Monday, February 8, 2016

A Short Post About Short Kids

and snacks on a pile of ancient dirt.

We could have just sat at the kitchen table and had cocoa. But the crisp blue sky was too much to ignore. So I bundled up the kids and tossed them in the car for the quick ride to Kobo-yama.

It's usually just a few minutes' walk from the creek where we park and through the tree-covered slopes up to the top of this oversized hill. On this day it took a bit longer with all the snow that still prevails on the northern side but for the kids, who already have little sense of time, how long it takes is irrelevant. Only the fun factor matters. At least until the frostbite sets in.

We'd been here before, in the spring, when the west-facing half of the hill becomes a pink and white blanket of cherry blossoms. Then too I'd tried to impress my kids with the fact that the top of this big hill is actually a burial mound dating back to the 3rd Century. They didn't care then, and they didn't care now - particularly my daughter, who thinks anything that happened anytime in her four years of existence was 'yesterday'. That none of us will be here in another century is equally unimpressive.

And that's cool.

I'm just happy they like it out here enough to forget all about the kitchen table.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Chinese Fire Drill Part II: Back to Japan

How to Transit Through Beijing Airport in 48 Simple Steps

Newark (NJ) Airport – China Air check-in counter
January 12th - 10:00am

“Your flight is going to be delayed,” said the man with the cheap jacket and the airline tie. I'm surprised he knew I was there. He'd spent the last ten minutes ignoring both me and the check-in girl trying to process my family’s five tickets, eight passports and ten 50-pound pieces of luggage.

“They’re late getting in from Beijing,” he told me. He looked proud of himself for having the knowledge.

I stared at him, this man whose apparent lot in life made mine seem more tolerable.

If we took off late we'd be landing late. We'd miss our connection to Tokyo. My kids would go bananas waiting around Beijing Airport for however many hours.

The beer on our flight would be free, but they'd only let me have so many.

Okay, Mr. Tie. “How late?”

He glanced past my shoulder, at something or someone behind me. “About ninety minutes,” he said. “But don’t worry, the pilot will make up the time in the air on the way back to Beijing.”

Whoa. On the way back to Beijing? You mean the pilot? The plane? Both??

There were no good answers for this. A plane that keeps going back and forth between Beijing and Newark? Some Chinese airlines still use planes from when there were ashtrays in the armrests - and no auto-pilot for the guy flying us back and forth either.

I was going to need my wife to order a bunch of beers for me.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Chinese Fire Drill - Part I

Japan to the USA via Beijing

What's the difference between China and Kanye West?

Kanye has grown fantastically wealthy by dressing flashy and unabashedly promoting a shitty product. He likens his escapades to "the highest form of contribution to society" while attacking others and then pleading not guilty. He says to Kim "your ass is mine". He's "a proud non-reader of books" and considers the drive to go and find someone to screw "valuable".

China on the other hand never said "your ass is mine" to Kim. They only said it to Tibet.

I'd sworn before that I would never again fly with a Chinese airline. But once again they offered the cheapest fares, and when you're buying five tickets to the other side of the globe and back you can't afford to be too picky (unless you're Kanye West, who can afford two tickets for Kim's ass and three for him and his ego on any airline he wants).

The China Air flight we found also went from Haneda to Newark, a geographical and logistical bonus for the trains across both Tokyo and New York City that we wouldn't have to take. But the kicker was the overnight layover in Beijing. Call me a masochist for getting excited about the journey taking an additional twelve hours, but as far as I'm concerned injecting a mini-vacation into your trip, even if it's just one night, is a satisfying extra.

Unless of course you're dealing with a shitty product.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Guest Post - 'Overnight Delivery in Vietnam'

With my good-intentioned bus master and friend. (You owe me, girl!)
My clearest memories of Vietnam revolve not around the famous sights and the guidebook-prescribed places but the unexpected, unpredictable moments of during and in between. Hoi An was wonderful, but it was the old woman with the leprous hands who peeled my mango for me that I can't forget, as much as I'd like to. Our trip to the hills up north was nice, but the brick that came flying and crashing through the window of our berth on the overnight train as we slept kind of heads the highlight reel.

Even on that boat tour around Vietnam's crown jewel of Ha Long Bay, the indescribable scenery, the captivating karsts take a back seat in the caravan of memories in my head. The grumbling, almost resentful attitude of the people working on the boat; the overload of French Fries at every meal; my gastrointestinal bout with some expired pineapple juice I drank; these are what stick in my mind, for better or for worse.

After a month it seemed Vietnam was entirely incapable of providing a dull moment. I couldn't even take a bus without having another memorable moment pounded into me. One bus ride in particular is the subject of 'Overnight Delivery in Vietnam', a recent guest post written exclusively for Manouk Bob's travel-inspired BunchOfBackpackers site.

Manouk has a lot of good stuff going on over at BunchOfBackpackers, so take a few moments to poke around. And check out 'Where These Roads Went', the travelogue that shows you in fantastic detail how not to travel through Cambodia. (Print version coming soon, for those of you who prefer paper to plug-in.)

p.s. - every detail of the story is true, even the part about the flying mangosteen.

Travel on!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Indonesia Takes China & Japan For A Ride

Q: How do you get the second and third largest economies in the world to kiss your ass?

A: Tell them you want to spend $5 billion on a train that goes really fast.

Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation in the world so you're bound to find a few clever characters hanging around, has been stringing China and Japan along for months with talk of wanting to build a high-speed railway linking Jakarta and Bandung. China and Japan, blinded by the amount of cash to be made - mainly by the politicians bucking for the deal - have been going totally ga-ga over the idea.

It's a scientific fact that you can't think straight when you are going totally ga-ga.

"Thanks for dinner know, we're just not ready for a $5 billion train..."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pope Francis Brings His Climate Change Game

Conservatives Respond by Whining About His Eligibility to Play

"See you at the Big Dance, boys..."
Back in April the Christian Science Monitor reported that “on Tuesday, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and other organizations hosted a summit at the Vatican called “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” billed as a meeting to help strengthen “the global consensus” on the issue.” One intended effect of this meeting is, we are told, “to influence this year’s United Nation’s Climate Change Conference.”

In their own press conference on Monday, before even hearing what Pope Francis had to say, conservative groups held a press conference to denounce the Pope’s stance on the environment. In doing so, certain conservatives did a fine job exposing the truth: that they are contradictory, hypocritical and unwitting masters of irony.
NOTE: I said ‘certain’ conservatives, not all. Because labeling someone does not give you the right to decry them. You have to wait until they say something stupid.

You can check out the Christian Science Monitor article on the subject here. Or keep reading for the two-minute breakdown of some grown men whining about a guy in a white robe.

"No, no, you're not going to Hell if you become a climate scientist, don't listen to those guys..."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Don't Miss This Chance to Alter History!

~ There might be something in it for you ~

Dear Friends,

In Cambodia they let you use your mug shot
for your day pass to Angkor.
It's been 12 years since I made it out of Cambodia alive. 12 years since I made it through some hard
and harrowing days, replete with uncertainty and confusion and a lot of really weird smells. Now, after more than a decade of turmoil and strife (none of which has to do with Cambodia), the stories of these days are ready to be told.

But only with your help will these stories make it to the masses who are, unbeknownst to them, dying to hear them.

Do you like to make people happy?

Awesome. Before you now lies a golden opportunity to help bring happiness to millions of people.

Do you like to give your opinion?

Who doesn't, right? Here's a rare chance to give yours to someone who is actually asking for it.

Come on my friend! Tell me what you think!
And you may even get something in return!

Take a moment to check out the first few pages of the upcoming travelogue 'Take This Guidebook & Shove It' and, at the bottom, let us know what you think, like:

  • Do you feel compelled to keep reading?
  • What do you expect from the rest of the book?
  • Do you prefer e-books or print books?

Answers to the first two questions will help me.

Answering the third will help you as I will be giving copies of the book to those who leave the most helpful and most creative comments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jeb Bush Speaks Volumes

But There Are Problems with the Con-Text

“Jeb Bush sought to cast himself as a political outsider during his first big speech as a presidential candidate on Monday…”

So begins the guardian’s take on Jeb Bush and his brand spanking new campaign. The sub-headline of the article, by the way, refers to Jeb’s touting of his “re-invention of his brother’s compassionate conservatism”.

Look, little brother. To use big brother’s words, either you are with him or you are against him. None of this re-inventing BS.
My name's Jeb, ya see, so I'm kind of like an outsider.

The guardian (they don’t capitalize their name, why should I?) goes on to tell us that ole Jeb is trying to “counter criticism that he represents the establishment wing of the Republican party.”

Let’s try to take his word for it, shall we?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Those Moving Piles of Water Are Called Waves

And Other Helpful Hints for Rowing Your Boat Across the Ocean

You need a few things if you’re going to try to row a boat 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. A decent boat. A light on your decent boat. A bit of fortitude. A clue.

Sonya Baumstein had none of these. But she went for it anyway.

Gotta love the enthusiasm.

"...and I've even got extra oars in case my arms get tired..."

 The Orange County Register had by far the best account of Sonya’s poorly-planned adventure on the high seas I've seen. In other words, it gave the most detail. And the details are so flipping funny it would be rude not to share them.

30-year-old Sonya wanted to be the first woman to row solo across the Pacific.

That takes some guts. So far so good. But we learn from the we-don’t-color-our-news OC Register that after departing on June 7th “she spent several days after her departure relatively close to shore as she waited for her sea sickness to subside.”


If Sonya was allergic to cats she would have wanted to become a lion tamer.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

In Honor of National Moving Month

Paying Tribute to Our Founding Fathers

Note: The following bit of history-based humor recently appeared on the HireAHelper blog. A lot of the facts you'll read here are true. The rest have been sanctioned by secret revisionist government committee. Except for the bad word etymology bits. Those parts are just common sense.

Moving Day circa 1887.
Crazy Tuesday (the Tuesday after Memorial Day) ushers in the moving industry’s officially crazy season. With that you’ll likely be way too busy taking care of today and tomorrow to think about yesterday and yesteryear and everything that happened to bring us all to this point in moving history.

That’s okay. We’ve got some historical highlights to make us all appreciate how good we have it now. Seriously. Really. We don’t have to scour the land for fuel. We don’t need a protective convoy. In the grand scheme of things, despite all the paperwork and all the headaches and all the sneaky folks running around, we are living in the Golden Age of Moving.

Now that, my friends, is crazy.

It all started long long ago…

For thousands of years man survived without the services of HireAHelper. It’s true. Ever since man first decided to up and leave Africa he had to rely on his own devices to move himself, his family and everything he owned across the vast land masses to all corners of the Earth.

The fact that man, for most of history, owned nothing more than a few animal skins and a handful of hunting implements made the task bearable. In fact, right on through the entire hunter-gatherer era man was constantly on the move, so he had to live simple and travel light. Otherwise he’d have to hire movers pretty much every day, even on Sunday. And who would be able to afford that? Funny how the time when man moved the most was also the time when a moving company just wasn’t going to make any money.

With the dawn of agriculture man began putting down roots, so to speak. And with this switch to settling in one place for a while came the trend of making bigger homes and finding more stuff to put in them. Unfortunately the time was still not right for the moving industry since no one had invented the wheel yet.