Chinese Premier Xi Jinping – A Party of One !

Andrew Browne in his column – China World in the Wall Street Journal today describes the Chinese Premier ‘s election victory last month as ‘ A Party of One ” . Xi Jinping was re-elected unanimously for another term – for life ? – as for the first time in several decades ,the succession question is open as the 19th Party Congress did not name a successor to Xi . Also after Mao’s legacy , this is probably the first time that a leader’s thoughts got included in the policy framework of the Nation.

The world has seen ‘cult ‘ figures in national leadership roles like Joseph Stalin , Mao Zedong , Charles de Gaulle and Lee Kuan Yew who wielded great power with almost no opposition politically. Will Xi Jinping reach this level as the third generation leader in China after Mao and Deng ?  – Vladimir Putin is a close contender to Xi Jinping in this aspect in Russia.

I took interest in Chinese history first time after reading the books – The Good Earth and Dragon Seed by Pearl S Buck. The first Chinese Revolution of 1911 which overthrew the Imperial Dynasty and the second Chinese Revolution of 1949 when Mao Zedong created the Peoples Republic Of China attracted a lot of attention of the world. The Sleeping Dragon of the Peasant and Cycle days of China went through a great Cultural Revolution through the ” Great Leap Forward “.  China remained closed and isolated from the world for some more time until the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 – the first and probably the last efforts for democratic rights and pluralism with a multi party framework ! .

The Annexation of Tibet by China in 1960 and the US – China Rapprochement of the 70’s through the good offices of Henry Kissinger were strategically important developments of the century and altered the power balance post World War Two . But the new ‘ Avtar ‘ of China really came about thanks to the adoption of market economy by Den Xiaoping during 1978-89. While Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao who followed Deng kept the new momentum , it was Xi Jiping in a short period  of five years after taking over ,  kicked off many initiatives during his term towards bringing up China as the second most world economic power after the US . His new ambitious Infrastructure Initiative – The One Belt -One Road [ OBOR] towards Globalization of Investments in a multi nation road map for 30 plus years is the talk of the global strategists today.  This $5 Trillion project integrates the old silk routes through the land with a new maritime silk road covering Asia, the Middle East ,Europe and Africa. The project involves Roads,bridges ,gas pipelines,ports,railways and power plants . China always believes in dreaming BIG as is clear from their many large infrastructure projects within China in the recent past as seen in Shanghai, Dalian and in Chengdu.  The US,Japan and India have expressed reservations on this project for strategic reasons – India because the OBOR passes through POK – a disputed territory between India and Pakistan and the US and japan because of its objections on the maritime routes . Recently, Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan has mooted an alternative to OBOR with Australia,India and the US participating in it.

While China stands poised for greater laurels in the World Economic Scene, many analysts predict the bursting of the Bubble in the near term. While Mao and Deng were cult figures loved and revered by the Chinese Public, Xi Jiping is yet to acquire this status. Another issue of global impact is the defiant nuclear posture of North Korea which will test the leadership of Xi Jinping to a very critical level ! Only time will tell if this ” Party of One ” will vindicate the trust placed on him by the Chinese Polity.

Alice’s Restaurant at Woodside, California – The Biker’s Choice!


The West Coast of the US and the mountain roads originating at many places on the coast line are a biker’s dream. The good roads and the rugged terrain offer the bikers a wide choice to enjoy their rides. There are many places on the route to refill, relax and enjoy some good food, either on the go or over a sit down meal. Alice’s Restaurant, on Skyline Boulevard, on top of the Woodside Mountains score very high on most of these counts –  a truly great place, not only for the bikers but also for other tourists or travelers like me and my family who decided to take a detour from the main highway, on the strong recommendations of our son Raghu while returning to San Francisco on 15 October 2017 after a tour of Carmel-on-the Sea to the South.

Woodside in San Mateo County is rich in forestry and lumber is a big business there. A wooden building to support the logging industry came up at a tri-junction (then called the Four Corners) on the present day Skyline Boulevard in 1900. This store got converted to a small restaurant in 1950. In 1960, Alice Taylor bought this restaurant and named it after herself. Alice bought the adjacent buildings in 1970 and runs it as a family concern. The restaurant is now one of the most popular choice of the motorcyclists who stop here in large numbers for rest, food and for refills of gas. There is also a famous Arlo Guthrie song by the same name.

If you are a biker/ motorist, the restaurant is about an hour’s drive from San Francisco via State Highway Route 1 on the Pacific Coast up to Half Moon Bay and from their following the mountain roads on Route 92 and then Route 35 to Skyline Boulevard. You can also go via Route 280 /Route 101 from Woodside and take the mountain road on route 84 to reach there.

After waiting for almost one hour, there is always a big crowd there, we could move inside a nice wooden cabin and seated comfortably. They also have an outside area with green umbrellas for service. The restaurant offers a mix of American and Mexican food and has a well stocked bar. The cuisine consists of soups, salads, omelettes, burgers, sandwiches and desserts. We had some good wine and went for burgers, omelette and sandwiches. The food was delicious and the service top class. Attached is a You Tube Video link titled ‘The 100 Mile Meals – Alice’s Restaurant.

It was nice to experience the buzz there with so many bikers moving in quick succession. This is perhaps one of the few restaurants with a gift shop selling T Shirts and other branded merchandise on Alice’s Restaurant theme. There is also a gas station adjacent to the restaurant.

Our Weekend Road Trip to Carmel-by-the Sea

 

After our great road trip to the North of San Francisco up to Fort Bragg, Eureka and beyond, we decided to explore southwards on the Pacific Coast up to Carmel -on -the Sea covering a round trip of 300 miles. While the northern  trip was through wine country and redwood forests, the southern trip was through farm lands, pine forests and many tourist spots rich in history and scenic beauty. We had a very enjoyable weekend road trip for three days on 13-15 October. We selected California State Highway Route 1 which hugs the sea-coast for our onward journey via Pigeon Point – Santa Cruz – Monterey Bay to Carmel and on return took a diversion near Santa Cruz via Route 17 over to Route 101 for our return journey to San Francisco. The drive through Route 1 was memorable because of the number of small beaches on the Half Moon Bay, Historical Pigeon Point Light House where the Carrier Pigeon Cargo Ship wreck happened on 6 June 1853 and the beautiful Monterey Bay where we rode astride farm lands growing Artichoke, Lettuce, Pumpkins and strawberries.

The  Monterey Bay extends all the way south of Santa Cruz City till the Monterey peninsula and Carmel highlands. A very important area from a geological point, the Monterey Canyon, one of the largest underwater canyons in the world, begins off the coast of Moss’s Landing exactly at the center of the bay. Many species of marine mammals including sea otters, harbor seal and bottle nose dolphins are found in this area. It is also in the migratory path of gray and hump back whales. Several varieties of Kelp grow in the bay some of these as tall as trees. The California State University founded in 1994 at Monterey and uses the facilities donated by the military.

We chose Hofsas House in Carmel town, a quaint hotel with old world charm for our stay for two nights. While Carmel-by-the Sea is famous for its white beaches, the town with rolling hill sides has fairy tale cottages, art galleries and the historic Carmel Mission. Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first sighted this place with beautiful beaches and pine forests 50 years after Columbus discovered America. Carmel is famous for its celebrities including Clint Eastwood, the well known movie star who was the Mayor of Carmel during 1986-88. More than 200 movies and TV Commercials were shot in this scenic place. Today, Carmel is one of the costliest real estate in the US. Carmel town has excellent restaurants for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner and the waiting time is anything up to an hour. On a weekend, it is very difficult to get reservations for dinner. Mostly Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean and West Coast American food is available.

On the second day, we visited the Monterey Aquarium – one of the largest aquarium dedicated to the rich marine life obtaining in the Western Coast of US. The live Kelp Forest and a variety of Jelly Fish displayed was a great attraction. Thereafter, we drove through the Pacific Grove to the Point Pinos Light House and over to the beautiful 17 Mile Drive on the seashore amidst thick cypress forest on one side and the Pebble Beach on the other side. Pebble Beach has some of the finest golf courses where PGA tournaments are held, on the 17 Mile drive, there are 21 points of tourist interest, the Lone Cypress being the most photographed spot in the west coast.

We left Carmel on the third day and drove through mountain roads to Wood Side, on the Biker’s Routes and had a sumptuous lunch at the popular Alice’s Restaurant on the hill top. After lunch, we drove through the Silicon Valley crossing Mountain View- Google and Palo Alto where the well-known Garage Museum of HP is located. The visit to the Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, the Mecca of IT with Stanford University, Apple, Oracle, Google, HP, Oracle and Facebook was a pilgrimage for me, having worked with the IT Industry for 20 years after my Army Service. Besides, it was my wish to visit the HQ of Google at Mountain View along with my wife and son Raghu who works for Google at San Francisco. We followed Route 101 back to San Francisco.

An Enjoyable Road Trip to North California

We were out on the road for 3 days , covering about 800 miles with two night halts at Fort Bragg from 6th Oct to 8th Oct to explore the Northern part of California. The scenic beauty of this part of California – mountains  with thick foliage interspersed with  a number  vineyards and wineries  between and the rugged Pacific Ocean on the western side dotted with many beaches , provides a great panorama of the nature . There are many lakes , two major rivers – the American river and the Russian river [ name connected with the Russians who worked for the American – Russian Company here way back in 1800 ] providing irrigation and adventure sports in this sector. The Redwoods Forest area is a major attraction to unwind and enjoy the nature in its purest form . Two major towns – Fort Bragg and Eureka on the Ocean front are rich with history and provides some very good restaurants and hotels for stay . While Fort Bragg  in the Mendocino County has its origin before the American Civil war as a military  garrison , Eureka in  the Humboldt County caters for the timber trade from the Redwood Forests and later with the Gold Rush during the 1850 and beyond. There are many tourist attractions near these port cities. On the way , we can also enjoy the scenic beauty of two small townships – Petaluma and Santa Rosa – mainly catering to the farming community of this area.

We started from San Francisco in the forenoon , passed through the Golden Gate Bridge and traveled through Route 101 to Petaluma where we had lunch . We had to take a diversion before reaching Petaluma due to a traffic jam and this provided us with a good drive through some farm lands enjoying the village scenes on the way.  After a good lunch at Cafe Zazzle ,with sea foods and salads , we proceeded to the Bodega Bay and got back to Route 101 via Guerneville in the Russian river valley of Sonoma County. Here again, we could witness some rustic village life with many farms and vineyards around . However, the prolonged drought conditions in California was visible in the mountain slopes all around and  chance of forest fires are more now in this part of the countryside.

Back on Route 101 , we proceeded to Willits and from there cut across via a winding road for 30 miles to reach Fort Bragg on Route 1. We stayed for the night at the beautiful Ocean View Lodge which offered an uninterrupted view of the ocean . At night , we had dinner at the Tap Room of the famous North Coast Brewing Company and tasted some of their popular beer. In the morning , we took off to Eureka and beyond to get a good feel of the Redwoods Forest . The best part of this tour was the drive through the famous Avenue of the Giants , the road going through the forest reserve with very tall redwood trees on both sides with a rich foliage all around. It was a memorable experience !

We got back to Fort Bragg for the night halt at the Holiday Inn Express . On the third day, we visited the beautiful McKerricher  State park overlooking the ocean and got back to San Francisco by late evening. What was noteworthy during our stay in Fort Bragg was the community spirit displayed everywhere during our interactions. During our breakfast in the David’s Deli  , we found the entire hotel staff and the guests present there joining the birthday celebrations of a veteran dining there.

Before I could publish this post , a great tragedy happened in the North Bay area centered around Santa Rosa and Napa Valley where Forest Fire created havoc for 48 hours on the 9th and 10 th of October , causing 21 deaths, complete damage to 2000 properties and displacing more than 20,000 people.About 23,000 acres of farm land and vine yards got in the fire. The situation is still serious when I write this post!

US and China – Defining Relationship of 21st Century

” America has no permanent friends or enemies , only permanent interests ”   – Henry Kissinger

The nonagenarian master strategist and American diplomat Henry Kissinger spoke at the Columbia University on 26th September at the US-China University Presidents and Think Tank Forum.He described the US- China relations as the ‘ defining ‘ relationship of the 21st Century and suggested that from a rational day-to-day working relationship , this should raise to a conceptual level for ‘ Global Peace and Human Progress’ .Kissinger should know as it was he who initiated this relationship way back in June 1971 , when he traveled on a secret mission via Romania and Pakistan to meet up with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao Zedong at the behest of President Nixon ,ending  China’s isolation for 30 years from the western world.

I recall an incident in 1975 , when I was undergoing the prestigious staff course at the Defense Services Staff College [DSSC] , Wellington , Nilgiris , India . The then US Ambassador to India William B Saxbe was a guest speaker and one of my colleague asked him an awkward question –  ” Sir , US treated China as an untouchable till 1971 , and suddenly , we find that President Nixon sent his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger secretly to China to meet up with Premier Zhou Enlai – How do you explain this incident in the context of morality in International politics? ” – The Ambassador did not like this question and avoided a direct answer initially . But later on , he stated that it was in the strategic interest of the US to have opened this so-called Track 2 diplomacy in 1971.

Rest is history now as the above initiative was soon followed up with the Nixon – Zhou Enlai summit in Beijing in 1972 and a new chapter began in the US- China relationship , though formal diplomatic ties came about only in 1979 because of the US stand on Formosa – now Taiwan. This major break through paved the way for a ‘détente ‘ with USSR later and helped both the countries to enter trade relations for mutual benefit . However , in the eyes of the US , China remains a potential adversary but an economic partner , in spite of the poor human rights records of China and the status of the largest foreign creditor of the US ! .

In the present North Korean crisis , the US – China relationship assumes a great significance and a summit meeting between President Donald Trump and the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is on the cards soon. Experts believe that this meeting can pavé the way to diffuse the tension and bring North Korea to the negotiation table to settle the Nuclear Issue.

A Visit to Sausalito City , California

During last week-end , we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to visit the beautiful Sausalito city ,about 10 miles from San Francisco . This place has a rich history, originally occupied by the coastal Miwoks , later with the Spanish occupation of the Bay Area and the independence of Mexico.The development of the area was initiated by William A Richardson who arrived in California in 1822. The place initially named  Rancho Saucelito –  meant a small cluster of willows , with a  fresh water spring.

Before the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, Sausalito was an important ferry connecting the North and South across the Bay. Interestingly , many people still use the ferry to reach their work place in San Francisco regularly . The present city is part of the Marin County spread across an area of 2.26 sq miles [0.49 in water] with 7000 plus population.

An important tourist attraction of Sausalito is the enclave of houseboats , now permanently anchored to the water front on the Richardson Bay . These got built by artist squatters after World War Two , initially to avoid taxes . Those days, there was a thriving ship building industry in Sausalito. The city has a beautiful coast line on the Bay on one side and a hill-side opposite to the Bay .

Being a tourist attraction very close to San Francisco , there are many good restaurants with Mexican , Italian and American cuisine . We spotted an Indian Restaurant named Avatar’s which is famous for their Indian – Mexican fusion food. We were in for a very pleasant surprise for lunch when Mr Ashok Kumar greeted us and suggested a mysterious assortment of Punjabi and Mexican food ,ending with his main attraction – namely a dessert called Avatar’s Dream. The food and hospitality were excellent and it was definitely a great place in Sausalito.

East Meets West – A Duet by Dr Zakir Hussain with Joshua Redman at San Francisco

We felt very glad when my son Raghu told me that he has reserved seats for us to attend a Duet by Dr Zakir Hussain , the Maestro with Joshua Redman ,the Saxophone giant on 17 September organized by SF-JAZZ Center at the Miner Auditorium , San Francisco. It was the third time that me and my wife were attending a live performance by the Maestro [ see link to my blog of 2010 below] but the very first time outside India in a fusion music duet . We gathered from the souvenir issued by the organizers that these two great artists collaborated and performed earlier during this year when the JAZZ Center honored Dr Zakir Hussain with the SF-JAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award.

The program commenced at 7 PM sharp to a full house. Joshua Redman started the proceedings with a solo and Zakir Hussain warmed up to Joshua’s tenor and soprano saxophone with his own beats with the ensemble of percussion instruments with great dexterity . The many duets as well as solo renderings which followed for almost two hours took the audience to a zone of bliss unparalleled in the realms of instrumental music. While Redman is young and  a great performer , Dr Hussain whom we heard first time in 1994 still retains his great skills and age has not in any way slowed him down. What caught our attention was the sincere humility and mutual appreciation demonstrated by both artists during and after the performance. [ See the photo taken at the end of the program ] . Overall , another great evening to cherish !

A Performance that takes you to a Zone of Bliss – Ustad Zakir Hussain –  

A Drive to Pescadero , California

We went on a week-end drive on 16 September to Pescadero , 45 miles away from San Francisco  through State Route 1 . The old state highway passes through some sparsely populated places and many beautiful beaches on the way , the Half Moon Beach , the most notable  among them. The drive took us about 75 minutes and the week-end traffic was normal.

Pescadero is a very small hamlet , part of San Mateo County , extending 4 square miles , population around 650 only ,living in about 200 households – mainly a farming community. The place is only 2 miles away from the Pascadero Beach on Route 1 ,14 miles south of the Half Moon Beach. The climate is wet and cool in Winter and mostly dry in Summer . There are many farms and lumber mills around with some good camping places.

The history of Pescadero dates back to 1833 as part of the MIssion Santa Cruz pasture. The place is also connected with the Wells Fargo Stage Coaches legend .An article in the Wells Fargo messenger states that a stage-coach salvaged and refurbished from the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon which wrecked at the nearby Pigeon Point in 1853 carried passengers and freight for 40 years on the Pescadero road for the Wells Fargo Company. Intel co-founder Gordon.E Moore also resided here till the age of 10 and his childhood home Lunasea still stands there.

The high point of our visit to Pescadero was our sumptuous lunch at the well-known Duarte’s Tavern with some choice white wine , sea food delicacies like jumbo fried prawns with artichoke and rice , artichoke soup and some very good pies . An enjoyable experience away from the city looking at the rustic countryside and farm lands on one side and the many beaches on the ocean front.

The American Dream

The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods …

Yesterday, while on a morning walk through Duboce Park in our neighborhood in San Francisco, we noticed the above message attributed to Harvey Milk, former Mayor of the City, on the wall of a school at the end of the park. The park itself is a microcosm of American social life where we find veterans, youngsters and their pet dogs enjoying a sunny day with plenty of open space to walk around, play and dream! I noticed with interest, the attention to detail, when I saw a water faucet specially designed for our canine friends.

We love San Francisco, where the old quaint Spanish style mansions and Mexican cuisine co-exist with the new-found prosperity of the Silicon Valley and Bay Area nearby. Wealth has multiplied many times over thanks to the IT Revolution but the City still retains its old world charm. A walk around the Alamo Park or the PanHandle over to the Golden Gate Park up to the Pacific Ocean is a great experience.

The expression -American Dream- is attributed to the famous historian James Truslow Adams who wrote in 1931 explaining the concept:

“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstance of birth.”

Earlier in 1925 , F Scott Fitzgerald had used a variety of literary devices in the Great Gatsby to portray the essence of the American Dream. Going forward, till the second world war or till the beginning of the cold war, the American Dream represented the national ethos of the US – a set of ideals to live by, rooted in democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality.

In fact, the American Dream is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The basic idea of the dream came about from the first experiences of the immigrants from Europe to the New World and from the concept of the shifting frontiers in the early stages. Subsequently, Martin Luther King Jr based his Civil Rights Movement in the African- American quest for the American Dream.

The post world war prosperity for the US brought about an expanded meaning for the American Dream into four different attributes, namely Dream of Abundance, Democracy of Goods, Freedom of Choice and Novelty. While this itself was OK, the unintended consequences were the social divide, class wars and a quest by the political leadership to practice hegemony over the rest of the world. What followed the Cold War was an expression of this want to spread the ‘Area of Influence’ across the globe, reminding one of the 19th Century British Empire where Sun never Set.

The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Arab – Israel Conflict, the Palestinian problem, the Break Up of USSR, The Middle East problems, the Afghanistan War which also resulted in the 9/11 Disaster and the recent North Korean Nuclear Stand Off etc. are mainly attributed to the hegemony of the US in the garb of spreading democracy across the world. The UN has become a lame duck global institution mainly thanks to the Veto Power enjoyed by the US and a selected few. The old NATO and Warsaw Pact stand-off is now being replaced gradually by a new polarization against the US and its allies in the form of a possible Russia – China – Iran coalition to check mate the growing US influence in economic and political terms.

While the political establishment is concentrating on an equitable and desirable “World Order” as perceived by them and looking out for both economic and military measures to achieve them, the Millennials and the young Gen. Z [iGen] couldn’t care less for these initiatives at a huge cost to the US and they want a US which can address their concerns, looking inwards for a domestic ‘new order’.

Has the American Dream suffered in the bargain? I believe so because while the spirit is clear when one goes around the US now, there are visible cracks in the form of income disparities, jobs not easily available with unemployment at 5%, an apathy to established social norms and intolerance raising its ugly head in isolated incidents in the form of shoot outs and religious profiling. Social media bears abundant testimony to this shift in attitudes and at times gives expression to the underlying chasm affecting the American Dream.

A Visit to the National September 11 Memorial in New York



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I visited the National September 11 Memorial on 2 September along with my family. It was a very poignant moment in our lives, standing at the edge of the two large pools with voids in the center where the Twin Towers existed, symbolizing the economic power of USA until the greatest tragedy and disaster of a size never experienced by the humanity before, shattered everything in a matter of minutes on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001. 2996 lives lost, many more injured, business and normal public life coming to a halt, with no trading in Wall Street for two weeks and no flights to the US permitted for 10 days. Estimated Cost of the Relief Operation pegged at $10 Billion, with trillions of dollars lost in business opportunities and stepped up anti-terrorism Operations in the Middle East from where “THE EVIL”  ostensibly operated.

The international credentials of the US took a severe beating, a prohibitive cost for playing the role of a “global policeman” trying to influence the outcome of international affairs, with the lofty aim of upholding human values and democratic traditions. While the ‘Cold War’ days had a method in madness, there were no rules followed by the rogue nations deploying terrorists. The Middle East Crisis and the preferential status given to Israel made many enemies for the US, some of them face less. While many analysts point out serious flaws in the co-ordination of intelligence agencies with the national security agencies during the run up to the event, no one in the establishment in their wildest of dreams could imagine such a dastardly act devoid of any human emotions!

The Memorial is designed with utmost care, taking into account the sensibilities of those who laid down their lives in the horrific attacks of February 1993 and September 11, 2001. The Memorial recognizes the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others and the compassion of all who supported the nation in the darkest hours. The sacred memories residing with the dependents and the global character of the victims irrespective of religion ,country or color of the skin is respected by the Memorial in every minute details. The endless pools with the water streaming into the voids in the center depicts the ‘eternal hope’ of humanity against such acts in future and the names of the deceased etched on the bronze sidewall will always remind a visitor about the supreme sacrifice made by those working in the twin towers at that hour and those fire fighters who lost their life trying to rescue those trapped inside the buildings. The memorial and the museum also depicts the history and many stories connected with the edifice as a tribute to the martyrs.

“May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance”.

Mission Statement of the Memorial