American Writers Museum



This year the American Writers Museum in Chicago on Michigan Avenue. It was high time I visited so despite the rain and cold, I took a friend from Milwaukee to explore it.

After showing our tickets, which I bought online and got a 20% discount on, we were directed to start our visit on the right where there is a timeline of American writers.

If you look up on the left and you’ll see a timeline of American history. Under that is the main exhibit showing a chronological series of portraits of significant American writers. When you turn the panel, which has three sides, you’ll find more information and background about each writer. Below is information on a well designed panel about various literary movements or authors. It’s a lot of reading, but its well presented. Also, the curators seem to have made an effort to present authors from all backgrounds. Across from the time line is a wall of squares with author’s quotations. The squares move to reveal an panel with more information or a video.


Parallel to the gallery with the timeline was a photo exhibit on biographies, written by or on authors or celebrities along with their photos. The black and white photos of 50+ years ago were my favorite. There’s something about the crisp gradations and the styles of bygone eras that we just don’t see much anymore.

The next room I saw was the Readers Room which focuses on reading. It highlights different kinds of reading, such as educational, newspapers, magazines and more. There are two interactive screens where you can submit your favorite authors and see the most popular authors or books other visitors have chosen.

Another gallery had a small exhibit on Laura Ingles Wilder with biographical information, maps of where each of her books was set, depiction of her work in other formats and critical responses to her works.

The museum has a table with different typewriters, from the earliest kind to Selectric to a laptop. People were pounding away at the old typewriters while the laptop wasn’t used while I was there.


Quotation, Octavia Butler

Then there was an exhibit on the skills of writing with interactive exhibits on specificity, making prose active and such.

Finally, there was an area dedicated to Chicago writers like Saul Bellow, Ida B. Wells, Mike Royko, Ring Larder, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Peter Finley Dunne and many more. Here you could listen to short recordings of their work and see these turnable banners with their portraits and information on their work.


Each month the museum offers several programs including public readings. The staff was very helpful as we went through the galleries. They’d point out little things like the mural in the children’s room which had squirrels in a tree reading Caldecott award winning books and each squirrel had some element that related to the story it was reading. For example, the squirrel reading Charlotte’s Web, had a wisp of a web hanging over it.

All in all, I give the museum a thumbs up and will be back. I’d say allow an hour to get through the museum. If there’s a program, add more time.

Tickets: Adults $12, Students $8, discounts for children and seniors.


Touring Seoul

When Tanis and I visited Seoul we saw lots of young women in traditional hanboks, which gave our tour an extra sense of history. Above I’ve added a video of two Korean vloggers who explain that if you come in traditional dress, you get in free.

Another tip: As we exited the subway we passed a group of high school students volunteering to take tourists around Gyeongbuk Palace. I’m so glad we accepted the offer. Jin, whose English was quite polished, gave tours once a month to further his English and deepen his understanding of history. The tour was more than just your run of the mill “Look to the left, look to the right.” Whoever devised the tour included lots of Q and A so it’s very interactive and exceeded my expectations. It’s absolutely free.

Spring 2016 China 070

Tanis (center) with two Korean women

Xinjiang Provincial Museum


If you’re in Urumqi, the Xinjiang Provincial Museum is a must see. It’s not very large, but it gives you a portion of the history of the region. It’s located behind a street with lots of high fashion, over priced stores and the Sheraton Hotel. Get to the Sheraton and someone at the front desk will be able to speak English and point you in the right direction.

After going through security, you’ll find galleries with more English than usual. They explain how the Han first came to Xinjiang in 200 BC, way before the Uighurs. They want you to see the Han arts and crafts and remember they were there first. Point taken.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to see the galleries with Uighur culture on display. Those were locked up. Why?



I’d love to know if they’re usually closed. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve see these galleries.

It seems that these galleries should always be open to show goodwill.

Lost on Planet China

lost china

After reading J. Maarten Troost‘s Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation Or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid, I’m putting his earlier books at the top of my “to read list.”

When Troost and his wife outgrow their home in California, they consider moving to China. But first Troost feels the need to investigate. Would China be the place to bring up his two boys? Thus he sets off on what must have been months of travel all around the Middle Kingdom.

Soon after arriving in polluted Beijing, it’s clear that Troost isn’t exposing his sons to the PM 2.5 laced smog that passes for air in China. No. He’s a good father.

Yet he’s also a traveler and he wants to see what makes this empire tick. So he travels through China stopping in Tai an, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shanghai, Tibet, Chengdu and many other exotic, perplexing, fascinating, crowded, polluted (and less so in a few, a very few instances) cities. All the while Troost delights with his wit, perception and insight. Here’s a sample of his prose describing a trip to a traditional market;

And then, as if we were lost in some grim Humane Society nightmare, we began to wander past stalls selling frogs, chickens, eels, turtles, cats, scorpions –big and small- – dogs in cages, ducks in bags, and snakes in bowls. There were 2,000 stalls in this market, and this, apparently, was where Noah’s Ark unloaded its cargo. If you were planning a dinner party and looking to tickle your guests’ palate with a delicately prepared Cobra heart, perhaps followed by some bunny soup and sauteéd puppy, the Qingping Market is for you.

Now there is some wit and exaggeration, so if you’re looking for a literary journey with a stodgy, politically correct anthropologist, this book isn’t for you, but I’d rather travel with Troost than a disciple of Margaret Mead.

Troost experiences the full China – the majesty of the Forbidden City, come ons from the prostitutes, the cute pandas, the karaoke on the Yangste River Cruise, the constant haggling, the bandit taxi drivers, the expat pot heads in Yunnan, the cheerful Tibetans, and the hordes who’ll knock down their great grandmother to get to their assigned train seat.

He weaves in history and politics with a light touch that makes it memorable and interesting. You’ll learn a lot about bargaining and patience on the road from Troost.

Even monks love cowboy hats in Henan

In Kaifeng we started with the Chief Minister’s Temple, which is where all the tours stop so get there early to avoid the crowds.

This temple complex was first built in 555 A.D. and at its peak 10,000 monks lived there. The big draws now are the jade Buddha and a sculpture of Tathagata that has over 1000 little arms with eyes engraved in the hands. It’s said to have taken over 58 years to finish. No photos were allowed there so I can’t show you what it looked like. It was amazing though, trust me.

Kaifeng’s Mosque

When to pray

Later we walked around the neighborhood with the mosque and Catholic church. Lots of local color there in the lively market. Why is it so invigorating to see butchers selling their slabs of meat hanging from a hook or little bakeries with ovens that may well predate the PRC? I’m not sure but it is. I doubt I’ll ever get so jaded that watching the retirees joke and play cards doesn’t warm my heart.

Catholic Church

Both the mosque and the much more modern church were worthwhile, if for no other reason than they weren’t the least bit crowded. Neither was the second temple we pretty much stumbled on.

The one site that’s missing is the Kaifeng synagogue, that’s no more. Kaifeng was the center of Chinese Judaism during the time of the Silk Road, but now the Chinese Jews are believed to have all been assimilated. Kaifeng’s universities do offer Jewish Studies programs though.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Today 2

At Thousand Mountain Buddha

Another Buddha, one of a thousand

I like this challenge so I’m adding a post.

Another day, another adventure since I’ve got a friend visiting from the U.S. We went to Jinan‘s Thousand Buddha Mountain, a lovely park/sacred site. Afterwards we went on to Shandong Elite Teahouse. très elegant and soothing.

Shandong Elite Teahouse

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Here’s how it works:

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Last Sunday Kristyn and I thought we’d be intrepid and head off to Zibo, a town known as the end of the Silk Road, for the day. We thought Zibo was about an hour’s bus ride from us and expected that we’d find the city center and could wander and discover from there.

Well, China isn’t easy. I don’t blame anyone for signing up with a tour.

Getting the right bus was easy enough but we had to wait 40 minutes for it to leave. The ride was fine, though twice as long as we’d thought. Once in Zibo we discovered that like Qufu, the city wasn’t designed for convenience. The bus station was far from the city center. As Zibo’s far from famous, we didn’t have and couldn’t get a city map with English. None of the bus signs had roman letters. That was a challenge, but not too bad. We decided just to get on the bus most people were getting on. This got us to the east side of town, which looked like a lot of other Chinese towns, i.e. unimpressive. We did spot some interesting architecture in the form of a church, but that was it.

Too bad it was locked

In search of lunch we wandered and found a greasy spoon which had a good sized crowd. (Greasy chopsticks? doesn’t have the same ring). The waitress spoke English and the menu had photos, but what we got didn’t resemble what we ordered. The food was okay, but ordering in a new restaurant here is always a challenge.

Then we headed up a promising tree-lined street in search of a sight, any sight, to give us a sense of Zibo’s best. We found a little market that looked promising, but further wandering was disappointing. Nothing special on offer. The same was true of the main street. A lot of Chinese goods lack that special something that makes you want to buy. Where’s the creativity I often wonder.

(There are some great Chinese painters and writers, some great designers, but it’s a low proportion of the population.)

Walking around wasn’t fruitful so when I saw a Ramada Inn, we went to ask the concierge for some suggestions. She offered the ceramics museum as a point of interest and wrote its name on a card for us. We did know that Zibo has a long history of excellence in ceramics.

a beautiful blue

I do applaud Zibo’s Ceramics Museum for its English signs. They have English labels and signs throughout the galleries so international visitors can understand the significance of what they’re viewing. Many museums could learn a lesson here.  True a collection will be seen mainly by Chinese visitors, but if you want the barbarians to come to appreciate your culture, you’ve got to put it in terms they understand.

A short cab ride later we’re gazing at ancient and modern pottery that redeemed a mediocre day. I don’t think I’d bother with this spontaneous exploring again. It was exhausting and four hours in a bus is a high price to pay for an okay lunch and a nice, not exceptional, museum.