Impeach this!

Editor’s note: I somehow managed to miss this gathering when I was in Las Vegas, but I read about it in the newspaper. It drew 100 people in the nation’s 28-largest metropolis — about what you’d expect around here.

“On October 17, 2019, fellow Republicans and supporters of President Trump will join forces with conservatives from all over the Country to protest the attempt to impeach President Trump.

“We want our President to know that he is not alone and that we stand with him! We invite you to join us at Trump International Hotel, 2000 Fashion Show Dr. Las Vegas, NV. 89109 at 10am to March for President Trump!

“Bring your rally signs, wear your red shirts and comfortable shoes so that we can show President Trump that we support him and REJECT the constant attempts to impeach him!

“Don’t forget to show your support and get you [sic] exclusive “Impeach THIS” T-shirt. The proceeds of the sales are split equally between the NVGOP and the Trump Campaign. Order yours today!

SoHo comes to Vegas (and India too)

LAS VEGAS – I’m living it up at the Bellagio and starting tonight, headed to the Waldorf Astoria, during this “excellent adventure” to Sin City. I checked out the casinos but have preferred to read a book (“Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover) at the pool instead.

The public spaces at the Bellagio are remarkable – and the highlight of the hotel, at least for me.

This fall the Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden features a colorful fall display celebrating India: complete with elephants, tigers, fountains and flowers. A live webcam to the fall display is HERE. (Note: The webcam title is mislabeled).

Alongside the exhibit, the Bellagio has imported the popular vintage-style New York SoHo restaurant, Sadelle’s, to Las Vegas.

Sadelle’s is recreated in exquisite detail, ranging from “colorful pastels and bespoke touches transporting diners to a grand café along an old European boulevard” to the restaurant’s legendary menu.

The menu includes bagels and fresh smoked-fish platters, triple-decker sandwiches, salads and all-day caviar offerings.

I enjoyed the smoked-fish platter one morning for breakfast. It was a glorious presentation (plated in a tower, no less), complete with a bagel, thinly sliced tomato, cucumber and capers.

“Overlooking the Bellagio Conservatory, Sadelle’s brings an elevated perspective to all-day dining in Las Vegas,” as the Bellagio puts it. “The restaurant’s stunning locale, Ken Fulk design, fun vibe and legendary menu make it a destination experience for tourists and locals.” A video is here:

Viva Las Vegas!

LAS VEGAS – I love the notion of an endless summer, and I had a break at work, so I came here for a few days to soak up the 80-plus degree weather and read a book next to a swimming pool.

I’m reading “Educated,” a coming-of-age memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge. It is a New York Times bestseller.

To clear the decks for this trip, I put the “fall-like” weather back home on hold. In the Sierra foothills I like this season best. The recent power outage forced us to crank up the big red Vermont Castings stove in the kitchen, a fall ritual for us.

“Fall Colors” is the theme of our magazine’s upcoming issue, now at the printer (leading to this short break). Our cover art is a painting of Fall Colors on Nevada St. in Nevada City by local artist Kathy Wronski. Like Kathy’s “dog art,” it is energizing. We love Kathy’s work; she exemplifies our local artistic talent.

I flew to Las Vegas on Spirit Airlines for less than $100 roundtrip, thanks to some fare wars out of Sacramento, and I’m using frequent traveler miles to stay at the Bellagio and Waldorf Astoria. It’s another “excellent adventure.”

Las Vegas is booming. I passed the new Oakland Raiders stadium – still under construction – on the Uber ride from the airport to the hotel. It is a gleaming, reflective structure. I like the Raiders team but am not a big fan of its “fairweather” management. Oakland got hosed.

Besides its new stadium, Las Vegas is benefiting from the vision of billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson. Sir Richard’s plan is to build an all-electric train that will go from Vegas to Victorville and later, if all goes well, to Los Angeles.

We rode a Virgin train from London to the English countryside a few summers ago and loved the journey. Like Branson’s airline, the train offers great service at a reasonable price.

Vegas is coming of age, now generating a mix of ample entertainment besides gambling. I like playing card games and betting on sports (including horse racing), but this trip is more about reading a good book and relaxing by the pool.

My wife and son are holding down the fort, and I appreciate that. The “60-something” lifestyle isn’t that bad after all.

Shepard Smith’s abrupt departure from Fox is not fake news!

“To critics who accuse Fox News of being uniformly pro-Trump, the network often points to the blunt-truth reporting of Shepard Smith, its veteran chief news anchor, whose coverage of the Trump White House stood out on a channel known best for conservative opinion,” as the New York Times is reporting.

“Starting now, Fox News will need to point to somebody else.

“In an announcement that stunned colleagues, Mr. Smith concluded his Friday newscast by signing off from Fox News — for good. ‘Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave,’ Mr. Smith said calmly. ‘After requesting that I stay, they obliged.’

“A member of the network’s founding staff in 1996, Mr. Smith became increasingly conspicuous at Fox News for his skepticism on President Trump. ‘Why is it lie after lie after lie?’ Mr. Smith asked during a 2017 newscast; this summer, he deemed the president’s attacks on minority female lawmakers as ‘misleading and xenophobic.’

“His pointed comments, closer in tone to that of CNN anchors like Anderson Cooper than of Fox News mainstays like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, irked Mr. Trump, who had taken to taunting Mr. Smith on Twitter as the network’s ‘lowest-rated anchor.’ Other Fox News personalities were also unimpressed: Last month, Mr. Carlson openly mocked Mr. Smith on-air, a rare moment of intramural discord bursting into public view.”

The rest of the article is here.

A room with a view of Beijing’s tallest skyscraper

Completed just in time for the 70th Anniversary of China’s National Day, October 1: the ritual vessel-inspired CITIC Tower. Photo: HG Esch, courtesy of KPF.

BEIJING — The 1731-foot-tall CITIC Tower — the capital city’s new tallest building and the world’s eighth tallest — opened just in time for China’s national celebrations this week. It is in the same neighborhood as the Rosewood Beijing, the hotel where I’m staying. I can see it from my room.

The super-tall skyscraper stands in start contract to the historic Beijing hutongs I visited earlier this week. “Not only is Beijing HUGE – and I’m talking enormous – but the city itself has a great mix of preserved ancient culture and super modern and contemporary architecture from some of the world’s most famous architects,” as one online travel magazine put it.

CITIC Tower’s design draws inspiration from the “zun,” a ritual vessel originating in Bronze Age China, according to the the architects behind the structure’s design, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

“In profile, the tower abstracts and refines the zun’s vase-like form, balancing composition and articulation with structural requirements and leasing depth needs,” the architectural firm added. “Broader at its base than its crown, the tower combines its iconography with infrastructure that supports the building’s integrity in China’s greatest seismic zone.”

A video of the skyscraper is here: CITIC (China Zun) Tower from Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF).

Sightseeing in Beijing

BEIJING — The subway here is one of the world’s largest. But it’s hard to get a “sense of place” from underground, so I walked around the neighborhood and hired a car and an English-speaking guide to get to know China’s capital.

The sedan was a comfortable BMW 5 series built in China. This is BMW’s largest market. A young man who introduced himself as “David” was an affable English-speaking tour-guide. His business card read “David Kwang.”

We spent the afternoon tooling around Beijing. Central Beijing is surrounded by rings, starting with the 1st ring, then the 2nd ring and so on. We spent most of the time in the core area.

We passed well-known places such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the resting place of Mao Zedong, Temple of Heaven, Houhai Lakes, Jingshan Park, and the Drum & Bell Tower.

At some spots, we got out and walked around. It was good to have David around because he could answer random questions that occurred to me.

One of the most fascinating sights are the hutongs, which are alleys formed by rows of courtyard houses, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The lanes have exotic sounding names such as Nanluoguxiang or Yandaixie Street.

I remembered these alleys and residences from visiting Shanghai last fall, where they are called lane houses, dating back to colonialism (early 20th century). This so-called real estate showdown between Beijing and Shanghai is further explained here.

Signs commemorating China’s 70th celebration are posted all over, as they were in Chengdu. National flags were posted all along the boulevards.

I also noticed the Western influence: billboards touting the new iPhone Pro at bus stops, as well as Starbucks coffehouses, and Kentucky Fried Chicken fast-food restaurants.

As we traveled around, I recognized the spot where Chinese President Xi Jinping gave his 70th anniversary speech on national television earlier in the week.

I also recognized the boulevards that had been the sight of a massive military parade on TV— about 15,000 personnel, and hundreds of pieces of weaponry and equipment.

Along with the other buildings, David also pointed out the Zhongnanhai compound (AKA “Gate of New China”) that houses the offices of Xi Jinping.

David said Beijing had attracted record crowds for this week’s 70th anniversary celebration. People came from all over China for the weeklong festivities.

It resulted in traffic gridlock and countless road closures — and we experienced the tail-end of all that.

The streets of Beijing are a mix of bicycles, pedestrians and vehicles. Compared with other cities I’ve visited, they mostly stay out of each other’s way — except for the occasional pedestrian who wanders out in front of a car, daring the driver to stop. We experienced a few near misses in our sedan.

Some of the colorful bicycles that line the streets are offered for ride sharing. Chinese mobile apps such as WeChat are used for communicating, while others such as Mobike are used for renting the bicycles.

As with Chengdu and Shanghai, I was impressed with the cleanliness of the streets and boulevards — at least the main ones. I figured they were kept extra tidy for this week’s festivities, but recalled that Shanghai’s boulevards were clean too.

The sight of electric cars is becoming more common in Beijing. I spotted a few Teslas, among other brands. The electric cars have green license plates compared to blue for gasoline-powered vehicles

In recent years, more electric cars have been sold in China than the rest of the world combined. The government offers incentives to electric-car owners, such as a less expensive licensing procedure, David explained.

Though Beijing is notorious for its smog, I have been blessed with relatively clear skies this week. I think fall is a good time to visit from that standpoint.

We returned to the hotel around dusk. I said goodbye and headed inside for a cup of green tea in the lobby. I went for a swim in the hotel pool, ate a hot pot for dinner and caught up with the international news on CNN. It seems that whenever there’s news about the protests in Hong Kong, the TV goes dark for a moment before returning to the next news item.


Peking duck in Beijing

BEIJINGPeking duck, also known as Beijing roast duck, has been a mainstay in Chinese cuisine ever since its creation during the Yuan dynasty of 1279-1368.

We’ve long been fans. I enjoy making the dish as well. I order the fresh duck from Grimaud Farms in the San Joaquin Valley.

Grimaud’s trademark Muscovy ducks are delicious and have been served at restaurants ranging from the Zuni Café  in San Francisco to Jean-Georges in New York. We have enjoyed them on special occasions.

I sampled Chinese roast duck when I visited Shanghai last fall, noticing that the server used a sharp blade to shave thin slices of the golden-brown duck for plating. I was dining alone, but I could see tables of other diners enjoying the festive experience.

I was eager to eat Chinese duck again — this time in Beijing. I ordered 1/2 of a duck in advance and was seated at a table that faced an open kitchen. It was a front-row seat, like at a chef’s table.

I could see the chefs chopping vegetables and preparing other dishes. One the dishes was malatang, referring to “street food” that is popular in Beijing. (It consisted of skewers of beef, fish and veggies seasoned in spicy fermented bean paste, chili oil and Sichuan pepper broth that was grilled on an open fire).

The roasted Huairou Farms duck was cooked in a wood-fired brick oven (apple, peach and date wood). It was served with leek, cucumbers, sugar, sweet bean sauce and pancakes.

It’s fun to assemble the dish: You place one of the paper-thin pancakes on a plate, and top it with a piece of crispy-skinned, tender duck, cucumber, scallion, and sweet bean sauce, and fold it together. Then grab it with chopsticks. It was delicious.

I ordered a side of wok-fried Chinese kale and minced garlic. I paired it with a glass of French wine (M. Chapoutier, Belleruche  Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Rhone Valley). Dessert was a scoop each of homemade green tea and mango ice cream.

It was a wonderful meal and a memorable dining experience, and I also enjoyed the people watching. Good times in Beijing.