- June 2016
- June 17 - Rifle, CO - John drove the old ranch pickup up a rugged, rutted road in the dark to a spot where we could feel the heat of a coal seam burning deep underground. -- Mark
- June 18 - Salt Lake City, UT - This would be an opportunity to say something amusing about Mormons, if only I could think of something amusing about Mormons. -- Mark
- June 19 - Bob Scott Campground, outside Austin, NV -
- June 20 - Fallen Leaf Campground, Lake Tahoe, CA -
- June 21 - Fallen Leaf Campground, Lake Tahoe, CA -
- June 22 - Tenderloin, San Francisco, CA - I love walking about San Francisco, but today the pleasures of the walk were interspersed with bouts of melancholy when I thought about the summer Tote and I spent on Russion Hill and all the times I was here trying to make the world better. -- Mark
- June 23 - Tenderloin, San Francisco, CA
Mark: So, how is Colleen?
Emma: Colleen has many words of wisdom.
Mark: Like what?
Emma [pulling out her phone and reading]:
'The bottom line is nothing matters, but if you live that way everything sucks.'
- June 24 - Napa Valley, CA -
- June 25 - Napa Valley, CA -
- June 26 - Union Square, San Francisco -
- June 27 - Wyandotte Campground, Plumas National Forest
- June 28 - Wyandotte Campground, Plumas National Forest
- June 29 - Wyandotte Campground, Plumas National Forest
- June 30 - Reno, NV - An older woman on her cellphone, overheard at the pool which has a bunch of ersatz Roman statues around it and a fake waterfall:
This must be a mental ward. -- Mark
This is the most beautiful place in the world.
- July 1 - Ruby Mountain, Wells, NV -
- July 2 - Grand Junction, CO
- July 3 - Cortez, CO
- July 4 - Mesa Verde NP, CO
- July 5 - Mesa Verde NP, CO
- July 6 - Mesa Verde NP, CO
- July 7 - Denver, CO
- August 20 - Clark, NJ - In search of light (in weight) and engaging books to take with us, we sought out the Book Trader in Clark. Paperbacks by authors whose books I see in the grocery store or on the "take one; leave one shelves" at campground laundromats filled the largest room in the two-room shop. Most of the books were shelved two deep. Many more were in grocery bags placed on the floor near where they would be shelved if the shelves weren't full. The owner said she enjoyed her business, "I like it when someone is happy because they've found a book they're excited about." -- Mark
- August 25 - New Jersey, Taipai, Taiwan, to Fukuoka, Japan - Now that was a long flight! Close to halfway around the world in one plane. And at the end of it all, Duncan and Sayaka! -- Mark
- August 26 - Fukuoka, Japan - Duncan and Sayaka know all the Carp players, their nicknames, and their strengths and weaknesses. Watching the Carp game at a sports bar with them was wonderful. (We had our own little speaker so we could listen to the game as well as watch it -- something U.S. sports bars should do.)
- August 27 - Fukuoka, Japan - Duncan and Sayaka took us on a tour of Yanagawa. Yanagawa is famous for boat rides around its canals (so we took one); its eels (so we ate some); and because it was the childhood home of Kitahara Hakushu, the author of some famous children's songs (so we sang one.) -- Mark
- August 28 - Fukuoka, Japan - Went to watch the end of the Carp game at a Carp meet up. Once the gang realized that we hadn't just accidentally wandered in off the street but had come to watch the Carp with them, we were made members of the family -- a crazy family, packed into a small space, shouting out cheers for each Carp batter (and when they weren't batting, for the team itself.) The fact that the Carp lost did not even dent the enthusiasm. After the game, door prizes, and group photo, which everyone stayed for, we were invited to continue celebrating a another bar. Foolishly, we did not go. -- Mark
- August 30 - Fukuoka, Japan - The Prefectural Art Museum is a nice, modern, multistory building in a park. It has only part of one floor open as a gallery and the art hung in that gallery was, with only a couple exceptions, ghastly bad. No idea what goes on in the rest of the building, but assuming we saw the best of the collection, perhaps the rest of the floors hide the ghastly remainder as a public service. -- Mark
- August 31 - Fukuoka, Japan - Rainy today. The umbrellas are out. -- Mark
- September 1 - Fukuoka, Japan - While looking at what some say is the largest bronze statue in the world, of Buddha, we chatted with a man who long ago visited a friend in Denver, Hisashi Takimoto, the man who opened the Golden Tempura Bowl and eventually Taki's on Colfax. -- Mark
- September 2 - Fukuoka, Japan - The boat races are easily the weirdest Japanese thing we've experienced in Fukuoka. Drivers are assigned a hull and an engine by lot, and then they race three laps around two pylons. Twelve races a day. A giant enclosed grandstand filled mainly with old people bent over racing forms or studying the odds screens. Betting slips all in Japanese. It's just such a crazy thing to find ourselves doing that it's fun. And Monica finally won. Three times. Total winnings? Fifty cents. -- Mark
- September 3 - Fukuoka, Japan - Listened to chanting at a temple while looking at old trees. -- Mark
- September 4 - Fukuoka, Japan - A grey day. I felt discouraged -- among other things by the typhoon that never showed up. After watching the typhoon tracker for days and hearing that school was cancelled, I was expecting something more than drizzle. While Monica walked along the river, I had an espresso at the bike cafe near the river and listened to the proprietor laugh and giggle with her co-worker. Monica and I stopped at this cafe two years ago, and she was smiling and laughing then. She might be the happiest person in Japan. I felt happier hearing her. -- Mark
- September 5 - Fukuoka, Japan - Monica needed to have a prescription written, so we stopped at a nearby clinic. After explaining what we needed, the doctor wrote the prescription out for her without charge. Then his assistant walked us across the street so that she could explain to the pharmacist what we needed in Japanese. -- Mark
- September 6 - Karatsu, Japan - Took a long train ride to visit Karatsu. For the usual reasons, the town was fun - castle, temple, museum, and historical house. The unusally fun thing for me was the train ride. Japan has all sorts of trains -- special resort trains, different vintages of commuter trains, trains that are themed according to their destinations, and others. (We saw one on the weekend that takes visitors to a theme park where the theme is the Netherlands in the Middle Ages.) Today we were on the latest commuter train which eventually become the subway train to the airport. Each bank of seats was covered with fabric of a different pattern, the floor had a carpet-like look (one car has a wooden floor), and there were prominent, easy-to-read and useful information screens in prominent locations. Probably the coolest looking train I've ever been on. -- Mark
- September 7 - Fukuoka, Japan - I've never settled on a single notion of what experiencing a country means. Does it mean seeing temples or getting to know some the fellow who runs the convenience store? Does it mean living like a peasant or a jet setter? We are visiting Duncan and trying to experience what it's like to live here, rather than being tourists. I'm not sure whether we are succeeding. We've been living in the same apartment here for two weeks. We shop, navigate the trains, cook, visit places, and are having a wonderful time. Duncan and Sayaka come over most nights for dinner and to watch the Carp on television. On the other hand, we really haven't gotten to know anyone -- a few people recognize us and a couple happy women at a coffee shop converse with me a bit.
Language is a big problem -- even people who can speak English are reluctant to try and our Japanese is non-existent. I think there is also a much more defined, for lack of a better word, "clubiness" here than in the States. People need a reason to talk with us. When we are Carp fans at a Carp meetup, we are treated like old pals. On a trail, people say hello because we are fellow hikers. When I look as if I am walking for fitness in the early morning, people working out or simply taking their morning walk may great me and very often nod. On the street, there's almost no eye contact and never a greeting. In a shop, there is attentive service but no attempt at conversation. -- Mark
- September 8, Fukuoka -- Sunny today. The umbrellas are out. -- Mark
2015 - Cycling to Maine, Then Off To Switzerland, Turkey, Bulgaria, Spain & Back To The USA
- December 2015
- December 9 - Westfield, NJ - Monica revealed that she had hidden some U.S. dollars in a secret sock. This, she related, was emergency ransom money in case I was kidnapped.
Mark: Wow! How much is in there?
Mark: Hmm. I guess that would do it.
Monica: I figured I could talk them down.
- December 7 - Madrid - I recall when flying was more comfortable and easier than taking the bus. -- Mark
- December 6 - Madrid - Today is Constitution Day and the first day of the Christmas season. The hotels are full -- we had to stay near the airport. Downtown, the streets, plazas, parks, bars, and restaurants are full of happy, excited people -- families, young people, old people, and couples. Every plaza has performers. The most exhilerating day I have ever had in a city. -- Mark
- December 1 - Nerja - Just "refilled" a U.S. prescription at the nearest pharmacy. It cost less than $4 and took less than 4 minutes. Even with insurance and Kaiser's online system, that's much faster and cheaper than we could do it in the U.S. -- Mark
- November 28 - Nerja - The question isn't "why are there so many Brits here?" The question should be "Why are there still any Brits in Britain?" -- Mark
- November 26 - Nerja - There's not a hint anywhere that today is Thanksgiving, but there are lots of advertisements for Black Friday sales. -- Mark
- November 16 - Nerja - New rule of thumb: When there are more than four people dressed in tiger or leopard print clothing or swimwear in view, it's time to get back on the bus.
- November 15 - Nerja - Monica and I chatted once again about what it means to "get to know Spain" or any other country. There's no set answer. This town, a popular long term vacation spot for Swedes and a few Irish and English people, certainly is part of modern Spain. In fact, it is what many people have in mind when they describe what they think Spain is like. This town, fortunately, is not as dominated by foreigners as some of the places we've stopped in before -- that makes it an easier place to be. -- Mark
- November 14 - Grenada to Nerja - The last cross-country bus we were on was a full size coach with a wide selection of movies, internet access, music channels, electric plugs, and bathrooms. When our bus showed up today, it was only a slight upgrade from an old city bus. Then, perhaps within twenty minutes of leaving we found ourselves traveling down single lane roads with only a tiny town here and there. I started to wonder if I had booked the right bus.
Nothing about the trip inspired confidence. Our driver gibbered to himself -- we sat behind him and could hear only broken phrases of a word or two. Sometimes in response to the news/talk show he had on the radio, he'd whistle a few bars of La La Marseillaise or hum a snatch of a pop tune.
The ride became even more interesting when the single lane road entered the mountains. Tight turn after tight turn after hairpin with only low stone barriers to stop us if our obviously insane driver made a mistake. Looking across the gorges, I saw decaying cars that had plunged over the edge.
Our destination was a coastal town off a super highway, and wherever the town might be, it certainly wasn't along this single lane in the mountains. Google maps was no help -- there was no cell coverage. And since the mountains are a national park, there were no towns to help us get oriented or people to save us should we still be breathing after this obviously insane driver plunged us off the edge of one of the unending cliffs.
I decided to concentrate on the radio but when I did, I couldn't help but hear the driver's muttering. I couldn't understand anything except "peligroso." No kidding! Yes! Peligroso! Peligroso! And you are a crazy person! Let's just pull over here and wait for a sane driver to come by. We have cookies. We can last the night, probably days before the cold gets us. It didn't help that the driver sounded like he was having a good time.
It was at this point that we finally came to a town. Not our town. Some mountain town with many white houses and no signs giving its name. An old woman got on, said something to the driver, paid her fare, and then turned to me and, without a smile but with great gravity, told me something in Spanish. Since I couldn't understand a word, I imagined her saying "Well, if this lunatic hasn't killed you yet, there's still miles to go for him to give it another try."
Fortunately, as we left the village, I caught a glimpse of the highway overpass ahead. At least we were headed toward the sea. Unfortunately, instead of getting on the highway, we passed beneath the underpass and onto the coast road. Finally a two lane road but cliffs everywhere, and when we go off these babies, instead of being crushed and mangled, we would drown.
However, just then, I saw a road sign. Only ten more kilometers! Surely the driver's medication would hold on long enough to get us ten more kilometers. And it did.
We climbed down from the bus, and I as I straightened up after pulling our bags out from the storage area under the bus, I came face to face with the driver. He was grinning. "Montañas!" he said. "Peligroso!"
It took great restraint to stop myself from singing La Marseillaise at the top of my lungs. -- Mark
- November 12 - Granada - Same old same old. The Alhambra is amazing; the weather is sunny and just warm enough; the narrow streets are picturesque; the gardens are beautiful; the history is fascinating; our picnic was perfect; and the tapas bars are a delight. -- Mark
- November 11 - Granada - Funny that in Spain, even in these massively heavily touristed areas, I should feel more "different" than anyplace else we've been recently. Perhaps it's because both parties to every communication think that I should speak Spanish fluently. -- Mark
- November 10 - Madrid - Interesting to be back in a place where tourist areas are really, really packed with tourists. It's also interesting that, weird as it sounds, it was easier to communicate in Turkey and Bulgaria than it is here. Little English is spoken here -- even in tourist places like hotels. For example, the charming woman who owns our hostal has run it for thirty years, but either doesn't know English or refuses to use it. (The Turkish shepard who invited us for tea in the middle of his pastures and fields used more English speaking to us!) Even young people sometimes throw their hands in the air or reach for google translate. I don't think that the Spanish should abandon Spanish or the Bulgarians, Bulgarian, but English is the current international lingua franca. We can get by just fine, and I like being forced to use the little Spanish I have. Nonetheless, my first impression of Madrid this trip is that it is beautiful, modern city that is surprisingly backwards.
- November 9 - Sofia to Madrid - It bugs me when I make a stupid travel mistake. And this one was really stupid. I didn't realize that, in April, Sofia opened a metro station at the airport. So, we took $8 cab rides to and from the airport, instead of sixty cent metro rides. -- Mark
- November 8 - Sofia - Hard not to like a country where the local beers come in two liter bottles and are cheaper than soft drinks. -- Mark
- November 7 - Sofia - Not everyone here thinks the communist era was bad. The young man who drove us out to the monastery relates that during socialist times people could buy houses, cars, and everyone had a job. He notes that he knows that it was very difficult or impossible for people to travel abroad. But today, he says, many young, qualified people are unemployed and can't make ends meet. He's right that the unemployment rate among young people is high -- around 20%. His rosy view of the communist era doesn't match the facts, but it does remind me of the unshakeable views that some Americans have about how good things were in the 70s and 80s. -- Mark
- November 5 - Sofia - When you think things are bad, they can get worse. . . The hotel has switched the pop song muzak that has been driving me mad to Christmas carols. (Oops. Spoke too soon. I am relieved to hear the pop muzak is back.) -- Mark
- November 4 - Sofia - We've now been to two history museums, heard two tour guides describe Bulgarian history, read many signs, and seen quite a few monuments to historical figures. Two things are apparent about Bulgarian history. First, it's a tangled mess. Second, when Bulgaria's history is described, there are large, inexplicable gaps. Sometimes the gaps are because Bulgaria did something stupid or horrible, but sometimes there is silence when Bulgaria was weak or suffered terrible atrocities. Nonetheless, one of the most entertaining parts of Bulgarian history is Bulgaria's repeated election of kings. This makes some sense before World War I, when there were few European republics. But Bulgaria, after Communism, in 2001 elected their last king to be Prime Minister. - Mark
- November 3 - Sofia - Google maps doesn't work for public transit here, and unlike Istanbul, there's no alternative app, so we're back to navigating using tiny numbers, dots and lines on a tourist map. Just like a two decades ago. Makes me a bit sentimental. A bit cross-eyed, too. -- Mark
- November 3 - Sofia - Turns out the smoky, non smoking sections of restaurants are training for breathing Sofia's air. Since part of the particulate pollution comes from heating, there's no relief even at night. When our guide on the Communist tour said central gas heating was one of the good things about Soviet era housing blocks, I thought his comment was funny. Now, not so much. -- Mark
- November 2 - Sofia, Bulgaria - Our hotel pipes covers of pop songs into the hallways, lobby, and breakfast room. It's starting to drive me crazy. "We had joy. We had fun. We had seasons in the sun. But the wine and the sun like the seasons are all gone." Aieeee!
What's weird is that every now and then a "Christian" pop song (which of course I don't recognize) is mixed in. -- Mark
- November 1 - Sofia, Bulgaria - While Monica visited some subterranean Roman Era graves (Sofia is built atop a Roman city so it seems every excavation exposes a ruin. We went to a hotel where one can have a cocktail amid the ruins of an amphitheater.), I chatted with the ticket seller. She did her bachelor's thesis on the "traditional" coffeeshops in Istanbul, getting kicked out of several of the all male places. Several minutes after we left, she tracked us down outside and showed us around downtown Istanbul for an hour or so. She says that all of Bulgaria is run by the mafia, there are so many political parties that no one could or would want to read their platforms (they just copy and paste from one another) that opposition politics are incomprehensible, and that the President is just a figurehead but a good guy. -- Mark
- November 1 - Sofia, Bulgaria - We went on a formal "Communist Tour of Sofia." The guide started the tour like this: "There was this guy named Karl Marx. He wrote alot of books about communism . . . ." -- Mark
- October 2015
- October 31 - Sofia, Bulgaria - Hmmm. Bulgaria this morning looks pretty much as depressing as you would expect Bulgaria to look but with fewer black limos and spies. -- Mark
- October 31 - Sofia, Bulgaria - Monica just told me that Bulgaria's patron saint is "Sweaty Ivan." Pretty sure I didn't hear that right. She is also enthusiastic about visiting a place because the place is a "masterpiece of the 19th Century Bulgarian Renaissance." Be still my heart. -- Mark
- October 30 - Sofia, Bulgaria - Just ate a dinner of BBQ'd chicken and beef with beer and wine. The bill was $4.80. -- Mark
- October 30 - Sofia, Bulgaria -
- The writing is like Russian? Can't read a thing.
- The language sounds -- as I'm listening here in this local establishment -- not like Turkish . . . not like Russian . . . hmmmmm, guess it's Bulgarian.
- Since we didn't prepare, we don't even know the language basics. I had to ask someone how to say "thank you."
- When we walked in, the man and woman behind the counter wanted to hide -- "What are we going to do with these tourists?!"
- I ordered food by pointing with some help from the man. Mark was directed to a cooler for a bottle of beer. When I finally got across that I wanted wine, the woman filled a glass from a cask.
- I love travelling.
- I love sitting beside animated people who know we're not understanding a word they're saying. We briefly make eye contact, toast, smile . . . carry on.
- Mark and I are looking at each other smiling. I'm totally smiling in my heart.
- The folks we're listening to are very animated and interrupting one another. I really wonder what they're talking about.
- October 30 - Istanbul to Sofia, Bulgaria - Monica and I have been wanting to come to Bulgaria since 1981. I don't recall that we wanted to come when it was 50 degrees and grey outside. -- Mark
- October 29 - Istanbul - We need to be sure that we catch our 8:50 AM flight promptly at 7:50 AM. All the clocks in Istanbul are set an hour later than my phone, the time shown on the metro trains, the time in every other country in this time zone, and -- get this -- the airport clocks. The planes are departing and the metro is running on Istanbul time. (We were told that they won't change the time in Istanbul until after the elections.) -- Mark
- October 29 - Istanbul -
Monica: I love walking on these market streets! . . . I don't care what they are selling.
Mark: Good because for the last two blocks it has been rubber tubing and faucets.
Monica: I love rubber tubing and faucets!
- October 28 - Rumeli Feneri - As we left our lunch restaurant, a fancier spot than is typical for us, the owner said, "Thank you for coming, in German. Thank you, in German." Yes, he said "in German" after everything he said. No idea what was going on. Then, on the bus ride home, the man next to me asked me in French if I spoke French. We proceeded to have a small conversation in French. Then another fellow asked my French-speaking pal, in Turkish, whether I could speak Italian. When my pal told him that I spoke only English and a bit of French, the fellow started speaking to me in German. I am very confused, in German. -- Mark
- October 25 - Istanbul - We're back here. Arrived yesterday afternoon. I have one of our windows open. Mark is asleep. I hear laughter, conversation from the places on this tiny street. From around the corner, the driving beat of the house music. I love it -- so youthful. -- Monica
- October 25 - Istanbul - When people back in the states learn I am in Turkey, their emails to me often begin, "be careful." I understand, but I wish they could see how terrifying and unsafe the U.S. looks to outsiders. -- Mark
- October 23 - Izmir - We walked along Izmir's seaside promenade, the Kordon. We found the Ataturk Museum. The museum was interesting but mentioned his wife only once and that was only her name. We also found the Izmir Mask Museum. It was pretty lame. But there was one exhibit that was odder than the rest -- little faces carved and painted on squid quills. -- Monica
- October 22 - Izmir - I snapped at Monica today. I had to apologize. It's my frustration at the harm my country has caused and how totally oblivious Americans are to the consequences of their actions. I can't bear to watch the posturing, pandering, preening apes whose only foreign policy solutions are to be "tougher" and bomb people. -- Mark
- October 21 - Izmir - Seeing the refugee families is terrible. Sometimes whole families are sitting on the sidewalk -- sometimes begging; sometimes just sitting. The burden on the heads of these families seems almost unbearable -- deciding without much knowledge, with limited resources, and aware of the terrible consequences of a wrong decision (or even the right decision going wrong) on one's children and spouse and sometimes parents. I try not to look too closely or think too much about it. -- Mark
- October 21 - Antalya to Izmir - Looking out the window, I watch Syrian families with their backpacks and trash can liners with life jackets inside walk by. When I look up at the TV in this room, I see footage of children (in orange life jackets) being pulled from the water and then checked by medical workers in Greece.
We didn't realize until we got here that this city -- in fact, this neighborhood, Basmane -- is where many, many Syrian refugees come to arrange with people smugglers to cross the Aegean to Greece. Their aim is to continue on to safety in northern Europe. Sometimes they pilot themselves in what I've heard described as "small, plastic boats." All of the shops around here have added new inventory: life vests, inner tubes, and waterproof document holders. We see these items for sale in shoe stores, clothing stores, little food and liquor shops, etc.
The weather is changing to fall these days. This makes for rougher seas and a much greater risk to those taking the "boats" to Greece. I've read that there are far fewer people here, on the streets, getting ready to go, than in the summer. I've read that some of the refugees will attempt to settle here in less central locations.
I've watched store, restaurant, and hotel employees being very patient and kind. It's amazing. And there are language difficulties: Syrians speak Arabic not Turkish.
The man behind me, who just borrowed Mark's pen, is photographing his documents with his phone.
It's incredible, yet predictable, to watch the children. With their characteristic resilience, they skip, jump, and play with each other in the streets, smiling and shouting. Their parents (sometimes with infants) and grandparents huddle together with more serious expressions. -- Monica
- October 20 - Antalya - I understand the importance of Ataturk to modern Turkey. Nonetheless, naming half of the public buildings "Ataturk something or other" can make following directions a nightmare. -- Mark
- October 19 - Demre to Antalya - Imagine being born with the gift of being able to speak with people in dozens of countries -- to find your way, order food, read signs, shop, solve problems, and ask them about their lives. That's what having English as a first language is like. Even two people from two different countries usually end up speaking English to each other. -- Mark
- October 19 - Demre - St. Nicholas has got you covered. He is the patron saint of Russia, New York City, children, sailors, ships, travellers, wrongly accused prisoners, and of young women seeking a marriage. And that's the short list. -- Monica
- October 18 - Ucagiz to Demre - The last day of our incredible trek was a 12-mile hike (with two short picnics and a brief dip in the sea.) -- Monica
- October 17 - Ucagiz - We took a walk to the necropolis, and I had a fine swim off the rocks there, floating over a bunch of dead Lycians. Fortunately, they stayed dead. -- Monica
- October 16 - Ucagiz - This morning we left our pension in Kas, as dawn's light was awakening. We boarded a bus with a few other tourists (Turkish, Swiss, Russian, and American) and headed here to kayak for the day. We swam, appreciated the quiet harbor and islands in the sea, then kayaked over the "sunken city" near Kekova Island. As our group headed back to Kas, Mark and I hopped off the bus and found this pension. -- Monica
- October 13 - Kas - Resting and regrouping here in Kas has been very nice: beautiful, warm, sunny weather, mellow place, cliffs on one side -- shimmering sea in the other direction. -- Monca
- October 12 - Kas - In the center of town is a statue of Ataturk. Today, the national flag beside him, the white crescent and star on a field of red, was flying at half mast. At the statue's base were red carnations. -- Monica
- October 11 - Cukurbag to Kas - Spent most of the hike thinking about the bombing of peace demonstrators in Ankara and our culpability for their deaths. I am sick of hearing people in the U.S. blame Bush for destabilizing the Middle East. He is undoubtedly to blame but so are all of those citizens who thought invading Afghanistan and, much obviously worse, invading Iraq were good ideas. And that includes nearly everyone regardless of political alignment. These folks need to ask themselves why they thought such idiocy was a good idea -- was it ignorance? a lack of critical thinking skills? was it fear? Whatever it was, they are culpable, and they need to take steps to ensure they don't make the same mistake. Perhaps they need to spend more time evaluating critical questions. Perhaps they need to show more courage next time.
And this is not to absolve myself. I am a citizen of the country that has become and maintains its position as policeman of the world. It has been a long time since the U.S. was a third rate backwater. If Millard Fillmore or Woodrow Wilson goofed, the damage their mistakes could make was limited. That's no longer true. Now, our country needs to get its decisions right or many, many, many people suffer. I can't look at myself and say that I've done much of anything to stop our country from listening to belligerent fools. - Mark
- October 11 - Cukurbag - I envy our host Dede his calm, well-ordered life. Dede moved to this little town for the quiet. He has a housekeeper who cooks and keeps the place tidy. He is dressed in neatly pressed clothes that would be suited for an English gentleman. And he receives visitors from other countries every afternoon and evening. (The German trekkers tell us Dede, as a former guest worker, likely receives a German pension.) -- Mark
- October 10 - Cukurbag - Last night, as we were eating dinner, two German hikers arrived. We ran into them on the trail today. They arrived before us at Dede's Pension. Helpfully, they told the German-speaking (he'd lived in Germany for decades beginning in 1969) Dede (it means "Grandpa") and his housekeeper that we'd soon arrive and would love to have dinner. -- Monica
- October 10 - Gokceoren to Cukurbag - The hike today was long -- from 9-5 with two picnic stops and an exploration of the ruins of Phellos, an area at the crest of a cliff with the remains of Lycian tombs. Standing at the crest we could look back over a hogback-like ridge, to a huge valley ringed with mountains on one side, or out to the Mediterranean Sea on the other. -- Monica
- October 9 - Gokceoren - When our trail descended to a lovely village, a man was there waiting for us in his old car. He knew we were coming because we had met his son two days earlier, and he was watching for us to come down the slope into town. Huseyin, a handsome man with penetrating, smiling, dark eyes whisked us to his home, gave us a choice of his tourist rooms, and asked us when we would like dinner. We settled in and relaxed. No wifi or phone/data. Later we strolled around town. Everything was so tidy and orderly. We greeted and were greeted by the people we passed. We were given a bunch of grapes by a farmer who was making raisins. I was shown how to use prayer beads by an old woman minding her goat. -- Monica
- October 9 - Gokceoren - We have seen no hikders along our route for the last three days. -- Monica
- October 9 - Saribelen to Gokceoren - Monica: "The air is so clean here that I want to lick it."
- October 9 - Saribelen - We had breakfast with a young couple and their infant son. He is Dutch, and she is Polish. They live in the Netherlands. Chatting with them recalled to mind conversations we have had with other parents whose children are scattered in different countries. Families that live in different countries and include couples from different countries seem to me to be more common than they once were. Whether more common or not, it seems like a good thing. It is hard to behave belligerently toward people with whom you have some connection. If Americans would travel more, I suspect they'd be less apt to assume that every international problem can be solved by bombing people. -- Mark
- October 8 - Saribelen - I don't think I could be an expat for long. My love of Colorado's outdoors aside, I like feeling as if I belong in a place. Expats may be accepted but they will always be outsiders to the people who live in a place. I wonder whether longterm expats just, finally, ignore that they stand out or whether they think they fit in. Tim and Judith, the English people who run this pension, definitely do not feel Turkish. Yet they have committed six years and lots of money to living in Turkey and creating a business and a life here. That either takes courage or lunacy. -- Mark
- October 8 - Kalkan to Saribelen - We arrived in the village around 11 AM. No one was about. The first pension we passed looked as if it were out of business. The second, Moonstone is out of town a bit. We hoped Moonstone would be viable. When we were welcomed inside, I felt a sense of relief. And on top of that, we were offered a delicious cup of coffee.
Our hosts, Tim and Judith continuously talk to, admonish, yell at, disciline, explain about and and boast about their 32 cats. -- Monica
- October 7 - Patara to Kalkan - Nice to be walking again. In Patara, we were in the middle of a long, walking trip but we were waiting rather than walking -- uncertain whether Monica's feet would let us walk again. It was hard to listen to other guests talk about hikes not knowing whether I would get to see the places they were talking about. -- Mark
- October 6 - Patara - I've been absorbing small town Turkey. I know because I find myself filled with longing to have my own olive trees. -- Mark
- October 6 - Patara - Just had a haircut at Nasif's. At one point, without warning he started waving a flaming stick around my head. Apparently this is a normal step to burn off unwanted face and ear hairs. From the smell, I'd say it worked. -- Mark
- October 6 - Patara - My feet are feeling quite a bit better, so our plan is to resume hiking tomorrow. When the five calls to prayer come on every day, I tell Mark my toes are being blessed. -- Monica
- October 5 - Patara - Well into my adult years, the beaches I knew were those on small lakes or Lake Michigan. They were places to romp around in, sail boats from, or swim at. If we laid in the sun, it was on a towel and only to dry off or warm up before doing something else. The beaches were generally public and not full of buildings or cars or people. After I met Monica, I started being routinely dragged "down The Shore" and once to the Outer Banks. I sincerely tried to give these places a chance, but what is there to like about places strangled by cars (the Outer Banks beach actually let nitwits in trucks drive to an fro on it, nettling even Monica) and packed, PACKED with people, beach loungers, umbrellas, beach tents, and other stuff -- often an arm's length apart -- simply laying in the sun? And usually with some absurd entrance fee. What started as puzzled dislike for these places has grown to utterly baffled revulsion.
That's all to explain that I was predisposed to hate the beach at Patara, and instead, I loved it. The beach and the dunes are all protected from development. The beach is eighteen kilometers long, and only about 100 meters or so is devoted to chairs and umbrellas. Most of the beach is empty. Unlike most East Coast beaches there was virtually no trash on the beach or in the water. And in the umbrella section of the beach, the city runs a reasonably priced, modest snack bar with associated restrooms, changing rooms, showers, etc. -- Mark
- October 3 - Patara - Despite the many hotels, this is a very small town. Last night, a line of honking, decorated cars rolled into town on the main street. They stopped at the main intersection, entirely blocking what little traffic there is, and a bride and grooom got out to greet the groom's parents. Then they all headed a block away to the taxi stand/bus stand/town square, shot off fireworks, and held their wedding reception.
So we went. And so did nearly everyone else. -- Mark
Young man at our hotel: Are you going to the wedding?
Young man: Why not?
Mark: Well, I wasn't invited.
Young man (smiling): That is not the Turkish way.
Mark: Everyone goes?
Young man: Everyone goes.
- October 3 - Patara -
Monica: Happy wife; happy life. "Wife" and "life" rhyme. Good thing you're not Turkish.
Monica: If you spoke Turkish they wouldn't rhyme, and you wouldn't know the secret to a happy life.
- October 2 - Patara -
Mark: These ruins go back to centuries BC; seems so tremendously old that the modern era is so short. But we've really made progress since then.
Monica: What do you mean?
Mark: Well, slavery is no longer tolerated, much less the norm. The idea that individuals have rights; that they are entitled to more than what the powerful people say they get. Woman's rights . . .
Monica: Oh. I thought you meant twitter.
- October 1 - Patara - There is a barbershop in town called "Sweeney Todd's." -- Mark
- October 1 - Patara - We've continued on our trail, and are now having a rest period, primarily because my blistered toes need a break. We've picked here because it's next along our route and close to all the Patara ruins and beach. According to Lonely Planet, this was a must see area to hang out in Turkey during the hippie 60's. It's still pretty cool, with various accommodation choices, places to eat, etc. but not many tourists and fewer hikers. -- Monica
- September 2015
- September 30 - Ozlen - We hiked backroads into town. The two cars, one truck, and scooter that passed us all offered us a ride. Two people alongside the road offered to get in their cars and drive us. And a group of workers at a marble quarry invited us to share their lunch. -- Mark
- September 29 - Bel - Dinner at Fatima's was fun. She and her husband served us and then afterwards hung out with us, all joking and chatting together. They even did a couple of tricks/puzzles on us. All in all, a small village, meagre surroundings, but one heck of a good time -- Monica
- September 27 - Kabak - Turkey is a laid-back, calm place. People smile a lot, are relaxed, very hospitable and generours. There are not alot of scooters. People don't use their car horns very much. They seem to enjoy sharing their meals together. -- Monica
- September 24 - Ovacik - This town is kind of arresting as it is full of English language, international foods, and old, fat tourists from the United Kingdom. -- Monica
- September 23 - Antalya - The garbage trucks here announce their presence with a recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. -- Mark
- September 19 - Istanbul - Last night our area was loud and happy with Friday night revelers. Lots of chatter, laughter, and music (as it is right now . . . but now our windows are open and it's female jazz standards. -- Monica
- September 18 - Istanbul - We walked up to Taksim Square again and sauntered down. I loved walking the river of people -- so many faces, body types, gaits, expressions, clothing styles. -- Monica
- September 16 - Istanbul - We have found a great way to experience 21st Century (since we've spent so many days in the 14th and 15th Centuries) Istanbul. Yesterday we did the Istanbul Biennial. We started at the Istanbul Modern but the vast majority of the 36 exhibits are scattered all over Istanbul. Today we taking the ferry to Asia and then to an island to see a few. Some are in quite odd spots like a parking garage, vacant storefront, bank vaults, ruined mansion, on a fishing boat, and the Italian High School. There's one underwater that we'll miss. (I hope.) And chatting with the volunteers is wonderful. They are, in the main, university art or architecture students who speak English quite fluently and are excited about the whole thing. -- Mark
- September 15 - Istanbul
Monica: I want to know what those sultans looked like. Can you get me on their home pages?
- September 15 - Istanbul - In this part of Istanbul, there are European-style coffeeshops and the sort of restaurants, shops, and stores one would find in a larger city in the U.S. or Europe. The walls have tidy, artsy graffiti on them. -- Mark
- September 14 - Istanbul - I'm sitting on the edge of the Golden Horn, looking across the Bosphorus to Asia, with Monica, eating a plate of seasonal fish, and drinking a beer.. -- Mark
- September 13 - Istanbul - We have just moved from the "Old City," where our guesthouse was run marvelously and everyone spoke English, to the modern part of Istanbul, where our check-in time for a room up a rundown stairwell is at the mercy of a 16-year old who -- like most folks over here -- speaks little English. On the other hand, we are sitting out the wait for our room in an artsy cafe that is playing old French and American jazz vocals. Perhaps this is what they meant when they said Istanbul defies expectations, but I don't think so. -- Mark
- September 12 - Istanbul - Many things are fairly inexpensive here, but using a public restroom costs thirty-three cents. On the plus side, unlike Denver, there are lots of public restrooms. -- Mark
- September 12 - Istanbul - It was rainy day, and we ended up down by the Galata Bridge under the awning fo a Balik Ekmek (literally, "fish and bread" place: grilled mackeral sandwich (with tomato, onions, peppers, greens, and lemon juice - and pickled beet juice). -- Monica
- September 11 - Istanbul - On our way back from dinner, I went in and checked out the Blue Mosque (Sultanamhet.) Mark didn't think he was appropriately attired, so he sat outside and waited for me at the long set of water spigots for men to perform ablutions before praying. Yes, there is a blue hue, but there are many colorful tiles, domes, and inscriptions. -- Monica
- September 11 - Istanbul - Soft serve is cheaper here than in Maine. Seventy five cents for a medium. Maybe this is heaven. -- Mark
- September 10 - Istanbul - I mentioned to Monica that eventually history will see women's rights overcome the anti-femaie rules of Christianity and Islam. She said, correctly, that in many places, the trend is anti-woman. Hard to dispute when surrounded by women shrouded in burkas and headscarves. -- Mark
- September 10 - Istanbul - At sunset, we walked along the Sea of Marmara, along part of the Bosphorus Strait. We walked to Saray Burnu and then through Gulhane Park. The fishermen on the big rocks were bringing in lines of small silver fish. -- Monica
- September 9 -Istanbul - Eating at an outside table, I try to make certain that I take precautions against theft from bystanders. Today I had just finished checking when a young man was suddenly quite close to my side. He handed me a bank note, and said "You just dropped this, sir." -- Mark
- September 9 - Istanbul - In Hagia Sophia, a young woman asked me to take a photo of her together whith her family. After I did, her father asked where I was from. Then I asked him where they were from. He said Iran. Then he said, "I hope now there will be peace between our countries." -- Mark
- September 9 - Istanbul - We spent that day at Hagia Sophia! I loved it. I loved swimming in the air of it. I loved floating through history, art, civilizations and religions with the other people there today from all over the world. We're in Istanbul! I'm thoroughly amazed! -- Monica
- September 8 - Istanbul - Our host at this guesthouse sounds like Gru from Despicable Me. For example, he says "Tooorkish" for Turkish. -- Mark
- September 8 - Traveling to Istanbul - I appreciate people who can speak two languages and as part of their jobs need to translate what they've just said in their native language into English. Yet, why if they go through the trouble to translate, do they speak as fast as they possible can?
The Geneva airport check-in counters do not have scales to plop your luggage on. Instead, next to each agent is a conveyor belt that begins right at the front of the counter. While were waiting to check-in, a child sat on one of these belts and was instantly carried past the counter and on to the main belt that sweeps luggage off to the planes. The child's mom noticed first and, screaming, jumped on the belt. Then a half dozen people started yelling and running around.
We had a bit of trouble leaving Switzerland because Monica's entry stamp was so weakly applied that it was nearly invisible. Who pays attention to such things and what do you do if you get a "bad" stamp? I now know the answer to the first question: Swiss border control agents. -- Mark
- September 8 - Traveling to Istanbul - Tote accompanied us to the train station. From there we said "good-bye" - Tote is going to CERN; we are flying to Istanbul. As we settled into our seats, we were each given a sweet Turkish Delight.
I loved being with Tote. If I didn't know that I'd see him again soon in Japan . . . I would've been much sadder saying good-bye. But I am especially glad to have shared a few days of his current life in Geneva. -- Monica
- September 7 - CERN, Switzerland - My greatest impression of CERN is how utilitarian it is. The buildings are bland. The buildings don't have names, only numbers. Even the restaurants are numbered -- there's Restaurant 1 and Restaurant 2. Many buildings are old. A contrast to all the interesting things going on. -- Mark
- September 6 - Geneva, Switzerland - Not something one expects to hear walking around a Swiss city: "Look! There's elephants!" -- Mark
- September 5 - Geneva, Switzerland - Today we spent the day hiking on a ridge overlooking Geneva, in France. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon with a picnic in a field, in the sunshine and clear, crisp air. Being with Tote has been so special and fun for Mark and me. -- Monica
- September 5 - Geneva -- We had dinner with two of Tote's friends at "Gambas A Go-Go" -- a delicious pile of shrimp with wine. Those three went on to a party, and Mark and I checked out a street fair concert. -- Monica
- September 4 - Geneva, Switzerland - French has two words for "no": 1) "Non"; 2) "Nononononono." -- Mark
- September 4 - Geneva, Switzerland - Mark and I arrived here in Geneva this morning at 10:30. We had a connecting flight from Lisbon. I recognized spoken Portugese primarily from listening to Sumir, the Sumir, the KUVO DJ on Brazilian Fantasy on Sunday evenings in Denver. -- Monica
- September 1 - Westfield, NJ - Travel is so exciting! The highlight of my day was noticing that my new underwear is pretty comfortable. -- Mark
- August 2015
- August 30 - Westfield, NJ - Here, a Hawaiian pizza has neither tomato sauce nor mozarella cheese on it. It does have with warm mucky blobs that I am assured are ricotta cheese and intentionally placed on top. -- Mark
- August 27 - Westport, NY - A gourmet, highbrow day at the lake: two soft serve ice cream cones from Ethel's, two michigans from Clare and Carl's, and a Chevy Chase movie from Aunt Beth. -- Mark
- August 20 - Portland, ME - This is the end our bike adventure for our I Could Live Here 2015 Trip!! We had a breakfast at 11 AM of twin lobsters for me. Then we pedaled into downtown near the docks and toasted with a couple of beers at Dewey's. We enjoyed an afternoon walking with tourists, listening to squawking seagulls, breathing in salty, foggy, sea air, laughing, and being happy!! -- Monica
- August 20 - South Portland, ME -
Mark: I think you should get twin lobsters to celebrate.
Monica: No. That's way too much lobster.
Mark: But you love lobster.
Monica: No. No. No. No. That's way too much.
[Later, after having eaten two lobsters . . . .]
Monica: Well, that was just about the right amount of food.
- August 18 - Wells, ME -
Motorcyclist: I'm camping. The motels here, even the bad ones are way too expensive. I'd rather be eaten by mosquitos and pay $55 than be eaten by bed bugs and pay $140.
- August 18 - Ogunquit, ME - In Denver if a restaurant has a strong fish smell, I think "this is a lousy, dirty place." Here, if a place has a strong fish smell, Monica and I look at each other and think "Yum! This going to be good!" -- Mark
- August 17 - York, ME - The way many people vacation defies my notions of how modern Americans think about "their space." Many of them spend the summer in trailers that are roughly the size of a suburban livingroom. Those trailers are jammed together -- often a yard or two apart. And there are great colonies of trailers. From the trailers, many of them go sit on a tiny portion of beach. It is bafflingly unamerican. -- Mark
- August 16 - Exeter, NH - Rode past and through the Phillips-Exeter campus ($48,000 a year). A week or so ago, we rode past the Salisbury School ($62,000 a year). Both were magnificent. If you think that all kids have an equal chance to succeed, maybe you, too, should visit. -- Mark
- August 15 - East Derry, NH - Another private campground. A light rain and our earplugs kept us from hearing the parties going on across the pond and the golf carts which zipped past our site all night. -- Monica
- August 15 - East Derry, NH - When Monica and I had a beer today, the bartender took our two plastic, disposable cups from the freezer. She said, "Draft beer tastes better in a cold glass." -- Mark
- August 15 - East Derry, NH - After getting set up and showered at Hidden Valley Campground, we sat down in their snack bar. Just in time because it roaringly poured for a good forty minutes. The first daylight rain of our trip. Since we were there anyway, we had beer and burgers -- an early dinner.
It lightly rained in the night, and our earplugs kept us from hearing the party going on across the pond (live singer doing Beatles and Rolling Stones songs) and the golf carts which zipped past our site. -- Monica
- August 15 - East Derry, NH -
Monica: Every time I see a picnic table, I want to lay on it. Is that normal?
- August 14 - Nashua, NH - The woman is sneaky like a Tour de France racer. Today she asked me repeatedly if we were on the right road. When I stopped to check, she rocketed past me, yelling something that sounded like, "See you suckers!!" -- Mark
- August 13 - Littleton, MA - Monica was racing me up the hills today. Two rest days and she's a monster! -- Mark
- August 13 - Littleton, MA - At 6 AM we hugged Aunt Jo and rode a couple of blocks to Mark's favorite (and only) Worcester breakfast spot, Salt & Pepper, for coffee. Riding back up and out of town was not too fun -- rush hour on busy, old roads, no shoulders. But eventually we back "out there" and the roads were great -- rolling, shallow hills, shady wooded areas, some farm and horse country. In Harvard, we got an impromptu tour of the town library from someone who asked us if we were "library junkies," and when we said we were, took us on a tour. The basic part is a grand building which was donated to the town as a school as long as it enrolled equal numbers of girls and boys. Midday we rolled into Friendly Crossroads, a hostel outside of Littleton. After dinner, as I washed our dishes, Mark helped the owner fill her pickup with items (her honey, peaches, sunflowers, geraniums, tomatoes, etc.) which she was on her way to enter in the Bolton County Fair. (A hutch in the immense dining hall was full of blue ribbons from previous fairs.) -- Monica
- August 12 - Worcester, MA - Learned that the birth control pill and the smiley face were both invented in Worcester. Coincidence? -- Mark
- August 11 - Worcester, MA -
Mark: So, do you have bats in the house?
Mark: How do you get rid of them.
Michael: We have these crab nets that we use to catch the bats. . . .well, we never catch any crabs with those nets. They're bat nets, really, that we use for crabbing.
- August 10 - Worcester, MA - Michael came down in his big white van and picked us up at the Ashford Motel. I needed a rest day or two for my powerful but hurtin' legs, so I decided it would be more fun to hang out with the Murphys. -- Monica
- August 10 - Worcester, MA - (Overheard: Young woman to her father): "Dad, I hate it when you say words!" -- Mark
- August 8 - Grandby, CT - As I sipped my coffee, a nicely dressed and groomed man stopped to converse with me. Because of his appearance, a few minutes passed before I discerned that he was mentally ill. Maybe the Presidential campaign news isn't as boggling as it first appeared. -- Mark
- August 7 - Riverton, CT - This is the first day of our third week and all I can say is "wow!" Last night, the "trail magic" campfire; this morning, suprise coffee with Dawson and Mark; this afternoon, a beautiful campsite in a beautiful place. -- Mark
- August 6 - East Canaan, CT - Our ride today was a short 25 miles, in coolish, not humid, beauty. The flowers I see all along the roads so far on the trip have been chicory, queen-anne's lace, and goldenrod. Of course there are many, many other flowers; great deciduous trees; creeks and rivers; barns, shacks, and estates; amazing birds; and barreling, giant trucks. -- Monica
- August 5 - Millerton, NY - I don't think I have ever been in a library where people have talked so much and so constantly about books. -- Mark
- August 4 - Taconica State Park - Rudd Pond, NY
Mark: We've now ridden over 300 miles!
Monica: You just tell me big fat ones like that so that I'll feel better.
Mark: No I don't.
Monica: You should!
- August 3 - Hyde Park, NY
Monica: I was just snippity snap!
Monica: Pop. Pop.
Monica: Jabba jabba. You know what I mean!
Mark: No idea.
Monica: That means I had too much coffee.
- August 2 - FDR Home & Library, Hyde Park, NY - This is a place we should be encouraging people to visit. It's also public property, a National Park Service site. Yet, we had to pay $52 in admission fees to see just the FDR library and house and Eleanor's cottage. If we had come past here on a family trip, we would have skipped it as unaffordable. For a family of five, the admission fees would be $130 -- more than two days work at minimum wage. (No wonder the majority of our fellow visitors have only only a couple Presidential election votes left to them.) -- Mark
- August 2 - Hyde Park, NY - Mark is so happy to be biking the roads again. Each day, more than once, he takes off singing. He leads. I prefer to follow at my pace. Ever so often, he stops and waits for me and says happy things. -- Monica
- August 1 - Cuddebackville, NY to New Paltz, NY - Nothing like starting the day with a steep climb. Today it was up and over the Shawangunk Mountains. Referred to around here as "The Gunks." ("Mountains" is used in the Eastern sense of a small, insignificant rise in the land. The Gunks have a high point of just over 2,000 feet.) -- Mark
- August 1 - Cuddebackville, NY to New Paltz, NY - While riding, I think, have conversations with sisters and friends in my head; I hum and sing and chant; I look and listen with heightened focus; the more tired I get, the more closely I watch the road for safety. -- Monica
- July 2015
- July 30 - Cuddebackville, NY - Eddies and backwaters are places where the water is trapped and stagnates. Eddies and backwaters can be found in human groups as well. Based on the people coming in and out of the convenience store, it seems as if there may be a few of those human eddies around here. -- Mark
- July 30 - Oakland Valley Campground, Cuddebackville, NY - It's been in the 90's and very humid. We try to start riding at dawn to get miles in before sunny heat. It's usually a bit foggy that early (as we've been beside the river), but it feels good. We use our blinking lights. As I'm still getting my legs, we're riding about 40 miles a day. -- Monica
- July 29 - Worthington State Forest to Matamoras, PA - We met an 83 year-old cyclist, Demetri Kolokotronis. He has ridden from Florida:
Mark: I can't believe you are 83!
Demetri: Only until August.
- July 28 - Easton, PA to Worthington State Forest - Ah! So beautiful. Looking out at the Delaware River. Been perched on top of the picnic table for the past two hours . . . doing yoga . . . staring out . . . appreciating my vision . . . enjoying the laughter and voices of people passing by in canoes, rafts, and kayaks. -- Monica
- July 27 - Easton, PA - The first Christmas tree in the U.S. was displayed in Easton PA. The drug problem came later. -- Mark
- July 26 - Frenchtown, NJ to Easton, PA - Okay, at home it's tea and wine. Here, on the pedalling road, it's coffee, water, water, water, water, water, and MAYBE a beer. -- Monica
- July 25 - Flemington, NJ to Frenchtown, NJ - Monica said, "Stopping for the day is one of the things I'm really going to like." -- Mark
- July 24 - Westfield to Flemington, NJ - We arrived here at about 11:15 AM after riding 40 miles. Auspicious start to the bike ride. Clear, sunny, warm, breezy. Back roads past lovely homes with large grassy yards, horses, woods, not much traffic, some mild hills. I feel like I'll spend a good week "training." So, I hope these first days will be short rides. -- Monica
- July 24 - Westfield to Flemington, NJ - Embarassed though I am to admit it, I actually heard myself say these words today: "This part of New Jersey is beautiful." -- Mark
- July 22 - Westfield, NJ
Monica: That person didn't need to honk like that. I was going to go.
Mark: Yep. Even a polite toot.
Monica: That's why I did my hand like this. [Making an indecipherable motion with her hand.]
Mark: I just gave her the finger.
Monica: You didn't!
Mark: Yes I did.
Monica: You shouldn't do that.
Mark: This is New Jersey. I'm just trying to fit in.
- July 21 - Westfield, NJ - Monica's 93-year old Aunt June confirmed our prejudices about people from the East Coast: "When we were in Denver, everyone seemed so slow. I just wanted to give them all a little push." Aunt June was stopped several times for driving more than 30 miles an hour over the speed limit. -- Mark
- July 20 - Westfield, NJ - My father-in-law's most vivid memories seem to be of the times he was on his own -- working down the Shore, in the Army, living in Chicago when his wife was in New Jersey, and in New Jersey when his wife and family were in Illinois. -- Mark
- July 20 - Westfield, NJ - I've invited all of my siblings and their families to join us on part of our bike ride, or to be a sag-wagon . . . so far, no takers. -- Monica
- July 18 - R.B. Winters State Park, Pennsylvania - Ah! As we settle down for the night, we are lulled to sleep by the sounds of a state park on a rainy, dark night: "It's your deal," "Get me one while you are up," "Honey, I don't think the TV is working right. I can't get 7. I can't get anything." -- Mark
- July 18 - Youngstown Steel Museum - Ah, for the return of laissez-faire capitalism! In 1907, in U.S. Steel's South Chicago works, 20 workers were killed and perhaps 2000 others were burned, crushed, maimed, or disabled. In 1916, 37.6% of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company's workforce was injured. The average time lost was 14.9 days. -- Mark
- July 17 - Cleveland, OH - Instead of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we spent the afternoon in the art museum - very impressive. I really liked Edward Hopper's "Hills, South Truro"; Grant Wood's "January" - very Japanese, to me. I loved "Frieze of Dancers" - Edgar Degas; Paul Gauguin's "Paris"; "Red Maroons" by Christpher Rothko; and Franz Kline's "Accent Grave". I also liked Georgia O'Keefe's "Cliffs Beyond Abiquiu" and her "Morning Glory with Black" which reminded me of a young novice nun. I look forward to returning one day, to view entirely different galleries. -- Monica
- July 17 - Cleveland, Ohio - One of the most striking things about listening to people in this coffeeshop is how polite they are to one another and to the odd people among them -- odd people like me. -- Mark
- July 16 - On the way to Cleveland - Things I saw: A billboard for a lawyer offering free KinderPrint: "Let's keep our kids safe." (Because a first grader who knows his fingerprints and photo are on file will be much more careful when robbing banks?) The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. ("Dedicated to preserving the history and honoring the pioneers and individuals who have made significant contributions to the RV and Manufactured Housing industries." The Hall of Fame has 367 elite members.) Lots of Midwestern-sized people eating at the interstate, fast food places. (I wonder whether planners have to devote twice as much space for lines at fast food counters in the Midwest.) -- Mark
- July 16 - Cleveland, Ohio - The Accidental Comedy Club had a show on the roof of the hostel. We had a view of downtown Cleveland. As one of the comics said, "There it is. The Cleveland skyline. Three tall buildings . . . almost." -- Mark
- July 12 - Eldora, Iowa - At the HyVee, customers were stopping one another to chat about whether they were hosting a RAGBRAI rider next week. When I went back into the store to get a book forgotten in the shopping cart, one of the carryouts -- they are all high school-aged guys in shirts and ties -- was on his way out to find me. He said, "Thank goodness you're still here. Wouldn't want you to lose this" and handed me the book. We took our picnic out to Pine Lake State Park just a mile or two out of town. A dozen locals were celebrating a birthday. One fellow stopped to chat with us on his way back to the his car, carrying cupcake boxes under his arm and a Big Gulp mug in his hand. Before he left, he said "Welcome to Eldora and have a safe trip." -- Mark
- July 11 - Denver - Monica is so delighted with how clean the house and uncluttered the house is that she almost wants to stay. Almost. -- Mark
- July 10 - Denver -I'm so excited, I'm bursting at the seams. Can't fall asleep. -- Monica
- June 2015
- June 27 - Denver - My view of the world is starting to shift from current problems to future adventures, and it's exciting. The Adventure Cycling map covering the first part of our bike trip -- from Westfield to the Vermont border -- just arrived. Monica has her panniers upstairs so she can start packing. -- Mark
2014 - Korea, Japan, Cambodia & Vietnam
- September 2014
- September 17 - Denver - Happy/relieved to be gone from home -- lots of preparation, not much planning . . . that's perfectly okay with me! -- Monica
- September 19 - Seoul - Came back early evening to catch up on sleep. I tried a little black raspberry wine. Last night I tried a rice wine (with herbs.) I really liked that one! -- Monica
- September 20 - Seoul - It's amazing to feel "far away" and yet be so instantly connected with Maggie in Denver, Tote in Geneva, and Duncan in Fukuoka. -- Monica
- September 21 - Seoul -
Monica: Do you think this could be a sympathy card?
Mark: I don't know. I don't see any writing.
Monica: Let's get it then.
Mark: Wait a second. What's that right there? That might be writing. Those black squiggles there. Is that writing or part of the design? Let me check. ...
Mark: [To student-looking person] Excuse me. What does this mean?
Student-looking Person: That says "Congratulations."
Monica: [laughing] Oops. Good thing we asked.
Mark: [laughing] Well, maybe they don't read Korean.
- September 22 - Seoul, South Korea - Seoul has a bazillion coffeeshops. It's not unusual to see three on a single block. Yet, with rare exceptions, not a single one is open before 9 AM. Someone is missing the point of coffee. -- Mark
- October 2014
- October 5 - Busan, South Korea - I am more impressed and moved by the kind things that people do for us than most any of the sights we have seen. The bus driver who sees our packs and, despite limited English, makes sure we get off at the right stop. The people who stop to navigate the subway ticket machine which is entirely in Korean. The fellow who takes us under his wing, makes sure we get to the free food line at the temple and later walks all the way back from the entrance gate to give us the English guide pamphlet. The server who introduces her entire family to us. The cafe ladies who make sure we know how to garnish our soup and how to eat it. The gruff fellow at the baseball game who makes sure we don't choose seats blocked by a light standard, and then offers us soju and mochi. -- Mark
- October 6 - Busan, South Korea - Went to see the Lotte Giants play. One song played repeatedly and to an enthusiastic reception every time. As long as Monfort owns the team, wouldn't this be an appropriate serenade for the Rockies? Here's part of the chorus:
I crashed my car into the bridge. I watched, I let it burn.
I threw your sh*t into a bag and pushed it down the stairs.
I crashed my car into the bridge.
I don't care, I love it. I don't care.
- October 6, Busan, South Korea - It seems bus drivers can pipe music or radio of their choice into the bus. One day it was a radio call in show. Utterly incomprensible. Today, it's Easy Listening jazz. Equally incomprehensible. -- Mark
- October 2014
- October 8 - Fukuoa, Japan - Hugged Duncan today for the first time in several years. I don't know whether I shall ever again experience the joy I felt when I held him for the very first time, but this was close. -- Mark
- October 10 - Mt. Aso, Japan - Distracted while seated on the toilet in the hostel, I unthinkingly pushed a button on the wall. Yikes! I now have a very clean bottom. That was unexpected. -- Mark
- October 11 - Mt. Aso, Japan -
Mark: Better not mention to Lucy what we are eating.
Duncan: Why not?
Mark: Because Aunt Lucy really likes horses.
Duncan: So do I. They taste really good.
- October 11 - Mt. Aso, Japan -
Mark: I'd like to play that Japanese game you think is good.
Duncan: It's pretty good but the tuna boats are way too powerful.
- October 11 - Mt. Aso, Japan - We were enjoying ourselves in the little square near Aso Station, listening to live music and watching children play with bamboo water squirters. The music was part of a little market -- small canopied booths surrounded the square selling food and crafty things.
The water squirters were being sold by a happy couple that also had some other handmade, simple wooden toys for sale. It was the end of their day, and the man involved stopped by to chat. During the course of our conversation, he handed me a little wooden "helicopter" -- a blade stuck to the top of a spindle. (The Japanese name for one of these is "dragonfly.") He told me to give it a try.
Accustomed to the heavier American version of these things, I nonchalantly gave it what I thought was a light twirl. The darn thing shot like a rocket into the air, nearly clipping me in the nose. The wind caught it and whipped over the tops of the booths -- still rising -- and out of the square. Shocked and embarrassed, I dashed after it -- I ran through a food booth and out into the street. Then, I ran around wildly in the street looking for the thing. A second later, I was joined by the toymaker. He was laughing -- better than shouting. I was relieved to find the thing at the curb and returned it with apologies to the still smiling toymaker.
Though I appreciated the humor of the situation, it's fair to say I didn't appreciate it nearly as much as Duncan, Monica, the toymaker, and many other people in the square seemed to. -- Mark
- October 11 - Mt. Aso, Japan - Sayaka: I am like a devil. I eat horse while looking at horse.
- October 13 - Fukuoka, Japan - I decided I had better learn some Japanese. There are three forms of writing -- Chinese characters and two phonetic alphabets. One phonetic alphabet is used for borrowed foreign words. One, hiragana, is general purpose -- sometimes signs with Chinese characters have the same words written again in hiragana. This is for the benefit of children, the illiterate, and fools, like me.
Since hiragana is the most widely used phonetic script, I have learned to sound out the words written in hiragana on signs. In prospect, this seemed like a great and useful skill.
The problem is that although I can now sound out real Japanese words, I have no idea what the words mean. So, I stand before signs haltingly enunciating Japanese words waiting for someone to tell me what the heck I have just said. -- Mark
- October 14 - Fukuoka, Japan - Returned from a trip with Duncan, Monica, and Sayaka to Mt. Aso, and this morning chatted with my mother. My mother told me I still have the power to make her sad. Duncan made me feel both very happy and very sad this weekend. I suppose children have these powers over their parents forever. -- Mark
- October 14 - Fukuoka, Japan - From our Fukuoka tourist brochure:
October 19 - 28th "Usagi-san" Rabbit Contest
Is your bunny having a good "hare" day? Enter them in this unique rabbit event . . . ! Includes bite-bite race, name-call race, health check by a vet and more. Lapin Club membership is required for entry, but spectators are welcome to watch for free.
- October 17 - On the way to Hiroshima, Japan - I follow all my mom's lessons. My mother learned two years ago to take a good look at the bus one is getting off of before heading to the bathroom at a Japanese service area at night. There are an awful lot of buses at this service area. -- Mark
- October 17 - North Hiroshima, Japan - Got off the bus, watched it drive away, and realized that we had left gifts for Sayaka's parents in the overhead luggage rack. Sayaka called the bus company, and several hours later, a bus brought the missing presents back for us. -- Mark
- October 19 - Hiroshima, Japan - I am nursing a big (but less than anticipated) hangover after a feast at Sayaka's parents home. If people don't speak the same language it's hard to bond by talking, so we tried drinking. From the size of this hangover, I believe we succeeded. -- Mark
- October 20 - Hiroshima, Japan - Students near the Children's Peace Memorial were asking tourists to write down our opinions on war. I wrote that war was bad. Like the others answering the questions, the students gave me an origami peace crane. Monica was the only one to receive an origami dinosaur. I wonder what she wrote? -- Mark
- October 20 - Hiroshima, Japan - We are staying in a rather nice hotel. I attribute this to the long list of rules, including:
Please do not carry . . . into the hotel . . .Things with loathsome smell.
And . . .
Not allowed to . . . behave in a demoralizing manner in the hotel.
- October 21 - Hiroshima, Japan - Unsurprisingly, I sometimes find it hard to be in a city where my country killed over 100,000 people. I understand what it must have felt like to be a German before everyone forgot about the death camps.
Harder, perhaps, is experiencing the hope and faith of the peace/anti-nuclear weapons movement when, beyond a doubt, the movement has failed. Nuclear weapons not only have no stigma attached to them, they are sought after. The array of weapons and their strength has grown.
The horror of what happened here, something that once swayed people and gave force to the movement, has dropped out of consciousness. "Atomic bomb" is used as a metaphor without speakers or listeners giving the slightest thought to the suffering that atomic bombs caused. (Compare it to how unconscionable it is now to use "rape" metaphorically.) -- Mark
- October 22 - Hiroshima, Japan - Japan and Korea have public restrooms everywhere, and every restaurant and shop has one available whether one is a customer or not. This is the way civilized countries do things.
- October 23 - Hiroshima, Japan - How many times will I hear "Daydream Believer" today? I've already heard it twice in two hours, and I haven't left the hostel yet. Since Asia is cutting edge, get ready United States for the long awaited Monkees revival. (Final count for the day? Five times. But we were on a bus without music for nearly 5 hours.) -- Mark
- October 23 - Hiroshima, Japan - Used a fork this morning. First time in 37 days. -- Mark
- October 25 - Fukuoka, Japan - Tote's Here!
- October 26 - Fukuoka, Japan - There are very few westerners at Yoshinogari Historical Park (we saw two all day) but there is a disk golf course. Tote and Duncan were playing when a westerner came up to them and asked if they played on East Ultimate. He had played for Jeffco and remembered them.
- October 26 - Fukuoka, Japan - I have started learning Japanese. Each lesson begins when I ask Sayaka or Duncan how to say something in Japanese. Then for sixty minutes I ask them again and again and again and again how to say it. When Sayaka or Duncan gets exasperated repeating themselves to someone with the comprehension of granite, I switch to the other one and repeat the process. When the second one is reduced to ignoring me, the lesson is over. -- Mark
- October 27 - Fukuoka, Japan - Went to a largely automated sushi restaurant tonight. Tote and I ordered something from the touchscreen. After a moment or two, a bright yellow, robot race car flew down the track in front of us and stopped under our noses. An order of deep fried octopus was driving. -- Mark
- October 30 - Fukuoka, Japan - Have I mentioned that neither Japan nor Korea have potholes in their streets? And I don't mean that they have fewer than in the U.S. I mean there are none. This is the way civilized countries do things. -- Mark
- October 31 - Fukuoka, Japan - Went to the boat races. These aren't your everyday, teams-get-in-a-boat-and paddle races. These are little motorboats racing around a "track" in the harbor so that people can bet on the winners. A gentleman in a dark, pin-striped suit and a pencil mustache (was he speaking Japanese with a 1930s Chicago accent?) tried to explain to me some of the basics of strategy to me. I didn't understand a word, so I nodded a lot and said "thank you" frequently. Mostly, though, the track denizens were older people.
Tote won three of five races and $3. I won three races and lost $1. Monica didn't win any races and lost $5. She was depressed for hours over her bad boat racing karma. I assure you, Tote and I had only the best of intentions when we reminded her of our wins and her losses all evening. Despite the large gambling losses, the trip will continue. -- Mark
- November 1 - Fukuoka, Japan - As one gets older, one can see a bit further into the future than when one was younger. When, like me, you have screwed up in lots of ways, you start to learn that if you behave badly there is likely to be a bad consequence. This wisdom gained through trying experience seems at first thought to be a good thing. Yet, there is a peril. When people I care about behave in ways the are likely to have bad outcomes, it causes tremendous worry and pain. The only way to be free from the pain is to stop caring and that's impossible. So, I suppose aging for me will be suffering through these things. -- Mark
- November 2014
- November 2 - Fukuoka, Japan - Tote just left for Tokyo. I'm sorry he's gone but I'm happy that we had a good visit. -- Mark
- November 3 - Fukuoka, Japan - Monica Hughes cheerfully awakened on her own before 8AM, exclaimed over the morning sunshine, and is now playing loud rock music in the bathroom. This is either going to be a wonderful or a very challenging day. -- Mark
- November 2014
- November 5, Siem Reap, Cambodia - Conversation at breakfast with our host, Mr. Bun, after Mr. Bun stared hard at me for more than a minute:
Mr. Bun: I see that you were once a very handsome man.
Me: (laughing) "Once"?
Mr. Bun: (slightly discomfited) I mean . . . before you got old.
- November 5, Siem Reap, Cambodia - We spent part of the morning exploring Siem Reap's Old Market. While walking amidst fish stalls, a small fish jumped from a fish seller's basin onto the walkway. The market lady looked at me and motioned for me to pick it up and pass it back to her. When I hesitated, she handed me a green plastic bag, which I used to capture the escaped fish and hand it back to the lady.
About ten minutes later, another fish leapt out of a different basin in the same stall. This fish was giant. I tapped the lady on the shoulder and pointed out the big fish in the pathway. She laughed, jumped from her stand, and scooped it up. I laughed and said "Happy fish!" That really cracked her up. -- Monica
- November 6, Siem Reap, Cambodia - People here smile easily and laugh at all sorts of things. They laugh at my mistakes, and that's okay because they also laugh at their own and those of their fellows. They make eye contact and smile. Smiling at babies makes the moms and dads smile back. 1The result is that I spend nearly all my waking hours smiling. -- Mark
- November 7, Siem Reap, Cambodia - Today started with another lengthy breakfast conversation with Mr. Bun. It started with pleasantries, moved to a suggested syllabus for our visits to the temples and tuk tuk prices, proceeded to a condensed but complete macroeconomics class, featuring the vocabulary of the various relationships between firms, public, and government and including the primary equation for national income accounting, shifted to a quick review of microeconomics, and concluded with the correct schematic for preparing lesson plans. And then, nearly without pausing, Mr. Bun had a long easy laugh because he felt he had talked too much. My breakfast conversation with Mr. Bun has become a highlight of my days here. -- Mark
- November 7, Siem Reap, Cambodia - In Siem Reap, the primary language of tourism is English. Since English is a second language for most tourists here and all of the tourist workers, I have grown accustomed to hearing some odd things.
Today, though, was the topper. A group of monks, all in orange robes and with shaved heads, were on the far side of a courtyard from me. Then one of the monks shouted to me: "Hello sailor! How many languages you speak?" -- Mark
- November 8, Siem Reap, Cambodia - Today, over lunch, Mr. Bun explained that to reach one's full potential requires attention to all parts of one's brain, even those not currently being used: "If you have a ten room guesthouse and clean only three rooms, only three guests will stay there. You must clean all the rooms." -- Mark
- November 14, Siem Reap, Cambodia -
Monica: Maybe we should go visit the silk farm.
Me: Sure, if we have time.
Monica: I love silkworms.
Me: I've never heard you even mention silk worms.
Monica: Oh yes. Just the other day I said I would like to eat them.
Me: I thought that was tarantulas, not silk worms.
Monica: I never said either.
Monica: I had a big katydid in here last night that I had to get rid of.
Mark: Yes, I think I heard that. You said, "I have trouble dealing with these things."
Monica: I never said that.
Mark: Okay. That's what I thought I heard.
Monica: Oh. Yes. (laughing) That's what I said exactly.
Monica: Did you say good-bye to the Korean toothpaste I just threw away?
Mark: No, I wasn't aware that saying good-bye to toothpaste was required.
Monica: In foreign countries it is.
- November 15, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - During the bus ride here, we met an Australian man who has been working in agriculture for the past 30 years in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. He seemed most proud of their recent agricultural dictionary -- the dictionary includes words used to describe global warming and its impacts. -- Monica
- November 15, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - We ate at a popular (among Cambodians) restaurant. There were lots of inexpensive, and sometimes unusual, grilled items and jugs of beer for less than $2. Our table was served by a waiter, a person who put ice in our beer glasses, a beer server and pourer, and several people to bring the plates of food to our table from the from the grill. We shared all those people with maybe perhaps three or four other tables. Since the restaurant had perhaps seventy tables on our level, there were staff people running everywhere. Watching them all swirl around, noticing the giant ice cubes appear in our glasses just before the glasses were refilled, and chatting with those who eddied up near our table, entertained us while eating our grilled frogs and goat. -- Mark
- December 2014
- December 5, Kampot, Cambodia - The food here is always fresh -- there's nothing made the night before and left in the fridge or made months ago and shipped hundreds, maybe thousands of miles. The greens are grown within a couple miles of here and have flavor. -- Mark
- December 6, Kampot, Cambodia - Monica named this blog. At the time, I wondered whether the title would match the experience, but so far it has. I could, and would like to live at least for a bit, in all the places we've visited. -- Mark
- December 6, Kampot, Cambodia - I cannot do justice to the state of the national park outside Kampot. It contains a large reservoir, a hydroelectric dam, an enormous casino development, and the beginnings of a hideous, gigantic, condo development that will dwarf the casino development. Someone in town told us "Chinese money" is behind all this. Since the condo development includes a cable car, that rings true. -- Mark
- December 7, Kampot, Cambodia - When my first thought in the morning is to make sure my passport is handy and my visa is valid, I know I am very lucky. -- Mark
- December 7, On the way to Can Tho, Vietnam - When I see factories and warehouses along the road, I recall that I saw virtually none in Cambodia. The difference is quite startling. -- Mark
- December 7, Can Tho, Vietnam - We arrived in Can Tho at about 8:30 PM (three hours later than scheduled.) The ride was in a minibus with windows but without air con. A fellow passenger later told us, there were seats for 29 and the final passenger count was 46. Reminded me of "money buses" in Liberia, but there we would have "dressed small" and packed in ten more, including chickens, bundles of vegetables, and a loose-bladdered goat on the roof. I had a window, with the breeze, able to take photos on the way. Totally distracted from the crazy driving. -- Monica
- December 7, Can Tho, Vietnam - I am told that Vietnam periodically disrupts Facebook. No one is sure why: many people here use it. Facebook didn't work this morning from my computer, though every other site was accessible. As far as I can tell, Facebook's IP address had disappeared. Since I can change the way my computer finds websites -- unlike most computers in workplaces -- the problem is easy for individuals to fix.
The only rational explanation for this weirdness is that Vietnam wants people at work to actually work. -- Mark
- December 8, Can Tho, Vietnam - Venerable Sone, the abbot at the Khmer temple here, explained why he was not strict: If you are strict rather than happy there is distance between you and those you wish to teach. Instead of being strict, I tell them about the precepts. This way they can learn about the precepts instead of about being strict. When I am happy rather than strict, my students say "He is an odd teacher."
- December 8, Can Tho, Vietnam - First impressions of Vietnam: 1) faster, wilder driving with lots of honking but few accidents -- nearly all motorbikes in the city; 2) Vietnamese are slower to smile than Cambodians but once we interact, no problem -- then ther are genuine smiles. Sometimes we notice people bracing themselves because of the language barrier, but once we ask them something or talk to them, they are anxious to help; 3) In Cambodia, the Khmer script was opaque -- no chance to sound anything out or understand it. Here, it's the familiar alphabet with a plethora of diacritical marks, but we are just as baffled. Too many letters have different sounds or accents; 4) Mark says it's a bit less expensive here than in Cambodia; 5) Many people wear the conical hats we associate with Vietnam. They work well in sun and rain. Many women wear masks -- roughly the size of surgical masks but thicker, more stylish, broader, and made from patterned fabric; 6) Everyone on the streets appears to be an entrepreneur -- not a "tourist entrepreneur" -- but working at some sort of small business. Men drinking coffee in the cafes are taking a break before getting back in their trucks or back to their shops. -- Monica
- December 9, Can Tho, Vietnam - Out on the river before dawn this morning on a small boat. We watched the river wake up, just as we would watch the streets in a city wake up. Roads and trucks are changing things, but for a long time, the river was the main artery through this region, and that age has not entirely passed.
At the "landing," an 8 foot long strip of concrete at water level, we saw a motorcycle and rider arriving in a tiny boat, rowed by a woman in the stern. As we went downriver, passing and being passed by all sorts of boats, the larger ones with lights, we saw the brightly lit fish market and then the brightly lit petrol stations and restaurants that cater to, and can only be reached by, boats. Some of the people who live on boats were waking up, washing out tubs and buckets, pulling clothes from hangers that had been hung to dry on the sides of the cabins. Eventually, we reached the wholesale market -- a spot in midriver where boats full of fruit, vegetables, and many other things were selling to customers in smaller boats. As in any market, there were coffee and breakfast venders -- at this market in their own small boats. And then it was on to the retail market . . .
As I write this, we're watching afternoon traffic on the river. Little delivery boats; a midsized boat with a load of bricks; various ferries, etc., and I'm wondering whether there were ever similar places in the U.S. Today the Mississippi is largely a conduit for large, boring barges and our port cities are devoted to container ships and tankers, but I imagine that in the past our rivers and ports supported a more local, varied, and vital culture. Maybe I'm seeing a bit of those days and places. -- Mark
- December 9, Can Tho, Vietnam - What is the consequence of winning or losing a war? In Vietnam, I'm not at all sure how different the country would look if the U.S. had won instead of lost. Or if Vietnam had lost instead of won. Vietnam is no longer a colony of France (or of the United States or of China or Russia), and its leaders are not selected, propped up, and enriched by another country. On the other hand, neither France nor any other country has many colonies these days, and the U.S. has abandoned most of its strongmen. The Vietnamese victory means the country is formally communist, yet Vietnam looks, at least in the south, like the Adam Smith ideal of a capitalist country. (Walking around one doesn't even see the signs of the tremendous concentration of economic power that one sees walking down an American city street, though over in the mall there are international fast food, cosmetic, and clothing brands. So, arguably Vietnam is more free market than the U.S.) The south seems to have preserved its pre-war culture. The people in southern Vietnam view themselves as very different, and with a different -- more open and more entrepreneurial -- culture, than those in the north.
There's no particular reason to think that if the U.S. had won there would be less corruption or more equality of power between rich and poor. And the Vietnamese victory certainly didn't eliminate it.
Similarly, one would be quite naive or ignorant to say that if the U.S. had won the war, there would be greater political or religious freedom in Vietnam. Free elections are the touchstone of political freedom, and free elections are impossible here, but free elections are impossible in many places where the U.S. "prevailed" over the communists. And things seem to be changing here. Just looking out the window here, there are pagodas for various sects of Buddhism and a Catholic church that appear to be running without interference. There's Christmas music of every variety blaring in many stores, and Christmas decorations everywhere. It's impossible to even guess how free or accurate the media is. The library and the one bookstore we visited have lots of periodicals and newspapers -- dozens and dozens. There are more newspapers in the Can Tho library than in our Denver public library branch. Televisions are everywhere. One can watch American movies and the BBC, and some people do.
In the U.S., the consequence of losing the Vietnam war was a salutary reluctance to invading or getting militarily entangled in other countries that persisted for decades, but that's for another day . . . -- Mark
- December 10, Can Tho, Vietnam - Another day; another museum display of American military and diplomatic folly and atrocities. Our excuse is that whatever we did, we did for their own good -- if they were smarter they'd see we were only trying to help. The trouble is that the impacts of invading, bombing, supporting dictators and oligarchs, torturing, supporting those who torture, destroying places where people live, and killing brothers, sisters, parents, and children are felt and remembered for a long time. And those impacts are much easier to comprehend than the requirements of geopolitical conflict or international norms. (Even if geopolitical conflict or hypocritically enforced norms could justify the killing and destruction and the killing and destruction actually ended up resolving conflict or enforcing norms.) -- Mark
- December 11, Can Tho, Vietnam - Monica opened all the windows in our corner room. It's sunny and humid outside but the breeze is cool. There aren't many tall buildings in Can Tho, so our view from the sixth floor makes me feel as if I'm sitting in a penthouse or a balloon. Things really can't get much better. -- Mark
We don't only make war on people and support dictators, but the lasting harm caused by war and supporting bad guys easily outweighs the good of our genuinely beneficent acts. What's a year of a Peace Corps teacher or even a whole U.S.-provided school compared to losing loved ones and living in fear? -- Mark
- December 10, Can Tho, Vietnam - Beside the river, there's a really nice breeze, the beer is refreshing, it's peaceful -- extraordinarily lovely. It's a little past lunch and siesta time (11-2), and the only other people here (it's expensive at $1.25 for a beer) are two western couples. (As in Cambodia, few tourists are from the U.S., and there are many Asian tourists.) There are about ten employees. -- Monica
- December 12, Can Tho, Vietnam - We've met loads of young people who dream of studying English abroad but not a single one who would prefer to study in the States rather than Australia or someplace else. Guns are the main reason. -- Mark
- December 13, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - This is a capitalist country. It may be a totalitarian country (though there's no obvious evidence), but it's not a communist country. If you don't believe me, let's talk about it over a Big Mac at the McDonald at the end of the block or would you prefer Kentucky Fried Chicken? But not too early, I'll be watching the NBA game Fox Sports tonight. After that I can grab an Uber ride and meet you. -- Mark
- December 14, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Our room has a large balcony. Monica loves to sit on it and watch the street life below. She has a mental dossier on all the people that live around here. Last night she got up at 2AM to get out on the balcony because she thought she might be missing something. -- Mark
- December 15, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - In Ho Chi Minh City, a Spanish omelet contains baked beans. -- Mark
- December 15, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Visited the War Remnants Museum today -- formerly the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes and then the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression. The names pretty much sum up the exhibits. Over all, it is a lousy museum. I am likely a sympathetic audience, and I thought it was a joke. Over and over again, the war is described as a war of aggression andusing the instruments of war -- e.g. guns, cannons, and bombs -- is referred to as an atrocity. There is little or no mention of Vietnamese actions -- neither those of the North or the South Vietnamese armies -- and when there is, the South's reprehensible actions are nearly always controlled by Americans. For the most part, the exhibits do not reveal that the Vietnamese did anything but serve as targets for atrocities. There is little mention even of Vietnamese soldiers. The French are barely mentioned. And apparently every birth defect in Vietnam is attributable to the use of Agent Orange.
Someday, perhaps, the museum will depict a more realistic view of the war: how the war came to be; that Vietnamese people were actually involved as combatants and not as universally passive, patriotic victims of Americans (Americans who for some unexplained reason apparently wanted to bomb, stab, and shoot Vietnamese people); and the ruthlessness of the Viet Minh toward their own people. But, maybe they never will -- one of the prerogatives of the winners is not to look back.
It's encouraging that at least in the South, the people and the society seem to have moved well beyond the time when this museum was relevant to anyone but tourists. (The museum proudly displays its TripAdvisor awards.) I suspect that the renaming of the museum is part of this shift and that even the museum is moving toward a less idiotic portrayal of the war. The posters on the museum wall are more peace oriented than evil American oriented. And a large part of one floor displays photos by war photographers depicting how awful the war was for young American GIs and give glimpses of their courage and dedication. We haven't been here long enough to know anything, but we've detected no shred of animosity. And every American product from franchise hamburgers to hotels to movies and TV shows to Dell computers is not only available but sought after. -- Mark
- December 17, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - All the cool kids here (and lots of cool adults) wear hoodies. The hoods are up; the zippers zipped; and very often, the person is wearing a face mask that covers all but their eyes and forehead and gloves. Yes, it's usually over 80 degrees here. -- Mark
- December 18, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - After a tour of even more temples and similar things, we're looking down from our balcony into a beauty salon, where men are having their grey hairs plucked out one at a time. It takes a long time. I wonder what they would do if I asked for the same service. -- Mark
- December 19, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Had a second good meal at the noodle place across the street from our hotel. The woman who runs it has four children. The three girls went to school; the son did not. He helps in the "pop up" restaurant. The youngest daughter wants to be an elementary school teacher. She thinks children have too much homework and not enough time to play.
My bill tonight came to $.50. I tried to give them more money, but they wouldn't take it. -- Mark
- December 20, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - I feel like I'm cheating on someone close to me. I'm enjoying the street life below our balcony but listening to the Frisco, Colorado radio station and feeling excited about the snow reports. -- Mark
- December 21, DeKalb, Illinois - "To help get over jet lag quicker, when travelling eastward, expose yourself to bright sunlight in the afternoon." Obviously, this advice is impossible to follow in the Midwest in December. -- Mark
© Monica & Mark Hughes 2014