Category Archives: asia

Travel while you can

But don’t fret, you’ll still be able to travel later.  It will just be more crowded.

In the year 1500, the world population is estimated to have been less than 500 million.  It took 300 years for that figure to double to one billion.  In 1960, the world pop was three billion.  By the year 2000, 40 years later, it had doubled to six billion.  You could call that explosive humping.  Today we are at 7.5 billion.  The rate of growth has eased a fraction, but still, given current trajectory, simple math puts us around 10 billion by 2050, a short 30 plus years from now.

When I first visited Cancun, Mexico, and Phuket, Thailand decades ago, they were beach outposts, minus the proliferation of high-rise hotels and the antiseptic feeling of an overrun tourist destination.  Similar outposts are fast being built to attract newer avid travelers.  And they will come.  Most major airports around the world are bursting at capacity, thick with worm-hole lines to check-in, security, customs, and immigration, while short of gates for arriving planes.  Many flights are delayed for takeoff because of congestion at the destination airport.  When I flew out of LAX in April, as we were sitting on the runway approach going nowhere, the pilot announced that we were number 12 in line and it would be another 20 minutes or so before takeoff.  As we turned the corner to liftoff, there were another 12 behind us.  

Chang Mai, Thailand

There are may places in the world, like the Inca trail between Aguas Calientes and Manchu Picchu, in the Andes of Peru, a typically four-day hike, that was independently treck-able not long ago. Because of its mushroomed popularity, the only way now to hike the old stone path built by the Incas a millennium ago is with a guided group tour. (It is still a spectacular hike)  

Not only will we be adding another 30% to the world’s population over the next generation, but consider also that two most populated countries, China and India, together more than 1/3 of the world’s pop, have been experiencing highly dynamic economic growth during the last decade resulting in hundreds of millions rising out of poverty and joining the middle class.  Tens of millions in these two countries are now financially wealthy.  These millions with new money will eventually be looking for destination feathers to stick in their travel hats.

A couple of generations ago, those who traveled wrote letters, books, or passed their travel exploits by word of mouth.  Today we have instant information streaming at our fingertips for virtually every spot on earth, complete with photos and detailed instructions how to get there.

Instant gratification for all

By adding up the following:

  • the earth’s ballooning population of homo sapiens resulting from our relatively recent insatiable urge for planting human seeds 
  • instant access to information about anywhere
  • significantly improved infrastructures coupled with more developed trade relations among most countries
  • the swelling class boom in China and India and their eventual yearn to spend,

and a solid long-term business may be owning a hostel or hotel in a lazy, soon to be overrun, tourist ghetto.

The day the new Dubai airport opened it was already too small.

It’s just an observation

When I was younger, one of the jokes my then 80-year old grandmother delightedly told me was:  A woman was just waking up from an operation in the hospital recovery room, still drowsy from the anesthesia.  She lifted her head slightly and looked around the room.  There were two men dressed in white standing against the wall talking to each other.  After a few minutes, one of them walked over to her bed, lifted the covers, looked her up and down, then returned and continued talking to the other man.  A minute or so later, the second guy approached her bed and did the same thing.  As he lifted the covers, she said, “hey, what am I here for, an operation or observation?”  The guy said, “I don’t know lady, we’re just the painters.”

Call me simple-minded, but the joke still gives me a mild kick.  (As an aside, in high school, two of the many jobs I had were 1) as a porter in a hospital, where I swabbed the deck of the main parts of the hospital, including the recovery room, and 2) as a painter.  I never had such an observation.)

There are different reasons for being observant.  When my brother and I rode bicycles across part of the country, he would observe things that passed me by.  Our attentions drifted on different aspects of the trip.  Various observations, different perspectives, and neither right or wrong.  They just are.  No conclusions were drawn.

How Sweet? Way too sweet.

Not to overdo posts about the country where I’m living, but I’ve observed something that does not require lifting any blankets.  Observation: a significant portion of young Chinese children, especially girls, need to wear eye glasses.

Requiring glasses to see well early in life sure seems like a genetic defect.  It’s not natural.  Some have drawn the conclusion that the unusually high percent of myopia is due to the social environment of studying too much and being indoors.  That theory doesn’t float my logic boat.

already needing glasses?

The author of Deep Nutrition, mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, makes a convincing case that the two most widely used toxic food ingredients — sugar and vegetable oil, are having damaging effects on not only us but also our offsprings.

Most of us have heard that processed sugars are not good, but we still eat sweet stuff in humungous amounts.  The Chinese have kicked Western habits into high gear and have started to sweeten everything, to a sickening degree.  And, they use massive amounts of vegetable oil as a staple kitchen item.  These oils have been used now for decades.  Vegetable and seed oils are sold in every mini-market in 3-liter containers.  They cook everything in this oil, including sugar.

I try to steer clear of these oils but it’s damn difficult. It’s used to cook everything.

The production of vegetable and seed oils requires about 20 different processes including the use of high heat and deodorization, which alters the molecular makeup.  Consistent consumption of these toxic oils, the author argues, negatively affects our chromosomal makeup.  (Oils from olive, coconut, and peanut are extracted without heat.)

I’m not making a connection here.  It’s just an observation, with a dash of logic.  But then again, I’m just the painter lady.

This “original” buttermilk “let the taste return to nature” is hardly natural.  The store clerk told me it had no sugar but it was so sweet I had to throw away.

Hello!

I’m talking to you foreigner.

What is it about the spontaneous urge to blurt out a greeting to a stranger in their language?  It happens to me without fail at least once a day as I’m passing someone, either on foot or bicycle.  

Yesterday I was the recipient of the impromptu “hello” three times. First while walking to the park, one in a group of school age boys across the street yelled “hello.”  Then inside the park, an old man, a park worker, gave me a “hello” as I passed by.  Then again on a backroad, as I was biking to the factory where I work, a young man belted out “hello.”  Yes, the urge seems to strike all ages, except that it’s exclusively the male gender who displays the extroverted verbal gesture.   Depending on the distance, I either wave, smile, nod, or return them with a hi or howdy, or sometimes a combo.

The yen here to shout out hello is usually done by someone who’s english vocabulary does not extend beyond that word.  Perhaps the compulsive expression just feels good —  connecting with a foreigner in their tongue.  The locals here do not use that greeting among themselves.

I can’t help but wonder if I lived in a small town and an oddball Chinese person walked by if I’d impulsively yell out ni hao even if I knew no more of their language.  Or if I passed a Mexican would I blurt out hola,  or marhabaan to an Arabic looking dude.  Anyway, the Chinese have got to presume I’m english speaking.  I could be French. They are not saluting me with a “salut.”  Then again, we all look alike and english is the universal language.

Truthfully, I’m glad for the daily salutation from an always unknown and varied source.  It’s certainly better than many alternatives, like a version of catcalling.  I take the extemporaneous acknowledgment as a form of welcoming a foreigner into alien turf.  I’m chalking it as a net positive for humanity.

Conclusion:  If you’ve read this far, consider giving the next foreigner you see in your town a big hello in their language.  Hello!  There’s really no downside.

The Mask

Spend any time in Asia and you become accustomed to the mask as part of the (dress) culture. In my younger years, we only saw them worn only in hospitals, by doctors and nurses, to protect those they were working on from germs they might be carrying.

It may have been something like this. With a visor on the hat, I was well protected from a day in the sun.

Riding motorcycle trips throughout the Southwest USA, I frequently wore a bandana which hung from my upper nose and covered my face.  It was a mask for sun protection and doubled as a wet cloth when I need it.  In the Middle East, some tribes of Arab women wear masks for religious reasons.

With filters, they are becoming more innovatively stylish.

Now though, it’s become a trend to wear them as prevention from sucking in undesirable particles.  Airborne epidemics, pollen, and pollution have spread their popularity.

In China, where I am today, there is a pollution alert.  It’s a breezy, hazy, sunny day.  Perhaps because cigarette smoking is so common, (in all eating establishments including the kitchens and elevators, precious few places are smoke-free), a surprisingly small percent of people wear masks.  But in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, much larger portions of the population sport the surgical mask look.  Thing is, for pollution, unless the mask is airtight with a quality filter, the thin fabric typically worn doesn’t filter the dangerous, smaller particles.

The masseuse I frequent to help loosen up my neck has started wearing one inside, even when there are no patients.

A typical Tokyo street scene.

In Japan, an even higher percent wear masks, not for pollution, but rather to prevent sickness, either from a virus or allergic pollen.  Many in that culture are more comfortable wearing masks in public as a habit, no worries about facial appearance (no makeup needed), less  chance interaction with a stranger, and in the process, might even prevent something contageous.  A good portion of the younger generation are content with ear plugs and eyes glued to a smart phone and face conveniently covered by a mask.

You’ve gotta love running — but there is no way you can breath heavy with ease.

Sure there are times when it’s prudent to make sure we don’t accidentally breath or swallow something nasty.  It’s surely nice to see food prep folks wearing them so as to prevent the otherwise inevitable and unintentional shared spittle that would end up as part of what we consume.

They are gradually becoming a fashion statement.

On the other hand, it seems that prolific use of this mouth and nose shield is a little neurotic that it has become a common wardrobe accessory.

As a (human) race, the face is the principle method of non-verbal communication.  It’s kind of ashame that we are slowly covering up that connection.

Resistance

It comes in many forms, psychological, physical, emotional.  We all know what it is to resist.  There are times to resist and times to go with the flow.  It’s pretty much futile to resist a forceful water current when you are head deep in a raging river.  On the other hand, resistance is helpful when we are up against regretful temptations.

But one area where we always want to invite resistance, is exercise.

Most of us don’t have jobs that involve tons of resistance activity, like shoveling cement into wheelbarrows, or being a mover, sanitary “engineer,” or package delivery person.  We lead relatively physically resistance-free lives.  Yea, it’s great to walk, jog, run, do yoga, meditate, and stand on your head.  All of those activities, done with purpose, can be considered forms of localized resistance.  But as we age, our anatomy responds well to resistance using a kind of brute force, for an added dimension of strength.

Light resistance works just fine.

Light resistance works just fine.

Loosely defined, resistance is a forced skeletal musculature contraction.  This isn’t bodybuilding, although it is.  Resistance training, the pushing and pulling to reach a point of slight discomfort, tones muscles, making us more agile and responsive.  By exerting muscle contraction, resistance exercise, done right, causes microscopic damage, which the body quickly repairs, making the muscles stronger.  After we reach our physical peaks in our 20’s, the muscle growth process slowly reverses.  Resistance minimizes muscle loss.  A resistance exercise habit also has a side benefit of increasing resting metabolism.

Where I live the gyms don’t open until 9 a.m., besides I’m gymed out.  Fortunately, there are plenty of parks with bars for body-weight resistance exercise.  But the routine was getting stale, boredom had been seeping in.  By good fortune, nephew Triple S, a young, but nevertheless master resister, a trainer of trainers, visited and introduced me to resistance bands, which fortified and expanded my limited routine.

These bands are my new best friends, even traveling with me.

These bands are my new best friends, even traveling with me.

The challenge to resistance exercise routines is actually resisting the resistance — battling the sound logic of the little voice which inevitably finds its way into our thoughts convincing us why today (any day) is a justified break from the discomfort of resistance.  It’s not easy to thwart awesome rationalism as to why we’d be better off not being uncomfortable.

If you don’t believe that a resistance workout habit is important, then maybe it isn’t.  So I’ll end these grainy thoughts by saying, ‘smartly done resistance hath hurt no man.’

If only all bar areas had this view. Last trip to Southern CA in Manhattan Beach.

If only all bar areas had this view. Last trip to Southern CA in Manhattan Beach.

Viet Nam — highlights of a recent trip

Viet, the name of indigenous people, Nam meaning south (originally South China)— is a country close to the consciousness of most Americans from my generation.  Halfway around the globe, we stuck our noses into someone else’s civil war, creating untold havoc, killing boatloads of their people and ours, distributed a gift called Agent Orange, a deadly chemical defoliant which had enormous detrimental effects for decades, then we left accomplishing little but destruction.  The war made no sense.  But then again, war is a business.

Where my head was in college

Where my head was in college

The protests were well into the swing of things during my high school years, culminating in the shooting deaths of several (white) students at Kent State University by reserve forces.  The level of social stress during the late 60s and early 70s compared to what is happening currently is significant.  Social media was still a long way off.  Now, of course, even small political issues, ever so slightly affecting our so called ‘human rights,’ run amok on social streaming formats stirring ordinary folk into a frenzy.

During my first year of college, the military draft was in its third year.  The top third draft picks were compelled to serve (in Vietnam).  I remember holding my proverbial breath the day my year was in the hat, but fortunately, I drew a high number, so my anti-VN war dilemma was at least partially resolved by the luck of the draw.21vietnam215

Anyhow, it’s all history as they say.  Since opening to globalization, many Americans have eagerly returned to Vietnam, perhaps subconsciously, to make sense of what the commotion was about.  It also helps that it’s an overall beautifully diverse country and people, with a respectable infrastructure,  and one of the cheapest places on earth to visit while offering decent creature comforts.

My first trip to Vietnam was a dozen years ago, a week-long sourcing trip to Hanoi and Saigon.  The next trip a few years ago to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) taught me that taking videos in the street was like offering up a photo-taking device to motorbike riders who would zoom by at city cruising speed and deftly snatch it from the hand of the unsuspected.   My new iPhone was only one-month-old at the time.

South Vietnamese parents, with their five children, ride along Highway 13, fleeing southwards from An Loc toward Saigon on June 19, 1972. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

South Vietnamese parents, with their five children, ride along Highway 13, fleeing southwards from An Loc toward Saigon on June 19, 1972. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

This trip, the planets aligned and gave nephew triple S, otherwise known as Super Sonic Sam (a close relation to a once known Super Sonic Steve) and me the opportunity for a joint motorbike exploration through the southern part of the country. Trip S has been roaming Asia since our last beachside trip a year ago. Even though we’ve both been to Vietnam, we each had more wandering we wanted to do there.   Fortunate timing gave us the ability to do at least part of that together.

Triple S arrived a week before me and bought a motorbike the same day I arrived.  I had a rental arranged.  Our plan: spend two weeks meandering from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang where we would dump the bikes and continue on our own separate paths, which is exactly what we did.

Once the convoluted visa process at the airport was concluded, I took a taxi to the place where I rented the motorbike online — about 25 minutes from downtown.  After doing the deal, strapping down my bags, I made it to my hotel in the dusk of rush-hour only by listening to a barely audible “left” or “right” from the headset of my phone’s GPS while zigging and zagging among tens of thousands of other motorbikes.  Anyone who has been to HCM knows, without exaggeration, that there are more than a million motorcycles, crisscrossing non-stop every which way.  In most intersections, the right-of-way is left up to whoever will yield first.  At times, it’s like the merging of two schools of fish swimming opposite directions, with bikes swarming on all sides, instinctively making split-second adjustments to avoid colliding.  It helps to have plenty of two-wheel experience. Having ridden a motorbike through Vietnam last year, TS took on the role of our navigator.

As was the case last year when trip S and I spent a week in southern Thailand, these two weeks in VN was another rich experience helped, in part, by a mutual workout/lifestyle ethos and a shared notion of maintaining a malleable perspective.

Following is a loose sequential pictorial summary as we started in the vehicle-dense city of Saigon, followed the coast north, wormed our way inland, climbed to the chill of higher elevation, before we serpentined back to the coast, staying at a couple of beach towns on the way to our biking destination.

Our 1st rendezvous was actually the week prior to our trip in Bangkok. The morning after I arrived we met at my favorite exercise area in Lumpini Park, where TS lead us through a series of activation stretches before we hit the bars. The TS man left for Vietnam that afternoon.

Our 1st rendezvous for the trip was actually the week before in Bangkok. The morning after I arrived we met at my favorite exercise area in Lumpini Park, where TS lead us through a series of activation stretches before we hit the bars for a resistance workout. Trip S departed for Vietnam that afternoon.

After checking in to my hotel, I found TS where he can normally be found, at the city's highest point, enjoying a wine and the view.

After checking into my hotel in Ho Chi Minh, I found TS where he can normally be found, at the city’s highest point, enjoying a wine and the view.

A not-so-busy HCM side street. Credit to SSS

A not-so-busy HCM side street. (Credit to SSS)

contemplation pre-trip

Contemplation pre-mc trip while waiting for breakfast of Pho

behind our respective hotels in HCM City

Behind our respective hotels in HCM City

bikes packed and ready to roll

Bikes packed and ready to roll, triple S’s machine on the right

outskirts of HCM City

Outskirts of HCM City, where the bike density was starting to thin

our first coffee break out of HCM

Our first coffee break out of HCM, along with a couple of sugar-free yogurts

first day breakfast stop

Found this guy at our first breakfast stop

A morning view out of our hotel room in Bao Loc

A morning view out of our hotel room in Bao Loc (credit TS)

heading into elevation

Heading into elevation on our slow climb to Da Lat

Triple S in action

Triple S in action — doing what he loves doing, as we moved up in elevation

we each bought badly needed leather jackets in Da Lat

We each bought badly needed leather jackets in Da Lat.  Don’t know what we would have done without them as they stayed on us for the next couple of days.

winding our way back down the mountain (credit to S)

Winding our way back down the mountain (credit to TS)

decent break

Descent break, after a couple of hours in fog, mist, and wind.

down at sea level after the Da Lat mountains

Down at sea level after the Da Lat mountains.  We were happy to feel the warmth of rice paddy weather.

our daily breakfast of eggs and coffee

Our daily breakfast of eggs and coffee.  In southern Vietnam, tea is normally served with coffee.

our workout area on the beach in Nha Trang, where there are way too many Russians

Our workout area on the beach in Nha Trang, where there are way too many Russians. Still, we spent two days here.

no the way up the coast toward Qui Nhon

On the way up the coast toward Qui Nhon.

outside Qui Nhon

Outside Qui Nhon

Yours truly caught in the act

Yours truly caught in the act

our hotel view in Qui Nhon (credit to SSS)

Our hotel view in Qui Nhon (credit to SSS)

Deserving of making two consecutive posts, this image was our patio deck in Qui Nhon, where we stayed two days, and doubled as our workout area by day.

Deserving of making two consecutive posts, this image is of our patio deck in Qui Nhon, where we stayed two days, and doubled as our workout area by day.

sharing a quick lunch in Qui Nhon

Sharing a quick lunch in Qui Nhon

Qui Nhon behind out hotel facing delicious street food

Qui Nhon behind out hotel facing delicious street food

On the road

On the road

Another welcome hammock break.

A welcome hammock break.

outside Hoi An (credit to SSS)

Outside Hoi An (courtesy to SSS)

Outside Hoi An, after a long day, one final stretch break.

A stretch break before arriving in an overally crowded Hoi An

Hoi An riverside

Hoi An riverside

Whatever they were, the accompanying homemade chili paste made this Hoi An street-side dish scrumptious.

Whatever they were, the accompanying homemade chili paste made this Hoi An street-side dish scrumptious.

Coffee break on the Hoi An river

Coffee break on the Hoi An river

Hoi An strteet satays

Hoi An street satays, and yes, they were delicious.

We grew accustomed to making our own VN coffee.

We grew accustomed to making our own VN coffee.

my workout area in Da Nang, what was called China Beach during VN war days -- rest area for US troops

My workout area in Da Nang, called China Beach during VN war days — a rest and recoup area for US troops

Had a nice morning nap on the beach in Da Nang before leaving VN. S stayed back in Hoi An.

A morning nap under the palm shade before heading to the Da Nang airport. Triple S stayed back in Hoi An.

Till another time.

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Trip S as we took a coffee break from heavy rain and enjoyed lounging in one of the many hammock cafes.

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We encountered this cheeky dude who was eating stir-fried morning glory and steamed chicken in a local Bao Loc joint.

Coffee anyone?

A two-week motorbike jaunt through southern Vietnam would leave anyone impressed by its coffee culture.  For a relatively small, skinny country, it’s hard to image they’ve become the 2nd largest coffee exporter in the world next to Brazil.  They zoomed from less than a percent to over 20% of global production market share in just a few decades.

compliments of a Hoi An speciality organic bean coffee shop

compliments of a Hoi An specialty organic bean coffee shop

Native only to a few African and Arabian countries, coffee cultivation has taken up roots around the globe between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.  What’s impressive is how we humans have embraced the drink so that coffee has become, in relatively short order, the most popular beverage worldwide.  It’s one of the most important and valuable traded commodities.  The annual global population growth rate has slowed to just over 1%, yet coffee exports are up over 5% last year and demand up 8.3% for 1st Q 2017 crop season over the same period last year.

We only started drinking coffee in mass a few hundred years ago, but the beverage turned truly global in the last 100. About the time the British were finding the values of tea from their conquest of India, Americans took up coffee as a civic duty.  Along with countries surrounding the Mediterranean, Central and South America, coffee is firmly embedded in our culture.

China has only begun to embrace coffee.  Once this consuming behemoth starts gulping, world demand will take another jolt.

southern Vietnam drip coffee served with tea

Southern Vietnamese drip coffee served with tea

When my job took me weekly to NYC in my early 20’s, coffee was drunk everywhere, but img_1297good brew was nearly impossible to find.  “Regular” coffee came with milk and sugar to mask the bitter taste.  It’s now rare to locate a city anywhere without coffee shops and cafes making artisan coffee drinks from a global lexicon of specialty roasted beans. For most of us, that’s a good thing. There is nothing like the taste or feeling of a “coffee break.”

The jury is still out on the health benefits, but we generally think coffee is not unhealthy.  There are too many variables to measure, from the quality of coffee and caffeine (grade and class of beans, roasting process, water quality, storage, grinding and brewing methods) to how our systems handle the stuff.  A healthy liver breaks down caffeine by a particular enzyme process, and our resulting metabolism depends on how that function is carried out.  Added to that, there’s a lot more to coffee than caffeine.

then there is coffee and wine time

Then there is coffee and wine time (Quy Nhon)

Bottom line, coffee consumption is on the rise.  While the coffee charm may seem rosy, there is good question whether slashing forests (including rain forests) for the sake of coffee plantations is helpful to the environment.  But that’s a topic for another time.  For now, with the quantity of coffee I pound down, I’m crossing my fingers that my liver is not over-caffeinated.  As long as it’s not, I’ll continue to value coffee time, whenever and wherever that might be.

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coffee break along the river in Hoi An

Da Nang style coffee

Da Nang style coffee

An Aero Press in one of Bangkok's many high-end speciality coffee shops

An Aero Press in one of Bangkok’s many high-end speciality coffee shops