Category Archives: travel thoughts

Rocky B

More than a little creativity sparked the well-known, seven-part, iconic movie series of Rocky Balboa.  Created and played by Sylvester Stallone, the films depict an everyday Philadelphian, digging deep, sucking up every drop of inner hunger to beat the odds, and sometimes the face, of visually stronger opponents.

Add a few decades, a dash more creativity, and a healthy stock of running events consuming most cities, and voila, Philadelphia has cooked up an annual Rocky Balboa half marathon race that attracts thousands of runners, many from other countries, who are inspired to test their inner grit.

A couple of family members running this race took me to the city of brotherly love this past weekend.  Although there are a couple of different courses at the event, a 5K, 10k, and 10 miles, to receive the Italian Stallion medal, you’ve got to run the 5K followed by the 10-mile course. The total adds up nicely to 13.1 miles, the distance of a half marathon.

Relatively new as of 2013, this race is held the Saturday in November following the New York City marathon. The RB course supposedly replicates the run SS took during film number two of the famous series.  Unlike a marathon like Boston or New York, which are more classic, downtown city events, this Philly half is a no-nonsense, country run which includes 1.5 miles of a stiff hill to climb.  No half marathon time records will be made running this race.

Despite its recent kick-off, word of this spirited Rocky B running event spread quickly.  For those who’ve seen the film, running the same streets as Stallone did years ago, then after, posing for a photo in a hooded sweatshirt on the steps of Philadelphia’s Museum of Art is alluring.  Leaving our hotel for the start line yesterday was a couple from London who traveled to Philadelphia for two days, only to run this race.

The mood of marathons and their half-brothers can be infectious, with lots of good energy.  Still, I didn’t run.  Even a half marathon can be grueling.  Evidently, I don’t have the craving to dig for the hunger it takes.  Maybe that’s why I admire those who can summon the inner strength to run a physically punishing long-distance event.  And hey, someone’s got to cheer.  That’s a role I can dredge up.

What would a trip to Philly be without a cheesesteak?

Or a pint of suds in Philly’s oldest ale house

Tucked away outside our hotel in City Center.

Pissing in the wind,…twice

…on the same island.

The recent destruction in the Virgin Islands caused by hurricane Irma brought back a couple of Caribbean memories from that area.

In our early 20’s (hmm,..the mid 70’s or thereabouts), friend Bruce and I traveled to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, two consecutive years, to visit our friend John who was a school teacher there.  The first trip was an exploratory adventure.  We road our new 900 cc Kawasaki’s, the largest they made at the time, from Eastern PA to my aunt’s home in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.

I had stayed with Aunt Gladys for a month several years prior when I was in early high school.  She lived on the intercostal waterway, where, with her husband, they owned and operated a marina.  They sold new and used boats and rented slips.  The deal was, I could stay for a month as long as I helped around the marina.  Fait accompli.  Gladys, my mother’s oldest sister, was cool.  There were no televisions in her home.  Cell phones and computers didn’t exist yet.  Each night after dinner we played two-handed pinnacle, bantered about anything and everything, and sipped vodka and grapefruit juice.  I must have been 16 or so, but she made me a weak drink each night so that I could share the entire experience, and perhaps to give herself an edge in the game.  That only added to her coolness.

My second trip to her marina in Jacksonville Beach was several years later with Bruce.  Aunt Gladys was kind enough to keep our bikes while we flew to Saint Thomas for our ten-day island escapade.  John was a straight-laced guy in high school, but it didn’t take him long to shed his Catholic High School image.  When John met us at the island’s airport, he could have been mistaken for a hard-ass pirate, sporting a full chest-length beard and demeanor to match.  He was glad to see us and took us directly to the east-end of the island where we had an unobstructed view of St Johns, a brother island to St Thomas, and where four of his friends were readying a 36-foot sloop for a 10-day trip in the waters amongh the British Virgin Islands.  We didn’t spend one night on solid ground during that trip as we went from plane to boat, and afterward, from boat to plane.  Each day was spent in a different part of the BVI archipelago, where we snorkeled with spearguns by day, feasting on our catch that evening on the boat.

This wasn’t our boat, but it could have been — the image reflecting our experience accurately.

During our first night, the anchor was thrown overboard somewhere among a group of islands, none with visible lights, just uninhabited tall dark mountains protruding out of the sea.  There were four bunks below and two makeshift sleeping pads topside.  John and I elected to sleep outside on the deck that evening.  At some point during the shimmering moon-lit night, because the beer we had been consuming was not a small amount, I woke with a need to let some out.  As I steadied myself on the edge of the swaying bow, holding one of the mast stays while mesmerized by the reflection of plankton in the dark sea, I started draining the processed beer.  Just then a vigorous and steady gust blew at me, redirecting the water I was eliminating back toward the boat.  At about that time I heard John belt out, “Freddie, Freddie, get down below, it’s raining.”  When he didn’t see me on the cushion, but rather standing on the bow with a sheepish grin, one hand holding the stay and the other holding, well, you got the picture, he had some other, stronger words to say.  Fortunately, John was an even-keel kind of guy.  After his initial excitement, he simply said: “Freddie, please, while you are on the boat, don’t piss in the wind.”  We had a lighthearted chuckle before he dove overboard to rinse off.

All that was needed was a snorkel, fins, and speargun, and lots of deep blue.

Those ten days left me awestruck by the beauty and variety of schools of fish we swam through.  It was a large tarpon school, not the individual sharks, that had my heart in my mouth.  From one minute to the next, swimming with a school of fish larger than I was, would have, if I hadn’t been holding it, taken my breath away.

The second-year Bruce and I flew from Philadelphia to Saint Thomas to stay with John on the island.  No sailboats this trip.  We wanted to know the island.  John lived in the hills, in a rustic area, where the roosters were our wakeup call.  I was enamored, so much so that I called my then wife and persuaded her to come down and join me.  After some coaxing (I couldn’t understand why she was apprehensive about a spontaneous vacation on an exotic Caribbean island), she agreed to fly down.  I excitedly took a bus to the airport to pick her up two days later.  I immediately became a tad concerned by the nervous look hidden behind her smile, which only deepened as we hopped in a taxi and made our way up the curvy mountain road to John’s place.  After two days it was evident she was not a happy camper.  She loved the beach, but the blue-green waters and warm white sand of the Caribbean weren’t enough to compensate for the perhaps unrefined setting in the hills where we were staying.  It just wasn’t her cup of tea.  Rather than the planned week with me on Saint Thomas, I rebooked her return flight only two days after her arrival.  She was happy to leave, and I was happy she did.  It was nothing between us.  She was uncomfortable in that island setting, and I couldn’t change that.  In hindsight, I mistakenly tried to force her to like what I liked.  For the second year in a row, although this time metaphorically, I was pissing in the wind.

A view of Magens Bay, Saint Thomas on the way up to John’s place.

This second island adventure still ended up a good trip for Bruce and I as we bounced around the isle’s more remote beaches trying to improve our inept spearfishing abilities which we never seemed to manage gripping.  We were mostly too slow.  When I found the occasional seemingly lazy fish, it would stare back at me with those large, glassy, fish-eyes, as I aimed my gun. Then,  the split second after I fired, it would turn broadside, the spear bouncing off its body as if it was saying, “yea sure, go ahead and try to spear me you goggle-eyed spazz.”  Luckily our friends were experienced fishermen.  We ate seafood like kings during those trips.  No pissing in that wind.


  1. To this day, whenever there is a choice between finding a discrete location on natural earth or water vs. a public breath-holding bathroom when a piss is calling, the outdoors always wins hands down.  During long distance (pedal) biking trips, brother PI called these outdoor pit stops ‘natural breaks.’  Of course, they were.  Pissing outside (not in public) is natural.  When the opportunity presents itself and the air stronger than a light breeze, John’s message from all those years ago still has me checking wind direction first.
  2. Our marriage didn’t last long, perhaps six years through the majority of my 20’s.  What we both learned the hard way was that trying to force one another into an undesired role never works.  It’s like pissing in the wind, always resulting in messy, unintended consequences.

4 Capitals — 10 days

There are a couple of places in the world where you could visit four capitals of different countries in 10 days with reasonable time for exploring each and one of those is touching the western Slavic area of what was once Czechoslovakia.  It helps to have a car, although you could probably train it.

One amenable option is flying into Budapest, Hungry, hanging for a couple of days, with plenty of time to crisscross the city on foot while slurping down homemade goulash and rich local brew.

After BP, you could head to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, about five hours away, with a several-hour stop in route exploring Bratislava.  In comparison to the other capitals, Bratislava, Slovakia, is by far the smallest, making the trip to Prague an easy one-day journey.

Following a few days consuming paprika-laced grilled sausages, roasted pigs knuckles, and tasty frothy beers in Prague, you could zip down to Vienna, the capital of Austria, only a 3.5-hour drive, to round out the tour.

Buda and Pest

It’s a relatively tight circle.  And although all four countries are part of the EU, you’ll need three different currencies as Hungry, and the Czech Republic have resisted submitting to the euro.

However you might “do” the trip, it’s worth the investment of 10 days just for the food and drink.  Throw in the impressive architecture, the walking culture of each city, and easygoingness of the local inhabitants, and it makes for a sensory-filled, non-stop, yet relaxing and memorable excursion.


Budapest, split by the Danube River

Backstreet Bratislava

A small window looking down at Prague city center

Along the river toward central Vienna

Always a time & place for exercise

Goulash, paprika, fresh peanuts and home brew make the “For Sale Pub” an ideal lunch spot in Budapest.

And an image of building art from Chelsea, NYC for good luck.

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.

Security Blanket Syndrome

When the Peanut cartoons were around, one of the more familiar images was Charlie with his security blanket.  He frequently dragged it around with him.  In my early teens, I remember younger siblings, from time-to-time, toting their security blankets around the house. images My mother actually called them security blankets.  She said that holding the familiar blanket had a calming effect making a child, like the name implies, feel secure.  Psychologists call it “security blanket syndrome.”  Thankfully, children eventually grow out of it.

Now, humankind may have entered an evolutionary stage where entire generations are coping with a new type of security blanket syndrome.  Except the blanket has been replaced by the smartphone.  Never before in the history of humanity has a behavior affected so many so quickly.

hopefully the SB doesn't revert to this

hopefully the SB doesn’t revert to this

The phenomenon is evident just about everywhere in the world.  From city streets, transit systems, restaurants, cafes, workplaces, homes, just about anywhere and everywhere, smart devices are by our sides, or in our face.  Most people, it appears, would be lost without it.  And the vast majority would never leave home without it.

During the first half of my life, cellular phones and smart handheld devices didn’t exist.  They weren’t invented yet.  Today, toddlers are issued iPads and no young teenager, young adult, or fully-developed human is ever without a smartphone.  images-3

There’s no doubt that these devices are loaded with benefits — incredibly advanced tools that have improved our ability to learn, as well making us more proficient and effective.  They are even quickly replacing our wallets.  At the same time, our new found security blanket has gradually taken control.  Our smart devices have become our subliminal master.

The biggest indicator that this instrument has taken over as our security blanket is during periods of aloneness, even, or especially, when others are present.  It’s so obvious when people arrive at a restaurant, a metro car, or a waiting room when the first action is taking out and turning face toward the handheld device.  It’s like most of us are uncomfortable just being in our own heads.  We’ve got to be connected and occupied at all cost, like a fix — as long as it’s not with the strangers around us.unknown-2

If it were all about efficiency, productivity, or learning it would be one thing.  But whenever other device screens are in my line of sight, which is often, I see abundant scrolling of social media sites like FB, (executing the rapid thumb flick and hold, stopping at each image for a split second before flicking to the next screen), playing games, scroll chatting, or watching soap series.  It’s ubiquitous, and it’s an obsession.

If we don’t think our handhelds are the not humanity’s new security device, we could ask ourselves if we could leave home without it.  That accidentally happened to me the other day.  I was 1/2 kilometer away on my pedal bike heading to work when I realized I left my iPhone at home.  I stopped immediately.  It was windy and cold.  The thought of backtracking was not appealing, but neither was spending unknownthe day without my device.  My head was instantly spinning with the scenarios, “How will I,.., What if,…Can I….?”  I finally shook myself out of the sudden analytical stupor and decided to forget the device.  It wasn’t crucial to the day.  I continued on my way to work with a suddenly empty feeling.  How, I thought, could not having a handheld device make me feel insecure like I was missing something?  Strangely though, that hollow feeling turned into one of freedom.  I returned home later that evening without a scratch, no worse off for not having had the security of the device with me all day.

don't leave home without it

don’t leave home without it

Could that be an occasional exercise, I thought, leaving home from time-to-time without my smartphone?  If the feeling would elicit emptiness, insecurity, or loneliness, turning to one of freedom, it might be an exercise worth employing.  At the very least, I can make an attempt to viciously resist the temptation to pull out the device, without specific purpose, so that I don’t become a screen slave to its powerful psychological pull.

On one hand, it could be said that our new gadget-turned-sidekick is expanding our human experience.  But on the other, if or when we become subservient, we could be capping it.

I’m not even close to giving up my device.  To the contrary, I love having my little companion close by.  At the same time, I’m recognizing that there may be internal training required to show the device which or who is boss.  If there is a security blanket syndrome present, I’d better make sure it is coming from the device and not from me. 🙂

Test Question, (to determine the level of security blanket syndrome):  Is your smartphone the first thing you reach for upon waking up in the morning?

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.


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


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

you looked serious

That’s what my transpacific flight seatmate told me a couple of weeks ago.  She hesitated talking to me because of the poker-face I was sporting as we boarded.  She was surprised, she said, to hear that my speaking tone didn’t reflect what she imagined from my stony-face.

Hmm.  I thought.  How, after so many years, is seriousness plastered on my countenance? Has it been there all along?  If so, am I going to be able to change to one that actually reflects my lighthearted demeanor?  I don’t feel serious most of the time.  In fact, I feel fairly content, on the happy side, 99.99% of the time — seriously content.   836851

Regardless, I clearly had some work to do.  ‘Where was stern face coming from,’ I was thinking, reflecting on her honest comment well after the flight landed.  It must be the creases between my eyes.  Would having the creases removed make me appear less serious, more approachable?  Could I even seriously consider that?  Then again, the somber mask may just be keeping the riffraff from interrupting my jovial interior.

If I’m already filled with happy, how do I banish the solemn expression?  That question had been nagging me for days after the flight.  Then it struck me.  She viewed my facial expression pre-boarding.  I was in a bulkhead row. It’s preciously those times, that 00.01% of the time, when I’m concentrating on positioning my carry-on luggage in the overhead bin.  Having luggage stored behind you when everyone is moving forward in the deplaning process is not ideal.

perhaps a more neutral face, without a plastered smile, would be considered approachable

perhaps a more neutral face would increase approachability

So there it was, my face reflected the mission I was on.  I was concentrating, visualizing my carry-on stored securely above my seat.  She clearly mistook that for seriousness.

No need to remove the permanent creases between my eyes, (although they would certainly take off a load of years).  To eliminate that serious look, I’ll simply reduce or eliminate carry-on luggage. 🙂

In the event the carry-on is not the culprit, I may be better off earnestly focusing on a less serious face.

the whites and yellows


After a short, jammed-packed, 6-day trip to New York, it was one of those “hate to leave but glad to be returning” feelings when I boarded the United Airlines direct flight to Shanghai last Wednesday.   The 15-hour journey by air flew by faster than normal.  My seat-mate was a Chinese NYU graduate student, living in NYC, who happened to be returning for a short visit home to visit her parents in Shanghai.

Yini, a product of the one-child policy, is an atypical Chinese — bubbly, outgoing, quick-witted, full of jokes, and was (is) both interested and interesting.  Our conversations, which started before we left the gate, lasted several hours into the flight before we both dozed off.

Speaking flawless English, what struck me was her use of “whites” when referring to Americans.  When I pointed it out she profusely apologized, her ingrained politeness covering up a potential minor faux pas.  Not that I minded in the least, I was simply curious because she, as well as most of the Chinese I know, are as white (or whiter) than many Americans.  Although there are large groups who’s skin is a dustier tone than many of the milky white caucasians from North America, she says “whites” was only an endearing term for easy referral.  I asked her if “her people” had a referred to color and her response, after a shoulder shrug, was “yellow.”  So as many of us do from different cultures, we discussed our similarities (not abundant), and also most notably, our differences. It was the whites and the yellows.

whites tend to be individualistic, yellows not so much

whites tend to be individualistic, yellows not so much

What are those differences?  More than a few but what pulled us into the topic was the “loudness” factor.  She thinks that the whites are loud (exuberant), by comparison.  There is no denying whites can be a little volume heavy in the vocals.  I’ve heard my share of them in different parts of the world, talking as if the person next to them had a hearing problem.  I think though, and I could be wrong, that the loud spoken whities constitute the mostly insensitive minority.

What struck me though was Lini’s opinion that perhaps yellows are not so loud.  I suggested that if the category were widened from loud to noise, the yellows might have the upper hand.

problemHumans tend to create a lot of unnecessary noise, some pleasurable, some not.  Musical notes from  a trumpet might have a pleasing melodic tune.  The sound from a typical automobile horn has a much different quality.  They are both noise.

Some might say that liberal use of vehicle horns, not just a tap, but multiple held blasts of piercingly loud horns, is noise pollution at its finest.  Horns are regularly used in lieu of turn signals.  The yellows, because of their unique (to whites) culture of traffic flow and the mostly lack of right-of-way sense, tend to be extroverts when it comes to automobile horn use.

They are also accustomed to setting off fire crackers at any time of day or night, at almost any place, in celebration of a marriage, birth, death, or who knows what.  And they are loud.  Forget the routine, clearly audible shovel-against-cement sounding throat hack in preparation for a walkway expectoration, or the multitudes who talk to each other like they are in a boisterous argument (when they are not), the yellows seem to be quite cozy with a noise level that most whites would consider obnoxious.  To Yini though, the loudness of whites was a noticeable difference.

whites tend to form lines to queue, yellows tend to bunch queue

whites tend to form lines to queue, yellows tend to bunch queue

So whites beware.  Dampen your verbal decibel level a bit.  It can be seen, as someone I knew used so say, as crude, rude, barbaric, uncouth and uncalled for.

Now that I remember, prior to this particular discussion, I did ask Yini if I was talking too loud.  She said I wasn’t, but then again maybe she was just being polite.


whites can wear their anger on their sleeves, with yellows it's well-masked.

whites can wear their anger on their sleeves, with yellows it’s well-masked.

in other words, yellow vs white

in other words, yellow vs white

Images compliments of DuRing Foreign Service, Zhangjiagang, China


Middle America in the middle of the mountains.  Slightly left of center is where my thumb ended up on a US map as I was looking for a short getaway of quality time with GV, before heading back to Asia.  The criteria was easy in/out with direct flights, somewhere I wouldn’t normally choose to go, and one that was fairly tranquil.  Denver, Colorado, won the dart throw and I wasn’t disappointed — especially on the tranquil part.

downtown Denver

downtown Denver

After getting a half-day of work accomplished in NYC on Wednesday, we left on a mid-afternoon flight and arrived to our downtown hotel well before the sun went down, with plenty of time for an orientation walk around the “mall.”  The mall, as they call it, is a half-mile street (16th Street) closed to auto traffic save for free shuttle busses continuously cruising up and down for those too lazy to walk.  The mall also attracts a disproportionate amount of young, panhandling adults — freeloaders in search of a Rocky Mountain High handout.

On Thursday, we zigzagged on a 10-mile city hike, appreciating the clean western-esque architecture and wide, sparsely driven streets.  It was odd that a mid-week workday felt more like an early Sunday morning.  There were few other people walking the streets, even though it was a balmy 70 degree day.  Where are all the people in the capital of Colorado?  We didn’t know.  Although there was quite a bit of construction going on throughout the city, the streets were deadsville.

something going on inside the theatre

something going on inside the theatre

Similar to the Northwest US, Denver has an abundance of cafes with strong coffee and plenty of bars with no shortage of hearty local micro-brewed beer.  But after two days and as many bison burgers, we were ready for our mid-day Friday flight back to the noise of NYC, where we arrived 48 hours later, with a satisfying, savory aftertaste of the mile-high city two time zones away.

In summary; maybe two days is not enough to explore the cultural depth, because somehow I was expecting a touch more middle-america attitude and all I found was altitude.  Nevertheless, on its elevated surface Denver serves up a bountiful dose of tranquility.


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on the mall

on the mall

the top end of the "mall"

the top end of the “mall”

on the edge of LoDo

on the edge of LoDo


Union Station with service to the airport starting next month

Union Station with service to the airport starting next month



Not talking wife-beaters (men’s white tank tops), egg beaters, nor well-used cars.  We are talking shoes.

When I met nephew Sam last month in Bangkok he was fresh off the plane starting an open-ended backpacking trip around the world.  Meaning, the dude was planning on some serious walking.  And not just walking, but hiking — the kind that most of us would do as a one-day feat he would be doing every day.  With any sort of elevation in sight, a hill, or especially a mountain, he starts salivating and making plans to ascend.  I was therefore keen to know what he would be wearing on his feet.

If there is an item of clothing that has caused me constant consternation over the years, it’s been footwear.  Don’t know if it was the bad case of athlete’s foot fungus I had in early grade school or that my feet perspire more than normal, but finding shoes that are tolerable all day, and especially into the evening, has always been a challenge.  And when I do find them, wearing them on consecutive days is not happening.  My feet just don’t do footwear continuity well.

One of life’s (many) tiny pleasures has always been coming home after a long day and taking off the shoes that served me that day, not for a clean home habit, although that’s an admirable reason, but for the shear joy of feet freedom.  Wherever I’ve worked I kept spare footwear, sandals mostly, in my office to treat the feet to the occasional breather.  Most of the time, especially in large cities in cooler weather, leather shoes with room to move have been the preferred choice.

One year I made a week-trip through Mexico with a shoe buyer who took me to several factories and explained the in’s and out’s of shoe construction.  Talking my language, he extolled the virtue of keeping footwear fresh, allowing them ample time to breathe, which is at least 24 hours.  He said he never traveled with only carry-on luggage, because, being in the same frame of mind, or foot, as I, he changed his footwear frequently.  Shoes are the culprit, most times, for pushing my travel case from an overhead to a checked bag.

So when I saw Sam that afternoon as he was strolling up Sukhumvit’s Soi 11 after getting off the BTS in Bangkok, I waved and smiled, then took a quick glance to his feet.  What? I thought, how can he be wearing shoes that looked, well, so beat up.  Moreover, how could he go on a serious trek wearing those?  I was hoping that my baffled composure was well hidden, but after we got caught up I couldn’t help but ask.

“Those are my beaters,” he said, “my traveling shoe of preference.”  I was ardently dumbfounded.  He said he tried hiking shoes and sneakers, but with the beaters, a kind of walking shoe with the heal pushed in, he didn’t need to worry about them getting wet (they dry quicker), they were easy off and on, and they worked well in almost any terrain.  Most important, they were comfortable.  He further explained that to get them into beater category required a break-in period, by literally breaking the spine, or heal portion, so that they stay comfortably flat.  They become slip-ons.  And as beaters, if there are shoe laces, as Sam’s had, they stay permanently tied, an added benefit.

Last year I bought these patchwork denim shoes at a Bangkok coffee shop that also specialized in indigo products. They were the only pair, and slightly too large. By sheer coincidence I had turned them into beaters. I must have been subconsciously thinking ahead.

Last year I bought these indigo patchwork loafers at the Blue Dye Cafe in Bangkok . They were the only pair, and slightly too large. By sheer coincidence I had turned them into beaters. I must have been subconsciously thinking ahead.

In Koh Samui one day, we hiked from sea level to 1,300 feet up a moderately rocky forrest path.  Another day Sam scaled a nearly vertical rocky wall alongside a waterfall, which I elected to forgo.  Both times he had on his beaters.  In fact, his feet were rarely without them.  I was sold.

During the week we happened across a store selling colorful karate shoes at an irresistible price so we each bought a pair.  The largest size they had were a tad too snug as a normal shoe and I otherwise would not have bought them, but with the beater concept they worked fine.  Being spineless the break-in was immediate. They are now one of my favorites.

the karate shoes turned into instant beaters

the karate shoes turned into instant beaters

Wow,’I thought, evidently, I had not been thinking outside the box.’ I was delighted by the beater concept.  During the trip I became enthused by the idea of expanding my footwear possibilities and started envisioning which pairs back home were good beater candidates.  I’ve since broken the spines of several pairs, cobbling together a new footwear family.

Post point — If a pair of shoes with a somewhat breakable spine doesn’t evoke tangible pleasure, step on them, turn them into beaters, and they may serve you well for miles to come.


keds, still in the spinal breakdown process

keds, still in the spinal breakdown process

Indian slip-ons, also purchased at Bangkok weekend market, in liu of beaters.

Indian slip-ons, purchased at Bangkok weekend market a year ago, in liu of beaters.