Aspen Blind Cafe

Here’s an interesting description of a night at a blind cafe, a chance for people to simulate blindness by experiencing it (in a minor way) at a restaurant. It sounds like such a cool idea. The author is Rachel of Giggles and Musings.

Aspen Blind Cafe

Last night, I went, at the request of my mother, to an event called the Aspen Blind Café. I was a two hour event that started at 8:30pm and was dinner and a live music performance in complete darkness. When I say that you start to picture it, whether you intend to or not, but I will tell you now that you can’t. You have no idea. I went with my mom, my step- dad (Steve) and a friend of my mom’s (Kim) and her boyfriend (Brad).

We were led into the space by a blind server. He seated us at a rectangular table that sat 6. I was next to Brad and across from a woman who came alone named Sandy. From the moment that we entered the darkness, I was anxious. I was able to find the gift on my seat and sit down without incident. Although, I did think that the table was at a different angle than it ended up being, so I sat down at a funny angle. I was able to easily find my napkin and distinguish my wine and water. That part wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be and in a smart move from the organizers all the glass were short tumblers, so it wasn’t as easy to knock them over. However, what I didn’t account for is how small my world became and how much it freaked me out. While I was eating I was fine, because I was focusing on trying to cut my chicken. I ended up picking the chicken up with my hands, but I did manage to get my plate clean.



A Pity

Here’s one reason I pity Chinese university students. We got this email today:

Hi all,

I am writing to let you know that the opening hours of the playground is from 6am to 8am, and between 3pm and 10pm. At other times of a day, you only can get into the playground when the doorman is there.

Enjoy your time doing exercise.



Mind you, I haven’t seen a doorman.

So even if a college student doesn’t have classes, there’s no access to the basketball courts and sports areas. This action does not lead people to go to the library or to study more. Studying isn’t the first substitute for sports. Computer games could be. So I think this wrongheaded action actually promotes sedentary, non-academic activities more than anything else.

We have no classes from noon till 2pm and even then they can’t use the sports area.

Tea with the Cadre

Communist Professional Development School, Jinan

Yesterday Bev, a colleague, and I went to tea with the head of a nearby Communist training school. This man’s working on an MPA from Clark University and wanted to polish his English. He sent a car for us at 2pm and we were soon at his school (which is so much cleaner than ours). It’s a school for government workers to deepen their Communist philosophy understanding. They attend for three months at a stretch. No, it didn’t seem to be a re-education center.

We expected a couple hours of chat and perhaps a drive around to see some sights. The afternoon started with tea, cup after cup of tea served by the man who picked us up. The leader, Mr. Xu kept the conversation rolling, though his English I’d say is intermediate. So he could ask and answer questions, but beyond the one sentence response he’d be out of his depth. That wasn’t a problem as both Bev and I are trained to keep the right kinds of questions coming. Who are the famous people in Jinan’s history? How long have you worked her? How many students do you have here at a time? (Twenty-two. I don’t remember the other answers. Some were fairly muddled as far as pronunciation goes.) But the tea was good and we were doing fine with conversation. At one point Mr. Xu asked if we could go to dinner and we agreed.  That was before we realized that the conversation would extend for another 2 hours.

The drive turned out to be an adept artist and calligrapher whose work was displayed throughout the room. We got to look through books of Chinese art and Mr. Xu was quite keen on comparing Communism with Christianity because you constantly need to recharge your faith. We both tried to show them that there’s a difference between a belief in a political system and a religion. I think he mulled that over. By 4pm we were running out of topics and satisfied with the afternoon. We tried to get a ride back, but our earlier promise was remembered so we were encouraged to rack our brains for more topics. I will commend Mr. Xu for his English stamina. I’d have been wiped out after two hours of conversation in a foreign language I hadn’t mastered.

Our Table

Fragrant Pork

Around 5 we left for dinner. He took us clear across town to an elegant hotel, where he was well known.  We were escorted to a private room and I was amazed at the level of hospitality we were receiving.  We slowly chatted some more and long silences were inevitable.  I think the Americans were more nervous about that than Mr. Xu. He didn’t seem to have a need to fill the silence.

A taro concoction, I think - delicious


A new favorite. Not sure what it is.



After about a dozen dishes including dumplings and rice, we finished dinner. Mr. Xu took us home promising to visit our classes if we liked and encourage our students to study hard. It was a lovely evening, but I think it would have been better to get some new blood at about the 2 hour mark. That’s when the conversation required more heavy lifting.

Inifinite Hotel


This video should get you thinking. It’s a one minute video explaining infinity.

Word of the Week: Hnefatafl

I have no idea how to pronounce Hnefatafl, but I’ll try to find out. Hnefatafl is a Viking board game more complex, some say, than Chinese chess.

I discovered this word on, a website that can help you sound pretentious. Occasionally, you’ll find yourself in a social situation where you need to get mischievous or scream. If screaming’s out, no doubt has a tidbit you can throw into the conversation so you at least amuse yourself. Here are a few:

  • Everyone goes to the French Riviera. The Italian Riviera is just as lovely, and so much more exclusive. Emmy
  • Although Pavarotti was clearly very talented, his fame was inflated by the London and Decca marketing machines. Domingo or even Corelli were obviously his equal.
  • Wikipedia tends to be strong on the subjects that don’t matter.
  • The problem with Malcolm Gladwell is that he writes too well: when you read him, you don’t know if you’re agreeing with his controversial ideas because he’s right, or because he’s enchanted you.

Jack Gilbert, 1950 – 2012

I met Jack Gilbert at Act One‘s summer writers’ program in 2012. He was on the faculty and did the heavy lifting of reading all our work and carefully writing pertinent comments that would lift our script’s quality. I still have my final projects comments.

He was a pillar of Act One as he knew all the writers better than anyone else and encouraged all of us who took on the marathons that are Script Frenzy or NaNoWriMo.  He ran a Great Book’s book club for I think 20 years, predating Act One. I was part of the online group and without this club I would never have gotten around to reading In Search of Lost Time, Kristen Lavransdatter, Moll Flanders, King LearDon Quixote (our current read), and so many others. It’s so easy to procrastinate as one endeavors to become a better writer, Jack held us accountable, made us feel the guilt we should those times we weren’t writing, while encouraging us and shining a light on the glimmers of art we didn’t realize we’d produced.

Jack had a deep knowledge of story and literature. He was a humble and sincere man, without a pretentious bone in his body.  Every time I show my students Casablanca, I think of Jack whose birthday ritual was a screening of his favorite film.

For the last week or so hundreds of Act One people have been praying and hoping he’d beat the pneumonia that took him in the end.

Here are a few of the messages people posted on Facebook about Jack:

There are men and women who do great things for vast numbers of people who they will never meet. Then there are the Jack Gilberts of the world – those who do incredible & compassionate things for people on a one to one, face to face level. I wonder how many people consider Jack’s passing last night as one of the worst moments of their lives? I’ll bet it’s in the hundreds.

I had the great privilege of being invited a little over a year ago into the book club Jack Gilbert led. I am so sad that we have lost his guidance and enthusiasm, but grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know him. He was a man of immense faith, and I’m happy that his battle here is over. He is missed already.

We lost one of the good ones today. Jack was a friend and writing mentor of mine, as well as to hundreds of others. I was lucky enough to have been able to say goodbye. He passed peacefully, surrounded by friends and family. What a way to go. What a life he lived.

Grieving the loss of Jack Gilbert. A wise and gentle mentor to many writers and storytellers, and a man who knew that all our little stories were somehow about the one big story.

I’m not the first to say this, but it’s perfect so I will. Jack, here’s lookin’ at ya kid.

I found myself nodding in agreement. I’d add that I indulge in the occasional soap box aspect of blogging.

No Fixed Plans

I can’t help but look through her as well as “in.”

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Sculpture Park

It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for strolling through the new sculpture park on the west side of town.



New Development Downtown Jinan

I could live here

They’re putting the finishing touches on a community downtown that’ll have apartments, shops, restaurants and cafes. What I like best is the style.  Rather than the standard high rise these three and four story buildings have the charm of days gone by. The lamps and landscaping complete the pictures. Yet ambiance comes at a price. I’m guessing these won’t be cheap.

I’d love to see some tea houses, art shops and galleries, stationery stores as well as clothing shops. It seems China’s already got so many shops. Is this another aspect of the bubble? I’d rather live in this neighborhood than in the high rises I saw yesterday.

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