Starbucks. It seems every civilized place on the planet has at least one.
On any continent they are all exactly alike. The only difference is the décor on the mugs. I consider them collectibles. I have no more room on the shelves in my kitchen for them, but I still buy one wherever I go. In fact, I am a bit annoyed if the city I am in (Nairobi, Kathmandu) does not have a Starbucks. Before I travel, I Google the location of the Starbucks in the destination city. Not only do I want to add to my collection, I want to be able to get a good cup of coffee.
The same people who stood in line in front of me in Macau or London stand in line in front of me everywhere else. They all order just about the same thing. The session goes something like this.
“I’ll have a half latte, half mocha, half cappuccino with half cream and make it only half hot please.”
The barista is usually a college educated person who majored in something like Ancient Sri Lankan philosophy. They dutifully perform the chemistry experiment needed to serve the person in front of me. Meanwhile I select my souvenir mug. Then the overly picky customer sends back the coffee because it is too hot, I chat her up.
“Hey, didn’t we meet at Starbucks in Macau?”
“Oh yes we did! I remember the mocha there was very bitter.”
She shuffles away, happy with her lukewarm creation, and I step up to the counter.
Here is how my order goes.
“I’ll have a small black coffee”
“Will that be mocha or a cappuccino?
“Fresh cream from Sumatran sacred goats in that sir?”
“Black, a small black coffee”
“A grande then”
“No. Didn’t you learn anything at Harvard? Grande means big, large, and bigger than small. I want, again, now listen hard, A SMALL BLACK COFEE”
“Do you want Columbian, Kenyan, Costa Rican or our house blend?”
“If it is black, hot and you don’t ask another question, I don’t care.”
A brief roll of the eyes that say “I should have gone to grad school” is followed by “Yes sir, that will be (Insert too high a price in any currency here).”
But this is just my problem. I’m glad I did not graduate into this economy, so I still tip them.
The coffee they serve is always good, even without milk from sacred yaks. When I was in Bali, I asked for Kopi Luwak, which is made from beans that have passed through the digestive track of a type of cat, then shat, cleaned and roasted. This is the best coffee I have ever had, and a product of Bali, but not available at Starbucks in Bali.
Kenyan coffee is excellent, and Starbucks sells it all over the world, but there is no Starbucks in Kenya. Maybe milk from the sacred Zebra is not available.
Starbucks cafes are a great place to blog from. Usually the wifi is free, not always. They have comfy seats. People can spend hours in one. I know, I have.
So fellow travelers, if you ever want to meet up with me in some foreign country, I’ll met you at Starbucks!
We took off for London the day after Thanksgiving. Mary Ann had two motivating factors for this trip. The first was to finally match my “gold tier” level in Qatar airlines frequent flyer program, and the second was to use up some of the vacation time she has accrued. It seems that the more we go on vacation, the more vacation days she has! Nice problem!
My motivator was history. London is plumb full of it. In all those Asian countries, guides try to tell us that a child who came back to life with the head of an elephant is somehow history. In London, there is no religious fantasy, just real history.
We arrived at Heathrow airport about noon. TWO HOURS later we were finally through immigration. Terminal4 at Heathrow is where most of the truly foreign carriers arrive. BA and US carriers land at the other terminals. Heathrow terminal 4 is not a friendly nor an attractive place. Long walks without any people movers. Missing ceiling panels expose crude neon lighting. Poor signage which even in English left you wondering if the last 1/4 mile hike had been in the wrong direction. Then, we got to the immigration line. There were 35 booths available for use. Two or three were occupied. The officials would show up, process two or three people, then go away. Another might show up a few minutes later, then one of them would go back to their break room and presumably have tea and crumpets. I have been in immigration lines all over the world now and this truly was the rudest experience I have ever had. They profile everyone with questions starting with “Why are you here?
“I am beginning to wonder that myself.”
“How long will you be here?”
“I have already spent half my holiday in this fookin line.”
“Where are you going after you leave?”
“Someplace that respects tourists.”
I am not kidding, this was almost verbatim what went down with me in my session at the desk. When I had the stamp in my passport I told the guy;
“I don’t see how you expect to handle the Olympics. People are going to be pole vaulting your booths in protest.”
He didn’t much like that and said “It takes 2 1/2 hours for me to get through JFK immigration.”
I mumbled something about payback being a bitch and walked away.
Coincidentally, as I write this on the 30th of November, England is experiencing a general strike against pension reforms imposed on workers in the public sector. That includes the immigration people. The tabloids in London were predicting 12 hour queues at the immigration lines. However, I have been watchng Sky News out of London. The government has called out the army to man the desks, and to quote one airport manager “the lines are moving faster than normal.” Not a very high bar to pass, but ironic none the less.
Things started to look up after that. The London Underground, or the tube, serves Heathrow. With one easy line switch we were at Victoria station within an hour, and rather inexpensively. The tube cost us about US$12, where as a Taxi would have been about $85, and take longer. It was a comfortable ride with a view of the suburbs.
Our hotel was a block from Victoria Station. It was an excellent hotel with excellent service.
Our first night there we went on a walking tour by a company that calls itself London Walks.
I highly recommend this company. We took the pub crawl tour at night. Unfortunately I did not bring a camera. The tour, led by a young woman was excellent. She has done a lot of research of London history, and yes, pubs. We saw many interesting places, had more than a few Ales (all of them cold, and only one “bitters”), and I learned what a Cockney really is. A true Cockney is born within the sound of Bow Bells. Both this church and the much older and prettier St Mary le Bow church in The City claim to be the centre of this folk legend. I also learned a lot about the Thames river, including the proper Cockney pronunciation…Taimes, with a slight deference to the letter I. She showed us where John Harvard was baptized in a church that makes anything in Boston look like urban renewal. I had to teach her the proper pronunciation of Harvard…Hahvahd. It took three tries to get her to drop the Rs!
We only had three days left to see all there is to see in London,so we knew we would not see all there was to see in London.
We bought something called the London Pass.
This little credit card sized gizmo gets you into anything interesting in London for free and allows you to hop the queues. If you pay a little more you get free tube passage as well.
We also bought a 48 hour pass on
This service bills itself as the ORIGINAL hop-on- hop-off bus tour, copied in many cities all over the world. We have done this in Dubai and Singapore, so why not go with the original? They use double decked busses (with no driver on the top) and have multiple lines that go all over greater London. If you pay attention to where each line goes you can see just about anything. The commentary explains where you are at any given time. You get off where you want to explore something, then hop on again to get to the next tourist attraction.
The combination of the hop-on-hop-off bus and the tube let us zip all around town, and boy did we zip.
One our first visits was The Curchill war rooms.
WWII is virtually yesterday in London. We had a lot more to see. We whipped out our tube cards and tourist maps and started exploring.
Standing on a street corner, I saw this kid who looked somehow familiar. I spoke with thim and he claimed to be the illegitimate son of “some rocker”.
We were just off Whitehall, which is sort of the center of the British government bureaucracy. Whitehall intersects with Downing street. This is as close as we could get to #10 downing street.
Just off whitehall is a building I could not leave London without seeing.
Just a block away at the top of Whitehall is Trafalgar Square. The square is dedicated to the battle of Trafalger where the British navy, under Nelson, defeated a much larger combined fleet of Spanish and French naval forces. Nelson died in this battle.
One of our next stops was St.Paul’s Cathedral.
Today, this is the site of OCCUPY LONDON. The reason for the choice of this is that the London Stock exchange is directly behind it, and the courtyard is the only space big enough for the tent city.
After I had a few words of encouragement with the occupiers and made a financial contribution, we moved on.
Because of our limited time and London’s unlimited tourist options, we did not go to any of the huge gardens. London has more green space than any other city in almost the entire world. We also did not tour any of the magnificent museums which populate the London streets. They have museums to display everything from booty looted from around the old empire, to toys, fans, and probably shoelaces. Maybe next time.
I must say that I have always heard that the food in London was akin to boiled cardboard. I also thought all the beer would be warm and bitter. Not so. We had really good meals wherever we went, and the beer was always cold. You could get “bitter” if you wanted, but…
The next spot to talk about is the Tower of London. There is an awful lot of history there, and I suggest that you read up on it before you go. I will give you a quick glance at what took us 4 hours to see.
Now to the most amazing building in all of London, Westminster Abbey!
If you ever go to London, do the Abbey. Even if you are just there for a day, do the Abbey. Photos are not allowed inside here either, but most of you have probably seen pictures of the recent Royal Wedding. I’ll nab a couple more from Google for you, just because I am a good guy…oh forget about that. I tried. But no camera, no photographer can capture the whole scene inside, let alone the grandeur, the history, the splendor. One word of warning, if you have a phobia about walking on graves, do not go to the Abbey. There are over 3000 people buried in this building and every time you look down you are standing on somebody’s tomb.
For more info, possibly including a list of all the Royals, prime ministers, scientists and poets buried here go to http://www.westminster-abbey.org/
We were smart to take what they call the Verge Tour. A verge is kind of like an usher for services and official events in the Abbey. Our verge was very obviously proud to work in the abbey. He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the hundreds of years of Abbey history. He had a great sense of humor as well. He kindly laughed at my irreverent questions. For instance when he showed us the places where the Royals sit for services, I asked
“Does the queen carry a purse to a service?
“Of course” he said “her highness always carries a purse.”
“So maybe you can solve a mystery for me…what in the world does she carry in it?”
“Probably her tube pass.”
For further proof that these men with a very serious job are well rounded enough to have a very light sense of humor, go here
OK. Now for probably my personal most favorite thing we did in London. On Sunday morning we hopped the tube and found our way to St. John’s Wood. This is a bit out of central London. Beautiful homes with actual gardens.
One more thing everyone who goes to London ought to do just because…
Thanks for reading, tell a friend, and I really do love comments!
I have neglected my responsibility to show you some of the beauty and cool stuff about Bali. Sorry. We have been planning our next jaunt and it has consumed my time, imagination and dreams. But I must finish posting about Bali before I move on, so here goes.
Well folks, that is it for our trip to Bali. Overall we enjoyed it, but like I said in the previous post, it is not worth the effort or cost to get there. (It took us 26 hours to get home,from the hotel lobby to our living room and cost way too much money). Bali never considered sustainable tourism in their plans, and it is too late now.
Thanks for reading. Tell a friend. Make a comment. Share with your FB people. Please.
If Bali is on your bucket list, scratch it off. I’ll save you the long plane ride and the money to get there by telling you that the romantic, idyllic paradise you have in your mind about Bali has been buried under tourists, traffic and trash.
Our introduction to Bali might have jaded us. I know it jaded my wife.
The line at immigration was not long, but the clerks were very slow. Directly in front of us were two grungy euro looking trekkers with dreads. I fully expected them to get seriously scrutinized and delay our entry even longer, but they sailed through like dignitaries to the upcoming ASEAN conference.
Then it was Mary Ann’s turn. Well dressed, polite, and the most honest looking face on either side of the coconut, I expected her to just pass through like a wind across the plains. However, the immigration man started seriously looking at her passport, page after page after page. We have residency permits from the UAE and Panama in our passports, along with stamps and visas from more countries than I can count.
The immigration clerk took her passport and handed it to a supervisor. He took his time scrutinizing it. Then he called over a guard, and they whisked my wife off behind a grey metal windowless and closed door.
I figured I was heading for the same fate, I just had no idea why. Bali is part of Indonesia. Indonesia is a Muslim country, so I doubted the UAE residency permit was the problem. Neither of us has been to Israel, so what could it be? The first thing I did of course was politely demand to know where they had taken my wife.
“To office” was all the clerk said.
“Why” was my logical response.
“No full page” he answered.
“May I go back there and see her?” I asked, fully expecting a negative response.
He finished putting my visa in my passport and just waved me away. So I walked over to the door they had taken her through not knowing if it was going to be full of hungry tigers, hot oils, dragons or what. I found her sitting on an industrial couch which was indented with the impressions of too many posteriors that had sat there for too long. I asked her what they told her. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say “hell if I know”. I told her what the clerk had told me “no full page”.
The look of recognition crossed her face like a sunrise on the beach. “I told you I should have gone to the consulate and gotten the extra pages put in. But I have two blank pages. What is wrong?”
Then they called her into the inner sanctum, just her. 15 minutes passed while I watched a 15 year old tourism highlight video. I began to think this was all I was ever going to see of Bali. It wasn’t even in English.
She came out alone with a look of bewilderment and the attitude you see before surrender. She explained to me that the last two pages of the passport are for “Amendments and Endorsements” and that they could not put the Visa sticker on one of these pages, and all the other pages were full. Well, this is one of those problems that you feel lucky to have, but stupid to have to suffer through. A full passport is a beautiful thing, unless you are using it. I asked her what we could do, and she said we could “get on a flight to somewhere else Anywhere else.” She was saying just loud enough that the officials in the back bowels of the immigration bureaucracy enclave could hear it. These guys were all dressed like traffic cops, cheap white uniforms with tin badges. I expected to see a whistle. One of them came out to ask her to go to yet another cage full of dragons. He did not close the door behind them this time. I could hear Mary Ann saying “OK, OK, we’ll just leave.” I had no idea where we would go. Thailand was underwater, we’ve done Hong Kong. Australia is too damn far. Besides all that, if there is no space in her passport, we’d probably end up in another colorless office with even less colorful mignons.
Then she walked out of the office and told me to follow her. She said something I never thought I would hear my Jesuit schooled wife say. “We are going to have to bribe the guy.”
So I went into this little office. The calendar on the wall was from the wrong month, and two years old. That calendar was probably the most modern thing in the office. If I remember correctly the phone on the desk actually had a dial on it. I was welcomed in like a sheep to slaughter. Little did he know that I was not exactly new to this. I lived in Latin America for too many years and dealt with too many petty men in uniforms of too many corrupt governments to let him bother me. This had never happened to me in Asia, but I knew it was just human nature.
He started off by asking what I did for a living. I could have told him I was a writer for Conde’ Nast and that this story was going to go a long way to stopping the almighty tourist dollar. My mind which has read a thousand spy/adventure novels was telling me to say “Yeah, buddy, I’m a major in the USAF and if you don’t quit messing with my wife I’ll call in an airstrike on your grandfather’s fishing boat.”
But I realized that he was in the right. He was being an asshole about it, BUT, Mary Ann DID have a full passport.
So it came to the transaction.
“What is your policy?” I asked.
He was at least honest enough to say, “This is only my policy, not the government’s.”
OK, OK, the negotiation was on. This was his way of increasing his take home pay. In these situations, the objective is for neither party to lose face. I waited for him to make the first offer. When he did, I turned to Mary Ann and said simply, “Shall we go to Chiang Mai?”
He showed a bit of vulnerability. I could tell he was counting on this American cash cow to make his day. I could have gotten rougher with him than I did, but he DID have us over a barrel.
I then offered him ½ what he asked for. This was no different than buying a knock-off watch from a street vendor. He came back with half between that and his asking price. Knowing that all I had in my pocket was half that again, I agreed. He was a very happy little crook, until I emptied my pockets and said “oops, that is all I have.” The top bill was a US$100 bill, which works like gold nuggets in the modern world.
Then this slimeball opened up Mary Ann’s passport and found a very suitable little place for the visa, quite easily. The bastard.
So now we were off to our pre-booked and pre-paid 5 star beach resort. (By the way, we would have lost that payment if we had not paid off the immigration man and he knew it.) We had to wait in a log line with dozens of other tourists to get an authorized taxi. I had to ignore, ignore, and ignore again a gypsy cab driver. We finally got to the front of the line after being pushed back in line by a group of Russians and bought our trip. Bali, being just one of the thousand islands that make up Indonesia, uses the Indonesian Rupea, which is one of those mostly worthless currencies. At the time of our trip it was about 8600 to $1. So the cab ride was like a 1,000,000, or something with a lot of zeroes.
After 36 hours in Singapore, the first thing I noticed was the litter. As we drove out of the airport the next thing I noticed was the traffic. We were back in the land of motor scooters, but even that concession to the congestion did nothing to ease the pain. Nothing moved. It took us an hour to go the short distance to our resort.
The narrow streets were not ready for the current population or tourism, and they are still building resorts. Apparently there is nowhere to take the refuse other than the swamps along the road. This is Bali? This is the Bali of my paradise fantasies? It was my wife’s vacation so I stayed quiet. But I could see her, still affected by the rude official introduction to the country, having the same reaction I was. THIS is Bali?
When we finally arrived at this 5 star joint we looked around for the normal reception party we have come to expect…a cool cloth to wipe off the tropical sweat and a cool drink to make you forget that you just spent 5 times as long in a cab as you should have, We barely got a hello, and our room was not ready. (It was already 2 p.m.)
This was just day one. My next post will be a bit more positive and show you some of the natural beauty of this island. Please excuse this rough introduction. Thanks for reading, tell a friend, ESPECIALLY someone who wants to go to Bali.
Occupy Business Class!
After more hours than I care to count sitting in the cookie cutter seats in economy class, I was pleasantly surprised today when Qatar airlines upgraded my wife and me to Business Class. I have not flown Business Class since I stopped working and an employer was buying my ticket. I had forgotten how much better it is to spend 7 hours in a fully reclining seat with incredibly good food and service beyond the pale.
The seat not only spread out to a flat bed, it vibrated.
The flight from Doha to Singapore was absolutely full. Today was the start of the second Eid of the year. Eid
is a week long holiday where the faithful head for the Haj in Mecca or Medina. Many choose to go the other way, to, well, go the other way. Because I am now a gold tier member of the Qatar FF society, we were upgraded without asking.
It almost made me feel like I was in the 1%! Nahh, they have their own jets!
So we are now in Singapore for a 36 hour layover on our way to Bali.
Singapore is a very pretty town. It is the cleanest big city I have ever seen. We stayed at the Traders Hotel which is part of the Shangri-la family. It richly deserves it 4 stars.
Singapore is unlike other Asian cities we have visited this year. The first thing I noticed was an almost complete lack of motorcycles. I would therefore expect terrible traffic. However, Singapore has a very effective and inexpensive mass transit system. The busses are full as are I imagine the subway system cars. Singapore has a very elitist way of limiting automobile traffic. In order to purchase a car you must buy a permit from the government for about US$70,000. Just for the permit to own a car. On top of that they have about a %100 import tax on automobiles. So yeah, people take the bus.
Maybe the best way to see this city as a tourist is to use one of the many hop on / hop off double decker busses. As like anywhere else, they have no driver on the top. They follow a must see route and come around every half hour or so, so it is easy to get to the museums and such, then keep going later in the day.
The city is a fine city. Litter? $1000 fine. Spit? $1000 fine. Possession of narcotics? Death. Fart in church? I did not ask. But it is consequently a very clean city. It is really a city state. Singapore is in the country of Singapore, which is the city of Singapore. It is quite expensive, with apartments beyond the cost of anyone not making a lot of money. 70% of the people live in government subsidized high rises. Even these look quite livable, these are not like “the projects”.
Singapore is of course the home of the Singapore Sling. This might be there real reason we stayed here for 36 hours.
Now we were off to Bali. We almost did not get into Bali, because Mary Ann was denied entry! You’ll have to read the next post to find out why.
Thanks for reading. Please share.
I attended OWS again on Oct 22. The occupation is now in it’s sixth week. It has spawned countless other occupations in the country and worldwide. It has survived a serious attempt by Mayor Bloomie to evict the occupiers, and after that they have truly set up camp. The numbers of the true occupiers, those who brave the fall NY cold has grown as well. When the occupation started, they were not allowed to pitch tents. Then the medical team setup a tent. The city tried to make them take it down, but lost to the occupiers in that effort as well.
After that, people set up tents and the little city bloomed.
As far as people spouting political stuff, there seems to be a contingent of Ron Paul supporters desperately looking for some sort of support. “End the Fed” is their theme. They are loud, they do not get stacked at a GA, so they are mostly an annoyance, no one gives them much attention.
There was a story in USA today about a 25 year old woman who graduated with $50,000 in student loans. She accepted this was her “fault”. She had gone to Penn State instead of staying home in Maryland to go to school. She had a low paying job, without any health benefits, and was making payments on her loan, being responsible. Then she got mugged. Her medical bills were $30,000. Now she is without a job (she got fired for missing a couple of weeks recovering) and $80k in debt. So she came to join OWS.
I was there on a Saturday. Even though technically I too was a tourist, the numbers of tourists sort of made the place seem like the Disneyland of the Revolution. There were Japanese tourists running around with their cameras pointing at people and laughing while they snapped away.
All this extra-curricular activity truly crowded little Liberty Park and made it very difficult to have meaningful discussions. So I just watched and took my own photos.
The signs people are making remain both to the point, and usually quite creative.
Of course the NYPD presence is incredible. They stay outside the park. It is almost like they have the occupiers in a corral. If they decide to make a march on something, they do not ask permission, but they do say “We are marching on blah de blah at 1 p.m. The police all seem to be in a good mood. They too are just “watching the freaks”.
I do not know, in fact I doubt, I will be back at the epicenter again. I have made my small monetary contribution. Monetary contributions now have passed a half million dollars. Add that to the tons of supplies and enough food to feed a division, and this movement has some serious footing.
Thanks for reading. Pass along this new reality to your friends. America is OCCUPIED!
Zuccotti Park, in lower Manhattan is less than what you would call a square block. But the vibes it gives off are huge.
I am staying at my sis-in-law’s pad in Harlem, If you know NYC, it is 147th and Broadway.
The easiest, cheapest and quickest way to get anywhere in NYC is the subway. I took the storied “A Train” to lower Manhattan and switched trains to a Wall Street stop. I was actually wondering how I was going to find the park. I thought I would have to ask a cop “Which way to the revolution?”
I got off the train, walked up the stairs to the street and was immediately drawn by an energy force. Honestly. I did not even have to look. I just walked two blocks and there it was. The epicenter of a new America. All the reading and watching videos did nothing to prepare me for the next 8 hours of my life. An old saying is you cannot write what you do not know about. I can update that and say you cannot understand a movement, a community or a people until you personally experience it with your eyes and your feet.
Now, I must write about it. The energy force has occupied every pore of my body. I am determined to try to spread the word. So friends, please keep reading and try to excuse the hyperbole I will definitely use. If you had been there, no matter your political persuasion, your age, your race, creed or planet of origin, you would get hyperbolic as well.
I do not even know where to start. Let’s cover that age, creed, race and planet thing first. I would hazard to guess that average age was 30 to 35. 80% white folk including people in Yarmulkes. There were lots of Latinos and blacks and a handful of Asians. Next time someone tells you this is just a bunch of young white hippies skipping class, they are either lying or ignorant. As far as extraterrestrials go, yeah I figure a few of the people I saw did not exactly get there on the subway.
Political persuasion? Well, I approached dozens of people and asked questions like “on a sliding scale 1 to 10, with Adam Smith at 1 and Karl Marx at 10, where do you put yourself?” The average answer was 7, I say average. There were a couple proud 10’s and quite a few 3’s or 4’s.
I asked if they were going to vote in 2012. Most of the people were hesitant to say yes. Many said that they were so disappointed in Obama that they wish they had another viable option. I must say, no one I met there is going to vote for any of the clowns the Republicans are pushing. But I think Obama is in trouble. As the realities expressed in the voices of this movement reach more people, they are going to just stay home in November 2012. There is nothing Obama can do about it either. He cannot reach this new community. He does not speak the language.
Wow, the language. First, I do not think I heard the F word used in anger once in 8 hours. I did hear people say “I hope this makes American wake the f up”. But out of the hundred or so possible uses of the F word, not a single “F’n wall street” or “F’n government” and certainly not a single “F you”. The overall civility of this community is not only impressive, it is inspiring.
Much more to come on the language. I will incorporate the language into my snapshot views of events of the day. It might sound like I have stopped speaking English.
I went to two GAs. I did not get stacked. I participated in the mic checks. OK, in English.
A GA is a General Assembly, but no one calls them that. These were both special GAs to deal with an impending invasion of the park by Mayor Bloomberg’s forces at 7 a.m. the next day. This is a really big deal. By the time you read this the community may be gone. Here is the situation, and believe me this was the topic everyone was discussing. Some background. Zuccotti Park is a privately owned piece of land. It is open to the public to enjoy and eat their lunch. It is a hangout for wall street brown baggers, you know, the little people without expense accounts. The company that owns it wants the stinking hippies gone. On the board of directors of the company sits Bloomies girlfriend. So, he is taking the boys in blue, making them wear brown shirts on Friday morning and invading the park. We shall see what happens.
Getting stacked means being put in the queue to speak at the GA. The facilitator stacks you, and you will get your turn.
When your turn comes, you yell out MIC CHECK. Then everyone around you yells MIC CHECK. Then everyone further out in the crowd yells MIC CHECK. Then you say GOOD AFTERNOON. Then everyone around you yells out GOOD AFTERNOON. Then everyone further out in the crowd yells GOOD AFTERNOON. Then you say WHAT I NEED TO SAY IS. Then everyone around you yells WHAT I NEED TO SAY IS. Then everyone further out in the crowd yells WHAT I NEED TO SAY IS. Basically you speak in short phrases, and a thousand people repeat what you just said very loudly. A woman said I LOVE YOU, and a thousand people yelled out I LOVE YOU. She just needed to hear it!
There is a form of communication which I think is based on American Sign Language, but I’m not sure. If someone is speaking, you do not clap or yell “right on” or boo or anything, because you are too busy participating in the MIC CHECKS. So if you like something you raise a hand and wiggle your fingers. If you like it a lot you raise both hands. If you don’t like it, you point your fingers downward. The MIC CHECKS are made necessary because the cops outlawed bullhorns, or any form of amplification, probably because of all the businesses surrounding the park. So…they have to put up with a couple thousand people screaming everything. HA HA
I had lunch with a guy my age who is in charge of sorting and delivering contributions that are coming in literally by the ton. People across the country are sending stuff to a UPS office a block from the park. The manager of the office supports OWS, but all of a sudden his facility is chock full. The local teachers union had some basement space warehouse nearby, and now it is getting full also. People are sending in everything a community needs from drinking water to blankets to Imodium by the case. The biggest problem they have is money orders. They are at a loss as to what to do with over $100k seems how anything they could buy is being donated anyway.
All these facts and figures and short stories do nothing to convey the sense of “WE THE PEOPLE”, the feeling of ‘THIS IS THE BEGINNING” and the awe at the fact that what started as a small group is now a nationwide happening, and still growing.
And to sum it all up, the beautiful thing is nobody is making demands, there are no leaders. To the establishment OWS is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. To the people in the country, they are hearing the basic fact that it is time to WAKE THE FUCK UP BECAUSE WHAT WE GOT IS NOT WORKING ANY MORE!
I honestly can say I watched history being made.
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Our last tour day in VN was reserved for a trip down the infamous Mekong River. Mary Ann and I had flown over the headwaters of the Mekong located high in the Himalaya mountains while we were in Nepal. We had floated on the Mekong when we visited the Golden Triangle area of Thailand. Both of those wonderful trips are archived in this blog.
I could not help but think that we were probably on the same molecules of water we saw leave the Himalaya. The length of the river is over 3000 miles, and it changes names according to the local dialect, but is always the Mekong to me.
We set out from Saigon (HCMC) early in the morning. We were in Vietnam at the start of the monsoon season. but so far we had not been monsooned. We had a lot of grey skies, but hardly any rain.
I still have some pictures to show you and a few observations about VN to share, so there will be a final VN post, soon.
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There is a religion in Vietnam called Cao Dai. The full name is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (Great Religion [of The] Third Period [of] Revelation [and] Salvation). That might be the least complicated thing I know about it. The religion has approximately 30 million followers in Vietnam. They believe that before god existed, there was the Tao. Then a big bang occured from which God was created. In order for God to create the heavans and the earth he first had to create the Yin and the Yang. All things followed that.
The Cao Dai people believe that there are 36 levels of heaven and that there 72 planets with intelligent life. Planet number 1 is the closest to heaven, and planet 72 the furthest away. Earth is planet number 68. The Cao Dai folk believe that the lowliest person on planet 67 would not choose to be a king on planet 68, and so forth up the chain.
Our guide was a Cao Dai guy and I think he was perplexed that I was perplexed as he tried to explain it all to me. He quickly gave up and just showed us the really cool temple. So I will stop now, and just show you some pictures.
Well, that will do it for Cao Dai. I liked everything I learned about the religion, and I sure would like to see plant 67 and up someday. I wonder if I have the frequent flyer miles for that!
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I read a book about these tunnels many years ago, and I ripped off the title. It was written by Tom Mangold and you can buy it at Amazon. So there, I really did not rip it off.
Now I am going to rip off Wikipedia. I really did know all this stuff myself but I tend to get long winded. WP stuff will be in bold,ok?
The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.
American soldiers used the term “Black echo” to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Most of the time, guerrillas would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds. A captured Viet Cong report suggests that at any given time half of a PLAF unit had malaria and that “one-hundred percent had intestinal parasites of significance”.
Today the tunnels are a major tourist attraction. being about 90 minutes north of Saigon, oops HCMC, they are besieged by tourists from everywhere mostly arriving in hordes on buses. We were lucky enough to be by ourselves and arrived before two buses of Japanese.
The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. Some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists, while low-power lights have been installed in several of them to make traveling through them easier and booby traps have been clearly marked. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tết Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten.
Above-ground attractions include caged monkeys, vendors selling souvenirs, and a shooting range where visitors can fire a number of assault rifles, such as the M16 rifle or AK-47, as well as a light machine gun like the M60.
We did all the above except I never saw a caged monkey.
Oh yes, I did not forget to go to the firing range! Committed pacfist that I am, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to fire an M16 and an AK47. Call it experiencing history.
In all it’s touristy glory, the tunnels are a must see if you are in Vietnam and have any interest in contemporary history.
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My next post will be titled “Where Victor Hugo is a Saint.” And yes, it is also from VN.