Japantown Pagoda and Gandharan Stupa
The Buddhist Stupa was originally a burial mound for relics of the historical Buddha or other sacred objects.  It was topped with a structure similar to the one on the right which is a 2,000 year old miniture stupa from Northwestern India or Pakistan now at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. 

As the stupa form moved to China and Japan, it evolved into pagodas.  This pagoda in San Francisco's Japantown was built 2,000 years after the one on the right and as you can see the top of the pagoda is very similar to the top of the stupa. (I'm getting ready for a presentation this month!)
Since starting my training as an Asian Art Museum Docent, my journey has taken me to new places.  Last weekend, I attended a performance of traditional Chinese music.  One of the featured performers was Alan Yip, playing the guqin.  The Guqin is a 7 string zither that dates back about 2,000 years or more.  Music written over 1,000 years ago are still played!  Haunting and thoughtful, this piece is played by American born Alan Yip,  a young graduate student who has been playing the guqin for about 10 years.
Nisei Logo
Love this logo that looks as though it comes right out of the 40's or 50's.  Nisei refers to the second generation of Japanese-Americans.  Born in the US, they were forced into relocation camps during World War II -- a grave injustice that has affected succeeding generations in untold ways.  Niseis are now entering retirement age and the term is starting to fade away.
Sri Lanka Mask
Chris banished this mask from the house because she found it too disturbing to see.  Now that I'm studying Asian art, I'm learning the good side of these frightening images.  Frightening images called makaras are often found above doorways of temples.  They serve to mark the transition between the material e world and the spiritual world.  The frightening mask holds at bay and dispels evil -- so actually it is a guardian. 

Why so frightening?  the protective guardian, must be EQUAL to whatever evil it may encounter. 
Left - Bronze Cheekpiece of a Horse Bridle 1000 - 650 BCE Iran: Luristan Region Right - Earthenware Vessel in Shape of a Bull 900-800 BCE Northern Iran
As part of my Asian Art Museum docent training, we're learning different techniques of engaging people with the art.  The latest technique we practiced was "compare and contrast".  By comparing two different objects, it allows people to focus and really look at each one. 

These two objects were assigned to me to present using the compare and contrast technique.  I asked the "visitors" to pretend they were buying these as gifts for two different people and to decide which is the most appropriate for each person. 
Seated Buddha - Sri Lanka 1700-1800
As an Asian Art Museum Docent trainee, I had the assignment of giving a 3 minute presentation on meaning of the colored pattern behind this seated Buddha.  The museums curators haven't come to a conclusion as to what it represents as there are several possible interpretations.

One interpretation is that the background is a hood of snakes based on the story of Buddha's 7 week meditation at Bodhgaya.  According to the story, during the 6th week a great rain storm arose and the snake deity rose to form a protecting cape to keep the Buddha dry. 

Others believe it represents fire -- showing Buddha's enlightenment.  Still others believe the pattern shows lotus leaves -- a continuation of a lotus leaf base  -- a common buddhist theseen many times.   I pondered this for a while as the three little knobs at the top and sides certainly could represent cobra heads.  If they were cobra heads, then perhaps the top and back of the sculpture would reinforce that ideal - so I tried to get a glimpse of the back.  Although it wasn't possible to see the back since it is up against the wall, I went up to the side as close as possible.  I was surprised NOT to see a continuation of the knobs as snakes, but a field of  objects that looked very flower-like to me.  My conclusion is the background represents lotus leaves rather than a hood of cobra snakes -- but that's only my opinion.  If you look at the museum's website for the Seated Buddha, you will see a picture of the back that clearly shows a field of flowers.
Chinese Tin Box

I found this metal box in the garage among things from my parents home.  There was nothing .  At least 60 years old, brightly enameled and decorative, it was obviously a container for something purchased.  I wondered if it was special. 
White Phoenix Pills
My Chinese reading ability is pretty bad, but I was trying to guess what was inside based on the writing outside.  I recognized some characters above as being, "white phoenix balls" and I though oooh, maybe it was a jewelry box.  I'll ask Mom.  Last night I finally got around to showing it to her, and she said, "oh, these are pills for ladies only".  I forgot that the character for balls is also used to mean pills -- and apparently white phoenix pills is a well-known Chinese herbal prescription used to treat menstrual issues.  

I was a little disapointed, but the box was sure nice.   

The Hindu Diety Parvati 1050 -1100 Bihar India - Chlorite Stone about 48" high
Detail showing Ganesha
OK, I passed my first Asian Art Museum docent training test.  When I opened the test, I looked at a 20 point question and said to myself -- oh oh not good.  The question related to Indian deities and the symbols associated with them.  I had only casually studied them.  

So I spent my lunch break going up to the gallery to study the next 70 pieces for the next test.  I was looking at this image of Parvati.  Parvati is the wife of Shiva and the mother of the god Ganesha.  Ganesha has an elephant head.  They told us to read the "didactics"  so I read it carefully.  It said there was a small  figure of Ganesha next to Parvati's right foot.  I took another look and there he was!

a lion beneath Parvati
October 27, 2011:  Well I had to go and research the question about Parvati's animal mount.  It seems Parvati is associated with either a tiger or lion.  I took a close look at the sculpture again and voila - a lion seems to be beneath her!  Thanks for the question, Chris.

The Great Departure - 100 - 300 CE Gandhara (Pakistan) carved in Phyllite
The story of the Siddartha, the historical Buddha is a fascinating one.  Pictured above is a carving at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco titled, "The Great Departure".  It was predicted that Prince Siddartha would either become a great king, or if he left the palace, a great religious leader.  His parents tried to shield him from experiencing the real world of both joys and sorrows, by preventing him from seeing anything cruel or sad.  They failed and Siddartha left the palace and went on to become a great religious leader and the founder of Buddhism. 

This scene shows Siddartha leaving the palace without his parents' knowledge.  The gods  help his escape by lifting up the hoofs of his horse so the sound would not alert others of his departure. This image of the "Great Departure" is one of the earliest depictions of this story.  
Winter Melon Soup
I remember as a kid, coming home to the welcoming smell of the long slow cooked soups that Mom made.  Now, Alex has moved into his own apartment and he surprised me by saying, he misses the Chinese soups we make at home . . . . and the other night, Katie asked me to teach her how to make Winter Melon Soup.  See my recipe here.