A Little Wine Tasting

When you think about countries that make fine wine - what comes to mind? France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Australia...?

What about China?

Yup. In May of last year, Berry Brothers & Rudd, England's oldest independent wine merchant published in its "Future of Wine Report" that in 50 years CHINA would be the world's leading wine producer! It may surprise many that China is already the world's 6th largest wine producer, with 600 wineries. While most of the wine that is manufactured today is rather unimpressive, China has according to the experts, the terroir to make a fine wine that could rival the best of the French. Sacre bleu!

If curiosity gets the better of you - you can purchase a bottle of Grace Vineyards (Shanxi Province) Chairman's Reserve for $60. Just in time for Chinese New Year!

If you are traveling through East Asia and you would like some guidance on what wine to drink, you would find that the most influential sommelier is a 20-something year old manga (comic book) hero. Meet Shizuku Kanzaki. In Tokyo apparently, wine sellers await his weekly recommendations before adjusting their orders. Many wine experts think he is also responsible for the rise of wine consumption in Korea, China and Taiwan. Hotels, restaurants and wine stores all over Korea and Japan specifically stock whatever is recommended, as demand is incredible. Many venues often selling out of French wines - the creators wine of choice.

This manga series written under the pseudonym Tadashi Agi, is created by the Kibayashi's brother and sister team, both in their late 40's. Their goal was always to describe the wines from an average drinker's perspective. While not formally trained, both tremendous wine lovers, have even rented an apartment just to house their 3000 bottle collection and installed an earthquake warning system to protect them.

In their series titled "The Drops of the Gods," Shizuku Kanzaki, our manga hero, starts to learn about wine from a description of 12 wines bequeathed to him by his father after his death. His father considered these bottles the world's best. Kanzaki must learn more about wines, so that he instead of his adopted brother who is a sommelier, can finally inherit his father's collection. Every Thursday when the comic is published in Weekly Morning, readers learn right along side with him. Translated into most East Asian languages and most recently French, there does not seem to be any rush for an English translation as Kanzaki-san is not a big fan of American wines.


11 Things I Learned about the Egyptians from a 3 week trip

Sometimes when I am lining up at the grocery store, or the post office, doing those weekly mundane chores that cannot be avoided, it is hard for me to imagine that barely two months ago, I was standing at the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza (built in 2560 BC) being violently pelted by a seemingly unceasing sandstorm. With my eyes closed, my body hunched over, I hugged my camera close like a baby and waited for it to be over.
And so started my three week tour of Egypt. During that brief amount of time we went from the Mediterranean city of Alexandria all the way south to Abu Simbel, close to the Sudanese border. We flew on local airlines and sailed down the Nile. We watched the wealthy Egyptian socialites dressed in tuxedos and strapless dresses party at the Nile Hilton and farmers in their simple abayas lead their cattle to the banks of the Nile.
When I was in graduate school, I studied the history, architecture and geography of Egypt; I also have many friends who had lived and worked there who generously shared their knowledge and insight with me; but for me to truly experience the country I had to open myself up to adventure and visit it and in doing so I picked up a few colorful insights about the Egyptian people.
  • Egyptians like to laugh and have a great sense of humor.
  • Egyptians love to talk politics.
  • Egyptians are excited and proud to show you their country. We experienced incredible hospitality and generosity.
  • Egyptians are fully aware of the dysfunction of their own government - but feel completely handicapped in bringing about a shift for the better and so they learn to survive with the status quo.
  • Egyptians drive without their headlights at night. (Especially so in Aswan. It will be pitch dark but not one car will have their headlights on).
  • The delineation of lanes on the streets of Cairo mean absolutely nothing. If there is any space on the road in Cairo, there will be a car. A two lane street will have five rows of cars all honking trying to squeeze through. Side lanes will also have donkey carts and occasional goats added to the mix.
  • Many Egyptians live in buildings that will remain under construction indefinitely. There are miles of mid rise buildings with rebars peaking through unfinished concrete columns. I was given two explanations for this. The first reason is that owners of buildings only have to pay taxes on their buildings, when construction is complete. Thus, owners prefer to 'technically' not complete construction on their building. The second reason is that only when an individual has purchased an apartment do they actually build that apartment level, thereby curtailing any potential loss in investment. Therefore, the completion of construction of these apartment buildings can take a very very long time. I am not sure if either reason is valid.
  • In Egypt, you may be toothless, illiterate, barely able to eke out a living but you will have the fanciest newest mobile phone on the market.
  • It is no secret that Egypt is not a wealthy country and many in their population work extremely hard to sustain a living. However, since jobs are limited and many are illiterate, many Egyptians also find the most creative means to earn a living. Frequently sited were soda, tea and bread stands on the side of the road (or a freeway). I was also shocked to see the number and variety of vendors on rowboats selling wares to tourists on the deck of cruise ships sailing down the Nile. I also came across an individual 'helping' tourists to cross the road in Giza given that crosswalks and traffic lights are hard to find (all over Egypt) and Egyptian drivers love to speed.
  • While many of the buildings that constructed these days lack the intricate craftsmanship of centuries prior; and while many Egyptians perhaps cannot afford ornately decorated homes there is still nevertheless such an appreciation of color and design. Artfully painted walls, delicate iron and copper work animate and liven up so many simple buildings and share stories about the lives of the residents inside.
  • The entire purpose of metal detectors are missed by the Egyptians. Metal detectors are located at the entrance to every major hotel and tourist site all over Egypt perhaps with the intent of keeping tourists safe from those with less honorable intentions. (No doubt a reaction to the 1997 Luxor massacre). However, while tourists are generally herded through the detectors, the constant beeping from the detector is treated more as background noise than a signal that a metal item has been discovered and requires further investigation. I beeped everywhere. It could have been my keys, my cameras, my belt buckle, my jewelry. But no guard ever seemed remotely interested. So then why bother installing them at all?


I Think and Presto It Is! The Importance of Mindfulness

The past few months have found me sequestered on a plane more often than usual. Frequently unable to sleep and not a big fan of watching movies on a 3 inch by 5 inch screen, my activity of choice to pass the time is to read. If I don't have a gripping book with me, then I read lots and lots of magazines and journals. Their subject matter and articles run the gamut. Most recently, I was reading the December 2008 issue of Psychology Today and Inc. Magazine. While they are wildly different magazines, there was an article in each magazine that intrigued me and gave me pause. Having read them in sequence, both these articles became even more powerful - especially so, as I was reflecting on my hopes and goals for 2009.

I have always read and believed that your thoughts affect and influence your life experiences. However, most of us go through life unconscious, on autopilot often consumed by our thoughts but unaware of their true impact. But how and what would we think and feel, if our thoughts and brainwaves created our immediate physical reality? Would we change our thinking, our thoughts? Well that technology is in the works.

After I was served my drink by the flight attendant, with my can of tomato juice in hand, I flipped to the lead article in Psychology Today titled "The Art of Now" by Jay Dixit. While it did not mention anything particularly ground-breaking, it reinforced the importance of mindfulness - of being present and aware of your thoughts. When you become conscious of your thoughts, you are more able to merely observe and accept them and become less governed by them. Only when you are free from the chatter in your mind are you able to fully appreciate and celebrate life. Mindful people are happier, more accepting, more exuberant and secure.

Unfortunately, too often we are so consumed in our own thoughts that it trumps everything in our surroundings. Ellen Langer from Harvard University suggests in this article that we become mindless because once we think we know something, we stop paying attention to it. When we lose focus and appreciation of our surroundings and present environment, we turn inward with the faulty assumption that our thoughts and anxieties have more pressing value. They then become our perceived reality.

Buddhists call our lack of appreciation of living in the present, "monkey minds," because we instead prefer to swing from thought to thought mindlessly. So few people I know take the time to enjoy a meal, savor a cup of tea, admire the brilliance of a flower or feel the warmth of the sun on their skin. But if they did, it is proven that they would be happier, more fulfilled, less depressed.

The irony is that if life is passing us by because we are consumed with the minutia of our own thoughts, how many of us are actually fully aware of its content and of what we are imagining and conjecturing every minute?

This leads me to my second article - "Reality Bites" by David H. Freedman in Inc. Magazine. The focus of this magazine is generally about entrepreneurs and up and coming companies. In the December 2008 issue, they profiled the work, the founder and the scientists at a young company in Australia called Emotiv. These people have created a headset that reads your brain-waves and thereby allows you to conjure up entire worlds using nothing but your mind. (Read the italics again - this is huge).

This technology they hope will introduce emotions into the sterile computer revolution. Doors and windows could open because you think it. Your stereo, as described in this article would sense that you are depressed and play more upbeat music, and so on. The options, the possibilities, the uses are limitless. That's incredible isn't it?

This then led me to ponder - what kind of environments and experiences would our thoughts and brainwaves be creating for ourselves? If we were fully aware that we could completely affect and alter our immediate physical reality with the sheer will of our thoughts - wouldn't we become more mindful? More conscious of each thought? And wouldn't we be more selective about what we choose so often to fixate and focus on?

Well, think about it - this future ain't so far off.

Which world would your thoughts create?

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