginko Bonsai. Training begun 1909. This was a Chinese styled bonsai with an incredible age of over 100 years.
Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper Bonsai. Training begun 1966. This is an interesting specimen because it shows the Japanese penchant for intentional asymmetry.
The care and patience that goes into the development of these artful trees corresponds significantly with our martial arts. A product like this is not the result of a year of pruning, or even five years. It takes decades, and the more the tree grows the subtler it’s beauty becomes.