23 February, 2011

HiFi 天碟 Golden Discs (4): Pop II

HiFi 天碟 Golden Discs (4): Pop II

Is this Pop? Well, it certainly WAS.

Every hifi enthusiast in the 60's-70's probably owns an LP or two of Command Classics' Persuasive Percussion (info on wikipedia). There were several volumes but 1 and 2 were the best known. These LPs, and even the original CD issues now command good money on the second-hand market. Watch my word, one day the LP will likely be re-issued.

The CD has been out of print for a long time. Now, Sepia Records has reissued a CD that combines volume 1 and 2, making it a good buy. Those with sharp eyes shall note that the cover art is an amalgamation of volumes 1 and 2. Of course, the mark-up by HK dealer is a little too much. I don't recommend the music really, but for the right occasion and audition this CD can be fun. The early stereo is very good but layout is simple. I have the original LPs. I think the remasters are good but fall shy of the dynamics of the analogue LP.

The label Command Classics is also known to older classical music collectors for artists like the Pittsburgh SO recordings with William Steinberg, all quite good in performance and sound. Like many recordings on this label, these were recorded on magnetic tapes, much like Everest and Mercury, probably by Robert Fine, later of Mercury fame. For more on this, read the Everest Records link.

Another CD recommended to those who like simple ballroom dance music is this issue of Tea for Two Cha Cha Cha. The orchestra is a very good one, the music is fun and the sound is OK (but I think not as good as the Persuasive Percussion).

I have fondness for this issue because many years ago when I learned to dance this was one of the albums we used. I still have the cassette tape!

Info on: Tea for Two Cha Cha, Persuasive Percussion (previous CD issue)

Both are issued by Sepia Records, browse their fun catalogue! Note that many are not sonically spectacular, and some are mono's.

Finally, a more recent favorite and recommended for its music (as well as sound). This CD that pits ageless Taj Mahal's blues guitar against Toumani Diabate's Malian Kora is spellbinding from the first note. Putting two greats together doesn't always guarantee results, but this one is a masterpiece. Frankly speaking, I think the string playing is much more interesting here than audiophile favorites Nils Lofgren, Friday Night in San Francisco, Pat Metheny etc.

11 February, 2011

Overview: JC Verdier

Overview: JC Verdier
JC Verdier Control B, 220 MkII, 2300B Luxe

This article is unusual for me in its coverage of mostly my own equipment! This leads me to reflect a little. While my blog covers all sorts of things encountered in my hifi "life", I really have neglected coverage of most of my gears, particularly those which remain central to my experience. In truth, aside from occasional audition of really worthwhile nature (such as Robin's R2R recently), most auditions barely deserve a word or two, no more hifi event than social function.

My friend icefox visits me once in a while when he comes back from China via 福田口岸. This picky man often asks me why I don't fire-up this instead of that, questions of that sort. But that has positive ramifications (sometimes). His last visit resulted in my digging out my Garrad, which is now restored! This time he came when I had just finished assembly of my Elekit preamp. But let me start with my recent journey of Verdier.

Overview - Verdier
France has had its share in analogue replay history. Two eminent figures are Pierre Lurne of Audiomeca, and JC Verdier, the latter famed for his invention/implementation of magnetic levitation, now in vogue.

The flagship magnetically levitated TT, called simply "La Platine", has been in production for decades and has spawned many imitators. Monsieur Verdier obviously finds this amusing, and since he thinks most of his imitators has got things wrong, on his website he gently but certainly sarcastically derides them (here)!!!

We have heard several Verdier TTs, not just the La Platine, but also the Nouvelle Platine. They always gave pleasure. In case you wonder, JCV himself uses an SME 3012 with Denon 103.

Control B - True to its name (cached official page)
My experience with Verdier started more than a decade ago, when I spotted a used Control B in a shop. My friend Captain soon bought it and we did much listening to it, even fought over it, imagine! But I know the sound of the Control B quite well. It is an enigmatic preamp, often capable of stunning performance, but sometimes also a little disappointment. At least two more friends bought the preamp later. It was not until recently that I acquired a used one from a really nice gentleman, who delivered it to me in a Benz. Verdier deserves as much! :-)

Pictured is the old version with the Gothic looking black plastic knobs, replaced later by champagne-colored metal ones (as in my own; pic below); I am not sure which is more aesthetically pleasing, perhaps neither. In HK, all Control B's I have seen have the DRPS (Dual-Regulated Power Supply, a big unit with 3 tubes).

Although many think the look of the Control B is a joke, I rather think it is very well built. The chassis is solid metal and the champagne colored anodized aluminum front plates look better than most. The parts inside look humble, including the use of computer cables (which I actually think, like CAT wires, sound good), but that's part of the beauty. The Control B is a good lesson for those who judge components by their prices and looks! If you think about it, this is a 9-tube tube-rectified and regulated full-function preamp on 2 chassis, and you will begin to think of it as a bargain.

Sonically, the phonostage is a real beauty. It is quietly confident, yet dynamically expressive. You will be surprised by the music it unearths. Take one example, on violin replay, the Control B consistently captures the feeling of the bow's return, something the Elekit preamp doesn't quite manage. Options are limited - you are confined to moving a set of jumpers for MM or MC operation. No loading options nor dip-switches here, but we know MC loading is not important or at least not so critical with transformers. The MC input transformers are small (mine is not potted as in the pic) but they do an excellent job with low-output cartridges such as the Denon DL-103 (0.25 V).

The linestage also has 5 sets of jumpers for various gain settings, ranging from 0 db to 20 db. Since I use low-output MC's, I'd not recommend the 0 db setting. I used the middle one, 10 db; the even higher gain setting proved too noisy for my SET amps, which usually have high input sensitivities. It should be mentioned that if you do not spin vinyl, the linestage gain setting may be a different story.

In the past, in contrast to the excellent performance of the phonostage, the linestage of Control B sometimes sounded a bit rolled off and sedate, leading many to roll in the brightest 12AT7. For some reason, my specimen, a later one, has less of such a problem, and I was able to achieve balance between the phonostage and the line section without too much tube rolling and gain re-setting. Still, I think if you do not spin vinyl, this preamp may NOT be for you.

For the moment I retained the 3x stock Sovtek 12AX7 of the phono section and 2/3 RFT (East German) 12AT7 of the line section, rolling in only 1 Telefunken 12AT7 for what is presumably the cathode follower. Inside the DRPS there are 3 tubes. I did not change the EF184 (Valvo) nor 6Y6 (RCA black plate), but I did substitute the Chinese 5AR4 for a Raytheon military 5Y3 to great effect (more open and agile).

When set up optimally, and it is a little finicky, the Control B's considerable strengths, many subtle, will gradually engage you more and more.

left, 2A3; right, 6550

Pentode or Triode, push-pull or SE? Tale of 4 Verdier Amplifiers

The first Verdier amp I became familiar with was the Triode Spirit 2A3 amp, which my friend jules bought many moons ago. I was instantly smitten by the sound it produced with the Pioneer/TAD 300. It seemed more powerful than any 2A3 amp I have come across. This amp later went to my friend Danz, with a little soujourn at my place. The next Verdier amp I heard was the Triode Spirit 45, which is basically the 2A3 amp adapted, and the sound it produced with the Lowther Acousta at my friend Wher's place was delightful too!

The next two Verdier amps I came across were not SET amps, but push-pull pentode amps. First was the older L'Amplificateur 6550, sold to Danz by seamonster, (and now with Patrick). I always thought this amp was a little too warm for my taste, but recently I heard it at Patrick's place and it was not so when driven by Counterpoint SA-2000E! Ah, matching!

Only just before I acquired the Control B I Came across the 220 MkII (official material here; Control version, with selector and volume knobs), generously loaned to me by my friend relax173. The original 220 actually had many configurations (not to be confused with the later 220DE, which was "double-end"). The one pictured here uses EL34 but the one I heard used 4x EH 6L6/5881, outputting a grand 20 wpc in push-pull configuration! :-) But don't under-estimate this amp! Its 20 wpc was powerful enough to drive my ATC20 to satisfying level, if not plumbing its ultimate depth. Paired with easier speakers, like the Vienna Acoustic Haydn Grand SE, the 220 made great music, superbly transparent, rhythmically savvy and musically wholesome. A great amp, I was sorry to see it go!

J.C. Verdier 220C MKⅡ
曾在 2001 年獲音響論壇年度最佳器材大獎:"...很難想像,一家生產百萬元級磁浮LP唱盤、六十萬元級單聲道電源分體式唱頭放大器的公司,竟然會推出五萬多元的真空管擴大機?而且,這款採用四支6L6/5881真空管推挽輸出20瓦的後級,還可以當作綜合擴大機?...自然呈現的音質,清新暢快的音樂性,晶體機重現能力的透明感,都是它在聲音表現上的特點。「毫無保留,最佳推薦」的試聽評語為220C MKⅡ作下了最佳註解..."

Click here for some of my previous encounters with JC Verdier.

Let me use a classical symphony to describe the layout of this article. The introduction of the turntables was like a Haydnesque slow opening. The full treatment of Control B is the first movement (allegro), the briefer descriptions of the 4 amplifiers are like the two inner movements, two in pentode mode (scherzo), two in SET mode (andante). You guessed it, we have arrived at the grand finale...

left pic: internals of 2300B Luxe. right pic: bottom, Control B and Elekit TU-875; top, Verdier 2300B Luxe (click on pics to enlarge)

Luxe, Luxury, in every sense of the word
Just one week after I bought the Control B, the nice seller, who had also previously owned the 275DE, decided to sell me his 300B Luxe. One big caveat, his amplifier is not stock. JCV's Triode Spirit series, whether plain Jane or Luxe versions, all have similar topology and use similar components. Below is a pic of the 45 amp downloaded from the net (6moons review of 45). Compare with my pic you should see the 2300B Luxe has more tubes (EF184) inside due to the hum-hunting circuit. You should also notice various can type caps have been changed (to Black gates and Jensens of the same values). This did not concern me as much as replacement of the 4 coupling caps on the input board (from gray "AV"; can someone tell me what they are?) to bright yellow Auricaps. The modification had been done by 凱韻, and that worried me greatly. In the past I have heard too many mods by this shop that sounded terrible. Basically this shop doesn't care for original design, and since they sell the expensive caps they routinely do wholesale cap replacements without regard to sound. It is my experience using too many expensive boutique caps usually result in bad sound. But it is rare to encounter this amp on the second-hand market, so I bought it, thinking if necessary I should just restore it to stock form (all original caps retained). Interestingly I asked the seller what was the sound difference after the mod, and he said very little!

Initial listening had me worried. There was a curious lack of body to things, a sort of vacuity that just couldn't be JC Verdier! And this was matched with the Control B! I began to mentally get myself ready to do some solder work. But then things started to improve with a little tube rolling. Substituting 2 old RCA 5U4 for the stock Sovteks was not as effective as swapping out the stock KR VV300B for generic Shuguang 300B. I much prefer the Chinese 300B to the sterile VV300B for balance and musical involvement. I did not have 6AS7/6080 on hand. Be Careful NOT to swap the 4x EF184, as these have to be matched and internally adjusted!

After a few days, the combo miraculously snapped into focus. On the day icefox came we auditioned this system:

-Digital: Sony CDP R1/DAS R1
-Analogue: Technics SP10/Rega with Michell counterweight and Incognito wiring/Benz Micro Gold
-Preamp/Amp: JC Verdier Control B + 2300B Luxe
-Loudspeakers: Tannoy Canterbury HE

On the beautifully recorded Berlin recital CD Argerich's piano had a bloom that was not there just days before. Perhaps the amplifier had not been used for a while? Kremer's violin was silky and not at all acerbic even in this music. With the JCV combo, I was fully aware of Kremer's bowing, and able to feel the back-and-forth action of his bow, which eludes the Elekit preamp, good as that was. With the Verve LP (re-issue) one just felt the synergy between the musicians, which included Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown on this date. You could feel them tossing things at each other. That is not a feeling one often gets. JCV may not be the most analytical or most detailed, but the combo distinguishes itself in the capture of the musical event, the microdynamics and rhythm that constitute the atmosphere, if you will.

icefox I think really took to the combo. He is one of the few person who has heard my equally distinguished Wavac PR-X2/MD-300B combo (which I really should write up). We agree that the JCV imparts a richer and more soulful character 幸福指數高點, while the Wavac tends to be etched in more details and perhaps more alert (I'd not say more "hifi").

More useful links:
220DE MkII 音響論壇
6moons review of 45
JC Verdier Museum

09 February, 2011

Talk R2R: How to Describe the Sound of R2R?

Talk R2R: How to Describe the Sound of R2R?

As I had struggled to describe the sound of R2R, I was astonished by what Robin wrote in an email to me. More than waxing lyrics, its eloquence is so heart-felt! It encapsulates the perfect listening experience:

"...I was so happy to read your Yumcha Diary entry on our get-together last Saturday! I feel awed, but delighted of course, that you liked the new system so much. Since then, it's been getting noticeably better each day, as the new capacitors settle down and start singing their little hearts out whenever I put on a really good quality tape. Sadly, there are fewer of these than I thought: now that everything is so clear and well-defined, I can hear major tape dropout on quite a few of the tapes I'd previously felt were OK. (They've gone straight onto the "B" pile, for future recycling as empty reels.) Overall, I must revise my estimate of the wastage rate among the tapes I've bought so far, to at least 35 percent. Still, I'm gradually learning which ebay sellers are reliable and which aren't, so hopefully I'll be able to make wiser purchase choices in future. I've probably wasted around US $400 in all so far with bad tapes, but I'm just going to see it as my "tape culture 101 tuition fees"... No pain, no gain, etc...

As I have more and more of those special listening moments that you eloquently described in the case of the Shostakovich s.q. #8 on Saturday (isn't that tape something!), I'm starting to experience music in ways I never have before. I can only describe it as a kind of "synaesthesia": a merging of one's separate physical senses into one, single continuum of sensation. As Oliver Sacks writes, people who "suffer" from synaesthesia can see sounds, smell colours and hear paintings, etc. (In certain practical ways, this must be a problem; but on other levels it greatly enrich their lives.)...

What I've found lately, listening to music via magnetic tape - and as you point out, the big Yams also deserve a lot of the credit here - is that (for example) a particularly expressive line on the cello gets converted -- in some very basic part of my brain -- into a kind of "analog" of the sensation of brown/wood/earth. Or rather, the lines separating what I'm hearing, per se, and the numerous other sensations - visual and/or tactile - that the sound directly conjures up in my field of awareness, begin to blur, and it all becomes a delicious sensory amalgam...

Similarly, when Paolien and I went to the Botanical Gardens on Sunday afternoon, just after I'd been listening to a Bohm/Berlin Philharmonic tape of Mozart's symphony #33, and the sun was pouring down, I sat on a bench and looked at the trees / skies / flowers all around -- and I almost saw (or began to see) a symphony taking shape before my eyes! The tall trees were the cello section, the red flowers were the oboes, the green shrubs and bushes all around were the first and second violins --- sorry, I should stop all these fanciful ramblings!...

The time dimension is another area where I find magnetic tape brings very unexpected results. The special clarity and directness of the sound one gets can be attributed, perhaps, to four key factors: better dynamics, linearity, coherence, and texture. Subjectively, one outcome is that a piece of music seems to last much longer, on tape, than the same piece heard from a CD or LP. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that one simply stops paying attention to time while the tape is playing. The relentless ticking of clock time, which governs our lives in so many ways, known and unknown, these days, becomes irrelevant -- and instead one is simply "there", in the continuous moment as the music organically unfolds..."

Isn't that something!

07 February, 2011

Audition: Tannoy Edinburgh HE

Audition: Tannoy Edinburgh HE, Quicksilver, Phase Tech

Despite cancellation of yumcha, Saturday turned out to be a fruitful day for me, with a totally unexpected audition that pleased me immensely.

It was one of those R33 transactions. In the afternoon I went to the large and tastefully adorned working loft of Carl, a professional photographer, to pick up something. As soon as I walked in I caught glimpse of a pair of large Tannoy's. It was the Tannoy Edinburgh HE (Official Tannoy Edinburgh HE brochure)(More Edinburgh HE pics on Audiogon)(the later hard-edge 風琴邊 version, now discontinued; not to be confused with the earlier non-HE Edinburgh, which we heard also to great effect in Tsing Yi!). The Edinburgh is a little smaller than my Canterbury and looked magnificent in this large space. If I remember correctly, unlike the 15" drivers used in the Canterbury and Westminster Royal, the 12" driver here is not alcomax. But it's the sound that is important, not whether the drivers are alnico or not.

I didn't have too much time but Carl was very nice and played me a few tracks. Needless to say, the sound was so good that I was late for my next appointment. Carl setup is very simple but very effective, all placed neatly on TAOC stands. It's too bad I don't have a pic. The loft is >2000 ft, and the system took up just the space near the entrance. The speakers are placed along on the long wall, toed-in. I roughly estimate more than 15' for each side of the equilateral triangle formed with the listening seat. Here's the equipment list:

Analog: Acoustic Solid Machine/Ortofon AS-212S/Phase Tech P-1
Phonoamp: Phase Tech EA-3
Preamp: Quicksilver Line Stage Preamp
Amp: Quicksilver Silver 60 monoblocks
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Edinburgh + ST250 supertweeter on TAOC stands

A word on Quicksilver (Products). I have always liked the products of this unassuming company. My first encounter was the wonderful Philips 8417 amps many years ago in NYC. Later in HK I organized a group buy for their astonishingly cheap and wonderful Mini Mite monoblocks, surprisingly still in production after more than 10 years; as an anecdote, I even met a good friend through the group buy!

Carl played several pop and jazz tracks. The sound on Ricky Lee Jones and Miles Davis were altogether engrossing, wonderfully clear and neutral. The Quicksilver combo delivered wonderful neutral sound, proving they had plenty of juice even in this large space.

Amazingly, there was not a hint of softness to the bass (a character of the Mini-Mites)! And there was not a hint of slowness that one frequently encounters in vintage Tannoy drivers, proving yet again that modern Tannoy drivers are faster and can go much louder. The excellent sound also once again proves Tannoy positively thrives in a larger space, at least the modern ones, that is.

This was my first encounter with Japanese hi-end manufacturer Phase Tech (official website) not to be confused with Phase Technology, the American loudspeaker manufacturer. I liked what I heard, a direct and clear sound. Price for the P1 (Positive Feedback review) seems quite reasonable by modern standards. This company deserves closer scrutiny. From their website, their flagship phonoamp EA-1 positively makes my mouth water!

Serendipity! A great day!

03 February, 2011

Talk Vinyl: Restoration of Garrad 301 Part III

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 29-01-11
Talk Vinyl: Restoration of Garrard 301 Part III
Talk R2R: Otari Restored!

Best Sound of 2011 (so soon?)!

No mincing of words here. Mark my words, what we heard on this day SHALL be the BEST SOUND OF 2011!. I know, it's just the start of the year, but this ain't no hyperbole. I simply don't expect to hear better sound in the next 11 months ! I'd love to be proven wrong, but I doubt I would be. Coming so soon after the best sound heard in 2010 these had been fruitful months, sonically.

Salute, Garrard 301!
On this day, after yumcha we went to Robin's place to listen to my Garrard he gave a second life to, and his almost fully restored Otari. I brought along the arm/cartridge that was on my Clearaudio Champion to be installed. Robin's system (previous listening report here) is largely unchanged from before, so we listened to:

My Turntable: Garrard 301 (grease)/Origin Live basic mod Rega 250/Ortofon MC15 Super II/simple plywood plinth
Robin's Turntable: Garrard 301 (oil)/Rega 250 with Michell counterweight and Incognito wiring/Ortofon Kontrapunkt B/complex slate plinth
Ree-to-Reel: Otari
Preamp: ARC SP-11
Amp: (vintage) McIntosh MC275
Loudspeakers: Yamaha FX-3

Remember the "rudimentary" plywood plinth for my (grease-bearing, see pic of belly) Garrard 301, which you were shown in Part II? As Robin said, he "...went ahead and stained the plinth a dark Indian Rosewood colour", and just as he said "...it looks rather sleek and sexy, alongside the grey metal turntable!..." We gasped at the beauty of the table. Robin used small pieces of hardwood for the legs and support, with blue-tac coupling between the support and plywood top. Robin has other ideas about the plinth but we were so smitten by its look that I am tempted to use it just as is.

I instantly felt it has a Yamamoto's "house" "sushi-table" (pic of Yamamoto A-08S here) look to it, and I love it! The occasion deserved celebration, and Robin promptly opened up a bottle of white wine!

Otari, the Vinyl Slayer!
After a few sips, the RB250 was swapped out for the arm I brought and ready for action, but not before listening to the Otari.

Between our last visit and this time Robin had put an untold number of man hours into its restoration, first meticulous alignment using oscilloscopes and other equipment acquired specifically for the purpose (now, THAT's dedication!), then (saintly patience!) replacing the hundreds of caps inside (almost finished).

At first, we played the acerbic Bartok 6th quartet. It was immediately evident that any instability previously heard had been completely vanquished. A quick comparison with the DG LP showed the R2R to be almost superior in all aspects, though a little over-bearing in its "studio-like" objectivity through the Yamaha. Robin attributed this to the so-so solid state Tape Head Preamp inside the tape deck. He has already ordered a Bottlehead Eros Tape Head Preamp which hopefully shall be built during the coming holidays.

(Detour) Talking about Bottlehead, I still have their simple and good sounding original Foreplay (now in its III version) and our friend Hoi the old Paramour monoblock parafeed 2A3 amps. Unfortunately, the Yamaha FX-3 I don't think would take to flea-powered amps, otherwise we could have an all-Bottlehead party soon!

As the tape ran we slowly realized the sound had become better and better. Like the cartridge, the tape head also needs warm-up time. By the time we reached the Fitzwilliam's rendition of Shostakovich's 8th quartet, we were literally TRANSFIXED by the life-like vista in front of us. Here were four musicians breathing life into music right in front of us, one of those rare occasions when every note feels right no matter how you analyze it, IF you want to analyze it that is. I paid attention to the bowel sounds and the leading edges of the strings and could find no fault. Utterly clear and fulsome bass, no overhang, nothing except music. The illusion of a live event was so strong it instantly challenged my conviction that a horn is the only thing that can convey this all-important feeling. In comparison with reel-to-reel, vinyl replay is inevitably a little colored in the many ways vinyl can be colored (and which many love to excess), say in tonality or portrayal of rhythm. But make no mistake, vinyl is still way better than anything digital in its conveyance of the performance, the most important parameter in reproduction and Achilles's heel of digital. The way I see it, a tube tape head amp shall perhaps improve things a little more, but I doubt it shall surpass the performance we heard in all parameters.

Family Feud
Certainly, this system's rendition of the truth is orders above what we usually hear. It is not all due to employment of R2R as source. Robin had fine-tuned his system, most importantly by propping up a bit the front of his FX-3, in other words giving them a little time alignment. This made a significant difference in coherence and more natural image size and height. If there is any limitation, it is that the space is still too small for large symphonic works, though smaller forces are reproduced to perfection.

When we played the Bartok LP, my Garrard sounded a little more musical. Robin remarked that there is a smoothness to the grease bearing perhaps. With the lesser arm and humble MC15 cartridge it delivered music in a broader stroke. Switching to Robin's Garrard, the sound was more finely etched and detailed, but less warm. I am sure part of this was due to the difference in cartridges, as I had previously matched my MC15 against the similar Kontrapunkt C and got similar results.

Then we played the Miles Davis TuTu LP. Here, again, my Garrard was a little more emotive but lesser in detail and ambience than Robin's. The bit of coldness (comparatively) emanating from Robin's Garrard was actually quite suitable for this LP and the icy brilliance of Miles.

Although the arms and cartridges are form the same families, the structural differences are likely significant, and we did not bother to swap arms. The difference between the simple wooden plinth and the slate plinth probably was an even bigger factor in the difference in sound. As a result, we did not dwell on the "duel" too much but rather just admired the sound, wonderful to say the least. But I have to say neither quite attained the level of the R2R deck.

Did I tell you we didn't even listen to a single CD?

Yamaha FX-3, The Giant Killer!
The Yamaha FX-3 deserves the last word. This large studio monitor, like its smaller sibling NS-1000, is a woefully under-rated gem. Its stark neutrality and ability to deliver the presence of a live performance is nothing short of remarkable, up-to-date in every way, and likely superior to most of the over-rated larger speakers of today.

02 February, 2011

Editor's Note: Happy New Year!

Traditonal Paper Cut

Today is Chinese New Year, one of few holidays taken by hard-working Chinese. Billions in China don't get any days off during the year except during this period (and the National Day). It is traditional to employ a lot of red color in the celebrations.

This year is Year of the Rabbit, which some say may be a little rockier than usual.

The world is plagued by finicky weather, which has wreaked havoc's in many lands. But my heart truly goes out to the peoples in the Arab world, who are struggling for a better tomorrow. My generation of Chinese had gone through the gut-wrenching days of 1989, and could empathize with the struggles there.

In the 1980's, my Arab-American friend and I made two trips to that part of the world, and visited Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Israel and the West Bank. I'd never forget the beauty of the lands and the friendliness of the peoples. I'd never forget the beautiful Chinese porcelain from the Qing dynasty displayed in a Syrian museum that was formerly a nobleman's house. The world was smaller than we think in the OLD days. Nor would I forget the indignities my friend had to endure at the Israeli immigration, purely because of his last name.

Looking at the Flag Counter, I see a few visits from the Arab countries. I hope the 2 visitors from Egypt will get to read this and are doing well, and best wishes. Likewise for the visitors from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon and Kuwait.

The world is definitely getting smaller. We are not only watching, we are concerned. I wish you all a happy year of the rabbit!


pic: A Hundred Blessings 百福圖