Biographical sketches and in-depth articles. Get to know me!
(more about James)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Our Wedding

(This post is excerpted from a much longer piece I wrote about our wedding. You can download that article here.)

On Sunday, April 29, 2007, Lila and I got married in Hong Kong, because two foreigners can't get married in mainland China (and getting married in the Philippines or the U.S. had their own complications).

Here's the happy couple, wearing a kurta (mine) and salwar kameez (hers) provided by our good friends Sunny and Vinnie Gupta, managers of the Spice Circle Indian Restaurant where we had our after-wedding party.

This is our best man, Alan Rosenfield (left), and "person of honor" Adam Wood. Alan is one of my oldest friends here; he lives in Chicago, but visits Shenzhen frequently for business. We timed the wedding so that he would could stand up for me.

Adam, on the other hand, was a fairly new friend. A few months earlier, he had contacted Lila about yoga classes and, not knowing we were connected, had contacted me about a Buddhist discussion group I was running. We all three "clicked." So when Lila's chosen "maid of honor" couldn't make the wedding, Adam volunteered and, oddballs that we are, we chose not to stand on tradition, but instead we said "Cool! A 'person of honor'!"

So Alan and Adam were the official witnesses to our marriage.

These are the guests at the ceremony itself, standing in the lobby of the Marriage Registry in Shatin. Represented are Germany, England, America, the Philippines, Hong Kong, the mainland, and one we're not sure of: a typically broad range of nationalities in the expat life (and impressive considering there are only 13 people there!)

Hong Kong is a fairly stiff-upper-lip-conservative place when it comes to such things as weddings; a pamphlet in the Marriage Registry even discussed appropriate dress and behavior for the ceremony. So the ceremony itself was meant to be solemn; the Justice of the Peace certainly had no sense of humor. But as you can see in this picture, Lila and I were cracking each other up as usual. (The unsmiling lady J.O.P. is just visible in the top-right corner.)

Finally, MARRIED! This is us with a bunch of kids who happened to be outside the Marriage Registry; it's one of my favorites of all the pictures taken that day by our good friend Jesse Warren. All the pictures in this post were shot by Jesse, a pro who shot around all our wedding events for free. (Thanks, Jesse!) You can see more of his work starting here, here and here.

More pics of all the fun:

Lila's pics of the Shatin wedding and lunch

Lila's pics of the Spice Circle party

Jesse Warren's pics of both occasions

And don't forget to look at the article that tells the whole damned story in every sordid detail, from when we met, through my pre-wedding jitters, to the great day itself, and the subsequent honeymoon and more parties.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shenzhen Vice

Once upon a time, I had a "friend" here in Shenzhen who was a power-monger. He would always go on about how he was a "humble man" and never expected anything for himself; then he'd send out pictures of himself with "the vice-mayor of Shenzhen."

Well, there's like a half-dozen "vice-mayors of Shenzhen," and I was with one of them at a party last Chinese New Year.

So here's my picture with "the vice-mayor":

I'm a humble man, and expect nothing for myself...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Meeting a Master: Venerable Ji Qun

In the summer of 2006, I celebrated my birthday by spending a week in a temple in Fujian Province, teaching the Buddha-dharma to around 100 young people.

One of the highlights of my week was the arrival of Master Ji Qun. He is a teaching monk who is widely considered to be one of the foremost Chinese monks of the 21st century. He is also delightfully humble and unassuming.

He has a "Center" in Suzhou, from which he publishes books. He travels around the country teaching. He has also taught abroad, but only in Chinese (like most Chinese monks I've met, he speaks no English).

I've written a fairly long article (previously published on the net) in which I relate a discussion we had, as well as a Q & A he conducted with the students. You can download the PDF by clicking here.

Meanwhile, a couple of pictures:

The Master examines a student's paper

Master Ji Qun leaves the Hermitageto return to the Temple

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hannah and Her Sitter

Lila has a niece named Hannah. She's as feisty as you would expect of a girl growing up in a household of all-male brothers and cousins.

Last January, we were in the Philippines for a quick visit, because Lila's grandma was ill. (She has since passed away, so the gathering was well-timed. It was the first time Lila had seen her own mother in years.)

We stayed out in the suburb of Marikina where Lila's mom's family is. On a lazy day, we went to the local mall (malling is the #1 sport in the Philippines). We visited a bookstore, where Lila bought several books for Hannah.

When the others went off to shop some more, Hannah and I hung together. We started reading her books. One was in Spanish (a mis-buy), and Hannah showed a remarkable ability to read it rapidly.

Here are a few pictures from our "Book Corner" in the mall:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Achille Joseph Baquet, My Dad's Dad

I'll start these biographical notes in the proper place: with my forebears.

First, my dad's parents, Achille (ah-SHEEL) Joseph Baquet and Rosema Rose Morgan. I don't know much about Grandma; I'll gather more info and discuss her later. So most of this is about my dad's dad.

He was a musician, and a little bit famous. You could call him a pioneer of Dixieland jazz. The personal matters I discuss below are what I recollect from family talk; the professional things are a matter of record, gleaned from the internet.

I never knew my grandpa; I was born in July of 1955, and he died in November of the same year (not 1956, as most sources--including Wikipedia--have it). Here he is with my older brothers, lucky barstairs:

He was born in 1885, the son of Theogene Vitale Baquet, who led the Excelsior, third-largest of New Orleans's famous brass bands. Old T.V. was apparently a son-of-a-gun, a strict old-school taskmaster who, it is said, could scare new students off of learning an instrument at the first lesson. Achille's brother George, another well-known musician, must have had a gentler dispositon: he taught the renowned Sidney Bechet.

So Achille grew up in New Orleans, at the time when the brass bands were melding into the new artform now known as "jazz." As we all know, "Jazz is a musical art form which originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions." Yes, my grandpa was part of the Creole community in New Orleans.

The Baquets were known to be among the best musicians in New Orleans. Even today, as a relative said in a New York Times article after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, "It means something to be a Baquet in New Orleans."

Achille played with several bands, the most famous of which was the Original New Orleans Jazz Band. Fronted by well-known comic and musician Jimmy Durante, it was based in New York, and was advertised as the "first all-white Dixieland band." Grandpa was passant blanc (not at all unusual for the time).

My dad's four older siblings were born in New Orleans; then came the New York years (my uncle claimed he sold hot dogs at Coney Island); then dad and his younger sister were born in L.A. Achille had come out to the new "entertainment capital" for work. In 1929, irony struck: the new "talkies" put scores if not hundreds of musicians out of work, including Grandpa. In later years he only played for the chickens when he "wood-shedded," keeping up his skills until emphysema and arthritis made it impossible.

Family lore says "Grandpa wrote Tiger Rag," the jazz standard better known as "Hold That Tiger." This was in dispute; even the great Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have written it. I read later that Grandpa was in the band that wrote it, but no one knew if he was the actual composer. That seemed reasonable. Now, on Wikipedia, I see: "In one interview, Papa Jack Laine said that the actual composer of the number was Achille Baquet."

Some of Grandpa's recordings are on line, "Why Cry Blues" and "Jada Medley." Google his name and you'll find mention of him in several articles. I stole the pictures below from some of them.

I wish I had known him.

Second from left (Durante in the center)

Clowning in the upper right (a true Baquet)

Behind the piano, at left end
(Note Durante's famous nose in profile, at piano)