Sunday, June 29, 2014

Arid Desolation

Kingman, AZ is not much, although it still stands tall and proud in its Route 66 heritage. Today, it is however, a crossroads for car trekkers heading to the Grand Canyon, to Death Valley, or Las Vegas. We would be one of those trekkers heading through Las Vegas en route to Hawthorne, NV.

Lunch would be in Tonopah, NV, a town with a rich history in silver mining but now currently used for nuclear weapons stockpile reliability testing, research and development of fusing and firing systems, and testing nuclear weapon delivery systems. Chatting with our server at lunch, who has lived in Tonopah for 4 years, she travels 3 hours to Las Vegas once a month to shop at Wal-Mart. No local options for her. So, she takes her young daughter, overnights in Vegas, takes her swimming at a hotel, and stocks up for the month.

Kirk off-loaded me and my bike in Tonopah after lunch; he read at the local Burger King and visited the Tonopah Museum while I busted it 47 miles West on US 95. It was a glorious ride descending about 1,500' from the Tonopah summit of about 6,000'. Road was good, often not much shoulder, and what traffic there was flew at or above the posted 75 mph speed limit. 

I laughed out loud riding through this arid desolation (8% humidity, 95 degree heat) with not the first hint of any living fauna for my 47 miles. After I reloaded in the car we passed through two ghost towns, Mina and Luning. I don't know, maybe they weren't true ghost towns since they are reported to have 50 and 150 people respectively depending upon your source. I laughed because a friend who came to ride with me in southern AZ was quite concerned about the desolation between Sonoita and Mustang Corners. Had to wonder what she would have thought about this stretch of aridity.

Overnighting in Hawthorne tonight, home to 2,700 Naval Ammunitions Depot Bunkers. Erie landscape, all these underground bunkers with only a little roof mound.

Pix will have to follow.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On The Road Again!

June 26, 2011 Kirk and I left Chicago, home for 42 years, to begin our 99 Day Trek To Tucson (which actually ended up being 108 days) and 12,400 miles. Clearly we did not take the most direct route. We mused, wondered, and fantasized what Tucson and retirement would really look like.

I can tell you, in real life it is even better than any of our musings, wonderings, and fantasies. 

June 27, 2014, immediately after Kirk was installed as President of his Rotary Club, we left Tucson for a 27 day, 5,500 mile trek, this time see some National Parks and give me a chance to ride my bike in 5 of my remaining 6 states fulfilling a goal of mine to ride in all 50 states.

I have no lofty goal of riding all the way across these states; I'll be happy to ride 40 or so miles in each. Kirk has brought his bike along for the ride, too. So some days he'll ride ahead, park the car, and ride back to meet me and we'll ride to our waiting car, which BTW, is a new Subaru Outback. 

I rode today about 6:00 a.m. in Tucson, celebrated with Kirk at his installation as President of his Rotary Club, and then off we drove, 320 miles to Kingman, AZ. We continue to marvel at the awesome wonder of Arizona. Tourists don't flock to Illinois to see black dirt and fields of corn and soy beans. 

My friend, Barb's comment was right on the dime: that Kirk and I have this motel trekking down to a science. It takes us but minutes to unload just the right number of food bags from the car, along with just the needed overnight clothes, books, and computers. Of course the bikes come in, too,  for safe-keeping. We learned 3 years ago that not all motels have adequate wattage in their reading lamps; so we carry our own light bulbs, just in case. I travel with my AeroPress and "frother" to make my own tasty cappuccinos, Kirk brings his travel Keurig replete with a variety pack of K-cups.

Heading to Hawthorne, NV tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Australia: Factoids and Impressions

Square mileage-wise, the US and Australia are comparable, but population-wise quite disparate: US about 312 million; Australia 23 million.

Nearly 40% of Australia’s population is fairly evenly distributed in Melbourne and Sydney 

About 5% of the US population is identified as Asian compared to 12% of the AU population

Indigenous people (Aborigines and Native Americans) currently represent about 2-3%  of each country’s total population.

Both countries developed their white growth through emigration/immigration as a result of disenfranchisement in their country of origin at about the same time in history, roughly the late 1700's to mid-late1800’s.

The dominant culture in both countries have willfully practiced racism almost to the point of extinction in terms of each country’s indigenous peoples. Those who call Australia and the US home have painfully experienced the devaluing of their culture and heritage. Thankfully the voices of the African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans peoples are gaining strength and their cultural contributions are being recognized and more oft valued than in our early years as a nation. 


We stayed in a time-sharey kind of place in Melbourne in the Central Business District (CBD) which would have been like, location-wise, staying at the Palmer House in Chicago.  We had unbelievably easy access to EVERYTHING our hearts desired. Free trolleys squealing around the equivalent of Chicago's Loop, in addition to trolleys that had a farther reach for a fee. There were busses, subways, suburban commuter trains, cabs, and infinite number of bike commuters EVERYWHERE wearing business suits, urban commuter clothes, and spandex, all outfitted with water-proof panniers or backpacks. 

American obesity has not taken the country by storm, although I heard somewhere that our bad habits are gaining a belly-hold. 

Back to accommodations.

Time shares typically don't have room service but once, mid-week. That's usually more than fine. If you need more toiletries or towels, no problem, just ask, and voila, they're happy to accommodate. Not so at our Melbourne place. We needed more towels which they would be happy to give us, but for an added charge of $10.00. Wasn't going to happen, no way.

Prices down under are absolutely out of reach. Convenient store pricing is more like ball park or stadium or movie theater pricing. A small bottle of filtered still water will be $3-4. They LOVE their coffee and Starbucks is, without a doubt, the lowest on the totem pole of choices, hardly even considered coffee. Whole new language for how to order your bev of choice, flat soy, flat black, long. Not sure what all of that means yet. A young man from Perth said a regular cup of coffee in his home town is typically $7 or $8 dollars. Lots of rich miners there. 

Sydney is a different story altogether. Staying in a Hilton here, also pretty much in the CBD, and a spit away from the train system, which is European, modern, sleek, clean, with digital signage everywhere. Puts Chicago to shame. Rotary will pick up the tab for our Sydney room and all of our transportation for the duration of the conference, along with the $29.00/day internet charge to access their wifi from our room. There is free wifi in the lobby, but that's not where I want to cozy up to do my internet when our room is on the 22nd floor and the glitz of the first 5 floors is that of the Palmer House or other more modern equivalents. 

Our Sydney room is less than half the sq footage of our Melbourne place, no microwave, no burners. These rooms are equipped with the "modern" minibar technology whereby if you lift any of the mini bars items from where they sit your bill will be automatically charged. No matter that you drank their Red Bull and replaced it with one that you bought at the convenient store. Red Bull from the in-room minibar costs $9.50. 

Most grateful for my AeroPress coffee maker. Otherwise would have gone broke.

Sorry to go on and on about food stuffs, but with prices being what they are and allergies being what they are, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the first of which is Food, takes on a preoccupation. 

Oh, and at the Sydney Hilton the only way to get ice you have to call the front desk and they bring you a big bucket the likes of which you can chill a couple of bottles of wine in. All I want is enough cubes to chill a Red Bull and put in my NutriBullet, now called a George Foreman.

Here's how that story goes. I finally understand and appreciate the difference between an adapter and a converter. I had brought my bag of international adapters that I got when I went to Vietnam and used to charge my iPhone and iPad. Used my adapter to turn on my Nutribullet in Melbourne and there was lots of arcing, smoke, and god-awful noise. The Nutribullet is dead. Now how am I going to make smoothies which was to be the mainstay of my second meal each day? Kirk bought me a George Foreman that is similar to the Nutribullet, but an inferior, distant cousin. Certainly grateful for it though in these down under circumstances. 

Australia has been all about 1 to 6 degrees of separation, a trend that started our first full day in Melbourne. 

Kirk had spent a few days in Columbus, GA less than a week before we came down under. The primary reason for his visit to Columbus was for his 50th HS reunion. Of course, while there he visited his mom and went to her Rotary Club where he met Mike who would also be attending the Rotary International Convention. Mike and his wife would be spending a few days in Melbourne before making their way to Sydney. So, we made arrangements to have dinner with them our first night in Melbourne at an Indian restaurant, their first ever taste of Indian food. So much for the cosmopolitan influence in Columbus. Of course the first things you say in those situations is where did you grow up, etc.

Well, Mike's wife, Susan, grew up in Columbus, GA and graduated from Kirk's HS one year behind him. Mike grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from North Central HS one year behind me and we lived only a couple of miles apart from one another! Now what are the chances of that??

The next day Kirk rented a bike in Melbourne and our plan was to circumnavigate the city of Melbourne via their multi-use path. We stopped at a Children's Farm on the Path to use the restroom and Kirk fell into a long chat with a couple of women who had similarly paused. He told them we were in AU for the Rotary International Convention and they said, "Oh, a good friend of ours will be attending also." Kirk gave them his card. The end.

First day of the Convention, 18,000 attendees. We're standing in line at the coffee kiosk and a woman looks at Kirk's name badge and remarks with glee that she has his Business card, a friend had given it to her. Yep, it was the friend we met at the Children's Farm. The Rotarian called her friend in Melbourne and Kirk was able to tell her that the circle of connection had been completed! Now what are the chances of that??

Leaving the Olympic Park, the same day as coffee kiosk encounter, we're standing on the platform for the commuter train to take us back into Sydney proper and who do we end up standing next to: the Columbus, GA couple! Now what are the chances of that out of 18,000 people all leaving the venue at the same time??

A couple of days later I'm going down to Olympic Park several hours after Kirk went down, so riding the train alone. A couple sits down next to me and we fall to talking. They're from Olympia, WA where Bryan and Daniel both graduated from The Evergreen State College. So, chat, chat about that which trends into what kind of work everyone is in. Turns out both of them are in education, she a former principal, he continues as a school  superintendent. By any chance did he know Terry Bouck? They both did; they knew him well! Now Terry is Bryan's wife's Dad who was a school superintendent in the Tacoma area. Now what are the chances of that??

A couple of days later I'm attending a breakout group and a woman I've never seen before comes up to me and introduces herself to me because I have on my El Tour jersey, since I was working the El Tour booth that day. Turns out she is the incoming President of a Rotary Club in Tucson and lives 1/2 mile from us on the Rillito Path. She will be the President of the Club where Randy Brooks is a member. I hired Randy as a counselor when I worked for Parkside Medical Services in Park Ridge, IL back in the early-mid 80's. He only worked for me for about 9 months before returning to Tucson. Randy's and my path had already crossed through Rotary since I've been in Tucson, but now here is this woman....Now what are the chances of that??

Today this guy from Northbrook where we lived for 12 years tracked down Kirk at the recommendation of a member from our Wilmette church. He and his wife and we attended a delightful musical event together. While waiting for the concert to begin she and I are chatting and she mentions she attended undergraduate at a very little school in Central IL, Blackburn College. That's where my parents met back in the mid-30's. This woman is on the Blackburn Board of Trustees and so plans to do a bit of archival work to see what she can learn about Dwain Walcher and Emily Jones, my parents. Now what are the chances of that??

I don't know what to make of all these 1-6 degrees of separation. Is it a Rotary thing? Is the world really just that small? Or?

Sidney felt like NYC in terms of HEAVY ped traffic, amazing car traffic, no bike lanes at all, at least where we were, and then, of course, they ride on the wrong side of the road, at least to us they do. 

I did venture forth on the roads in Sydney for about 2k in a protected bike lane to Circular Quay where I caught a ferry over to Manly Island, about 30 min by ferry. Reminded my of Washington Island, a ferry ride north of Door County in WI. Did ride around there for about 15k and then ferried back to Sydney. By then it was rush hour, couldn't find the protected bike lane street so walked back to the hotel. Not a problem to walk, just an absence of riding.

Kirk and I were going to spend a day on Manly, he renting a bike. But, winter hit Sydney which means that it rained all day. So, no biking, lots of walking, and touring. Sidney is a wonderful city, but we were much more fond of Melbourne in terms of being bike friendly and just plain accessible in all regards.

I don't know what one does if he/she is physically disabled in either Melbourne or Sydney. So NOT handycapped accessible. Lots of steep steps to get from one street to another or one layer of train station to the next. Few lifts anywhere in sight. I had to carry NWT'n up and down more and more steps on my Manly excursion. Sounds like it should be easy, but he's just not light and nimble.

Nice coffee cruise this a.m. Visited with a 30 something who had come with 3 of her colleagues from Brisbane to Sidney for the day having won some kind of an award at work. Saw several suburbs along the harbor front where the houses ranged from $8-55million including Nicole Kidman's house that sold for $15mil and Russel Crowe's.

Arrival of produce at the restaurant next to our Barely Adequate Southern Hotel


Of joy, pleasure, humor, words, playfulness, or maybe just plain sanctity, you decide.

Upon our Sydney arrival a week ago we boarded one of their suburban trains to the train station in their CBD (Central Business District) and then walked the final block-ish to the Hilton dragging over a hundred pounds of suitcases and backpacks. Of course, one of those 50 pound suitcases carried NWT'n. 

Needless to say, we didn't "blend" as other guests arrived by taxi with porters ferrying their bags from taxi to check-in and ferrying further to their room some 25+ stories upward. Our view from our Hilton window was that of a construction crane, actually the control cabin of the crane some 22 stories up. The crane reminded us of our obstructed view through the port hole of many cruise ship cabins. 

The Hilton scored a 10 on glitz and about a 3 on functionality when it came to in-room cooking accommodations.

After the Rotary Conference crescendoed to a breathtaking finale with Australia's own Ten Tenors singing Turandot's Nessun Dorma, we checked out of the Hilton, at its nearly $300/night on the Rotary tab, pulling our 3 suitcases, wearing our backpacks and I my helmet on my head. I was pushing NWT'n and pulling Kirk's small overnight bag while he pulled my LARGE PAC duffle bag and NWT'n's personal suitcase now filled with rank, well-worn laundry. 

It was steady raining as we negotiated erect umbrellas through the glitz of noon-hour rush in the surround of the Hilton and moved to our new hotel at half the nightly rate, The Great Southern Hotel. We re-dubbed it the Barely Adequate Southern Hotel, or BA for short. 
Great Southern Hotel

Sydney Bridge

About a kilometer down the road the Hilton glitz was replaced, the closer we got to BA, with pawn shops, Adult X shops, The Pleasure Chest, LentMoney, and too-many-to-count Thai Massage Spas. I'm assuming they were sex spas since they were all upstairs via a staircase off the Main Street advertised by a well-worn, young, thin, Asian barely-a-woman holding a cardboard sign with the words Thai Massage $39 or whatever the price. Starbucks was a couple of blocks away with 30 min of free wifi per purchased drink. That beat the $20/20 minutes or $22 for 24 hrs at the BA.

The upside to the BA was its amazing closeness to the train station that would get us ANYWHERE we wanted to go and a Vietnamese restaurant next to The Pleasure Chest that served Pho, Vietnamese noodle rice noodle soup, (pronounced phuh). The proper spelling of Pho has a squiggly accent atop the O that makes the pronunciation phuh. Without the squiggle it would be pronounced as you would think, with a long O. But, I'm squiggle-less on my English keyboard. 

Onward with more sanctity of life's fabric.

Yea for the Aussie's absence of pennies. They simply round up or down to the nearest 5 cents. 

Yea for the Aussies who print Look Left or Look Right at the curbs especially since there is not even a 3 inch gap between the curb and passing big-wheeled traffic. 

Yea for the Aussies who have a flush option on all their toilets for liquid or solid. Far too many of American public toilets are equipped with auto flush that either don't function and you have to search for a nigh invisible button the size of a number two pencil eraser to override the non-functioning auto flush, or it they over function acting more like a bidet. 

Yea for the Aussies who oft have such a gracious way of communicating their expectations for public behavior like mind the gap; dispose of your rubbish thoughtfully; or allow us to seat you. 

But the billboard that read: "Trouble Falling Pregnant?" took a bit of work. I thought it might be quite scary for a young child who might interpret that if she fell, she might get pregnant. But in actuality I think it really was trying to communicate to those who wanted to get pregnant but were having trouble doing so. Falling would certainly never be the word Americans would use for such an event.

Another Continent!

Along the Multi-Use Path in Melbourne

Australia has always been on the “we hope we can figure out how to get there some day” travel bucket list. We certainly had no idea Kirk’s Rotary Club in Tucson would ask him to be its President in 2014-2015 and that one of the perks of the Presidency is an all-expense paid trip for the incoming President and spouse. Wow! Two continents in less than 6 months.

And so we said farewell to our kitty, Marlie, on Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Melbourne, by way of Sidney, Friday mid-day. It’s hard to know what time it is when we crossed the dateline and 17 time zones; found ourselves at the beginning of Winter in June; that peds, cyclists, and motorized vehicles all prefer navigating via the left side of the road; that a plain cup of coffee can cost $4.00 while a cappuccino or such could cost $7-8. YIKES.

Trying to keep my anti-epileptic medications on an every 12 hr cycle, which has worked well being at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for the last 9 months or so now seems to be confounded. Just what time would that be in Australia?? Hard to know.

Bikes, peds, and motorists in Melbourne share the roads, sidewalks, parks with gracious respect. I, however, just couldn't get the hang of having to cross multiple lanes of traffic to make a Right Hand turn. Scary. Stuck to the Multi-use paths. 

We found WiFi abundantly available in Nam; many villages didn’t have indoor plumbing, families were accustomed to sleeping in hammocks or on the floor, and “chairs” often were 50 pound bags of rice, but somehow virtually EVERYONE had a cell phone and a satellite dish on their roof. 

Given our experience of ubiquitous connectivity in Nam, I fully expected connectivity Down Under to trump that of Nam. Nope, not so. Oh, connectivity was available, but at a steep price, like $29/day in our hotel, or 30 minutes free from the hotel bar (with a drink, of course) or Starbucks (with a drink, of course, and a wifi code good only for 30 minutes). Or we could walk 3 blocks to McDonalds and have unlimited wifi use.  Hmmm

We decided to spend a week in Melbourne (pronounced Melbun. By American English standards, Aussies don't do "r's" very well) before Kirk’s Rotary Conference in Sydney which would be hosted on the grounds of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Visited many museums, walking tours all of which helped up appreciate the culture and history of the Country. In many ways they are ahead of the US when it comes to honoring their indigenous peoples and consciously working toward reconciliation. 

There were maybe 40 such "If I were white statements at the Reconciliation Museum. Just a sampling here.
 Kirk rented a bike in Melbourne and we had a couple of simply delightful rides along the coast of Port Phillip or the equivalent of Tucson's Loop Path around the city of Melbourne. 

 Below is a close up of the padlocks lovers affix to the bridge cables. Kinda of clever idea. We didn't add our lock of art and love to the mix.

Life Saving Clubs were everywhere, of course so is water. Had no idea what one was. Turns out instead of the city or park district hiring life guards, theirs are all volunteers, kind of a social thing. 
 After you work your hours, then you go to the pub together and enjoy each others company.
Hmmm, interesting choice of words. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Crepuscular Dawn

April, 2001, after 11 years of living with acute and chronic back pain and on the cusp of disability because of unrelenting back disease, I asked Deb, my physical therapist, when she thought I might be able to do something physical again.

Her response was classic: "Well, Susan, what did you have in mind? Let me remind you that your current rehab goal is to be able to roll over in bed." 

"I know", I said, "but I think I might be able to ride a recumbent bike." 

Now, I have no idea where I came up with that idea because I don't remember ever even seeing such a thing. 

But Deb was wise.  She didn't roll her eyes or laugh, or poo-poo my idea in any way. She simply said, "You get the bike and we'll figure out how to get you on it."

In less than a month I had bought my first recumbent (now on about my 5th), crashed it on my maiden ride resulting in a broken jaw, several broken teeth, broken wrist, and lots of lacerations, all without hitting anything or being hit by anything or anyone.

Thirteen years and 135,000 cycling miles later, April 1, 2014 age 68-1/2 after that inauspicious first ride, I found myself alongside Eagle Eye Road, a deserted desert road 5 miles south of Aguila, AZ about to begin my 2nd official attempt of completing 200 miles in 12 hours, a "bucket list" goal.

This 200/12 idea has been percolating since May 2011 when I completed 186 miles in 11:30 at Calvin's Challenge, a 12-hr Challenge ride in Springfield, OH. That had been my goal that day: a 300k (186 miles) in 12:00 or less. I stopped riding when I reached my goal. It was only later that that I began the mental calculations, both mathematical and logistical, of what it would take to successfully complete a 200/12. 

In the crepuscular scrim before sunrise, my husband Kirk, my friend Dan Fallon, and I busied ourselves with disgorging and gorging our respective vehicles of bikes and supplies. Kirk would deposit Dan's Subaru at the intersection of Eagle Eye and Salome and would then ride his own bike back to our vehicle left just under the Eagle's Eye. He would spend his day in Wickenburg while I hammered out solo miles and Dan served as my domestique. 

My first 50 miles were completed in 2.5 hrs, my second 50 in 3.0 hrs for an average elapsed speed of 18.18, two mph ahead of the minimum I would need to have a successful 200/12 completion.

All I had to do was ride and enjoy the faces and memories of so many who have been a part of my being able to be on this road on this day: Kirk who has supported my spirit and passion through it all for nearly 45 years of marriage; family who have encouraged me even if they aren't riders themselves; bent riders and upright riders who have pushed and pulled me through the miles; bike mechanics who have taught me self-sufficiency; PAC Tour who has helped me develop as a cyclist and provided me with the vision of things beyond my imagination a few years ago including completion of two transcontinental rides in my 60's, body workers and therapists who gave me hope that physical recovery was possible when I had lost all hope. 

By the time I began my 2nd hundred miles tumbleweed was flying across the road in front me and I either listed at a 15 degree angle or nearly ground to a halt in the head wind. 

With 135 miles completed I had only 4 hrs and 16 minutes left in my 12 hrs to complete the remaining 65 miles. Those were numbers outside my realm of capability. 

I rolled up alongside Dan's vehicle and said: "I'm done. I can't ride 65 miles in just over 4 hours." Would have been very doable with normal winds, but today's wind was not supportive of my efforts.

We loaded my bike in Dan's car and headed back to Aquila to meet Kirk. Dan got up at 3:15 that morning, April 1, to drive from Prescott, AZ to our rendezvous spot on Eagle Eye Road. We got up at 3:30 that morning to drive from Wickenburg to that same rendezvous spot.

I know I'll be back to Eagle Eye/Salome to vanquish the 200/12. Who knows, I might bring some other 200/12 hopefuls with me and we'll make it a party!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

And Now For The Hard Stuff

Angkor Wat Temple at surnise reflected in the lake

No country, no reporter, no individual is capable of experiencing, interpreting, or reporting anything from a position of unbiased objectivity. We experience, interpret, and report based on our personal and cultural history, experience, education, health, and woundedness.

And so I came to Vietnam in January, 2014 having lived through the Vietnam/American War safe and sound in the US as a college student, a relatively newly married woman (1969) to Kirk, a then 22 year old Army Lieutenant also safely stationed state-side, but often responsible for helping parents plan the funerals for their sons killed in Viet Nam. He had no pastoral training at the time, it was just one of his "other duties as assigned" at the Springfield, Massachusetts Armed Forces Examining And Entrance Station, aka, AFEES.

Saigon fell in April, 1975. I was reading the news as reported in the Chicago Tribune while commuting on the CTA, and it was the only day in my 40 years of commuting I missed my stop.

I came to Vietnam in hope of better understanding how, as a people, they, the Vietnamese, have made peace with their losses, are so genuinely welcoming to Americans, and are so enthusiastically advancing themselves economically both as individuals and in the global economy.

The Vietnam/American War has always been a personal metaphor for me having grown up in a family under the rule of a well educated, unconscious, benevolent tyrant for a father and a well educated, passive, dependent, mother who never, ever found her voice.

My sense has been that the Vietnamese's resilience in reconciliation has come easier than my own. I have long wondered what might have contributed to their ease in healing while I had found the same so labor intensive?

Several factors for both make sense to me, but who knows if I'm anywhere close to a rightful understanding.

Patience is one of the Vietnamese key virtues and weapons. It's how they outlasted the French, the Americans, how they played the Chinese against the Soviet Union. I was but a powerless child, with no older siblings, no extended family infrastructure, isolated from peers and no available extracurricular activities giving me exposure to a bigger world and visions of choices that could be mine.

"How long do you Americans want to fight?" Pham Van Dong, a founder of the Viet Minh and one of Ho Chi Minh's closest allies, asked an American reporter in 1966. " One year? Five years? Twenty years? We can accommodate you."

Ho Chi Minh, while a Communist, was best known among the Vietnamese people for his  Nationalism. For Viet Nam he was the equivalent of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King all rolled into one. If those little stretchy bracelets had existed back in the '60's there would have been one that read: "WWHCMD", What Would Ho Chi Minh Do?

I had no super heroes, alive or imagined and no stretchy plastic bracelet.

I lived in isolation in my own personal Cu Chi tunnel for 22 years with no vision of what I was fighting for or how I would know when I could emerge. And, I knew for a fact I didn't have the social skills to cope with the world if I were to ever come out of my tunnel.

The Mi Lai Massacre (March, 1965) and the Tet Offensive (January, 1965) totally turned the tide of the war in the US. Until then the war was more of a political and military offensive that didn't impose much on the daily lives of the ordinary US citizen be they young, idealistic, staid, or weary with the wars that had preceded this Vietnamese/American war. But Mi Lai and the Tet Offensive stirred nearly all Americans into action of some sort.

What the Vietnamese people took from all the protests of the US general populous was our people's support of their effort to be free and to chart their own destiny. The Vietnamese were able to make a clear distinction between us the American people and the American Government/American military. And so, even today, they welcome us, we the American people. They even welcome returning US Veterans because they seem to understand that the soldiers, themselves, had little choice but to follow the orders of their superiors.

Yes, US military, committed atrocities, but so did the VC, ARVN, Kmher Rouge. The same can be said for every country that has ever been at war since the beginning of time.

Part of what it means to be human is to have the choice to be hurtful or helpful, hateful or loving; It is

our choice to make daily. It is our responsibility to self-inventory at the end of each day: "How did I do today?"

Because Nationalism is Vietnamese's overarching driving force, they have been able to reunite their families torn asunder by fighting brother against brother on either side of the DMZ. They have been growing their market  economy into a global presence, e.g. leading exporter of over 300 kinds of rice and the number 2 exporter of coffee world-wide.

I attribute my personal resilience and reconciliation with past wounds to  Kirk's love and patience, to my children's acceptance of my imperfect self, to my faith community that has been unwavering, and to the 12-Step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. While not officially a member of the AA Fellowship, it was at the core of all the addiction treatment programs I worked in for 40 years. AA understands that you can't begin to heal until you recognize there is a problem. It recognizes that none of us can heal fully in isolation; forgiveness of self and others and reconciliation can only fully happen in the context of community, be that at the level of a nation, e.g. Vietnam, a family wounded by domestic abuse, or an individual who has made choices along the way that have been devastatingly painful to self or others.

I was sick virtually my entire time in Asia: GI and respiratory. Maybe it was food allergies, maybe it was air pollution, maybe it was just the radical change in the flora and fauna that entered my system. But maybe, just maybe, it was a body cry I shared with the Vietnamese people. Maybe, just maybe, all this outpouring of toxins from my body is part of my own healing?

One of my little sayings, most of the time said just to myself is: "In time, more will be revealed."

I think that says it best for now, more will be reveled and I will know when I know.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Random Observations and Thoughts

  • Thresholds, they're everywhere. The thresholds I'm accustomed to relate to a level of tolerance above or below which some thing or some one can not function optimally. In Buddhist dominated cultures thresholds are a raised barrier anywhere from 1/2" to 9" between rooms. I believe they symbolically (or literally??) keep the evil spirits from entering. What I know to be true is that you better learn where the thresholds are in your hotel room or you'll stub your toe, or worse, when trying to find your way to the john in the middle of the night.
  • Toilet paper and paper towels for hand drying are not standard issue. Don't expect public restrooms in restaurants, or squat pots to provide toilet paper, and expect to dry your hands on your pants, hair, or in the ambient air.
  • Spray hoses ARE standard issue in public restrooms and squat pot rooms to wash your nether regions since TP is not to be put in toilets. Wipe and drop is a hard habit for me to break.
  • Restrooms are typically called toilets. That just sounds way to banal to me. Some kind of a euphemism might be in order.
  • Cow milk alternatives are non-existent, e.g. soy or other nut milks.
  • Don't expect your server to bring you your bill automatically. It's considered rude to rush the customer. When you're ready to go, you gotta ask for your bill.
  • Hotel rooms have door bells.
  • Electric outlets in your hotel room are powered by your room key inserted into a slot in your room. To assure you don't leave the lights on in your room upon exiting, you're issued only one room key despite the number of people in your room.
  • Hotels of new construction are outfitted with motion sensor lights upon entry and in the bathroom, a nice idea but there is no way to override the default. So, middle of the night trips to the john your circadian rhythms will be rudely awakened by the bathroom light brightly greeting you. The good news is you can easily see the threshold and not stub your toe.
  • Asiana Airline flight attendants are striking in that they look vintage 1950's: all Asian women, all the same height, all with only a weight variance of no more than 5 pounds, all with the same hair style: long, severely pulled back into a bun, all wearing the same uniform: a cafe au lait colored business suit, skirt knee length, a conservatively colored neck scarf, and a stupid looking hat.
  • Gender-based roles also appear to be vintage 1950's, at least on Asiana Airlines. We watched our Asiana flight crew stand at our gate waiting for the plane to be ready for their boarding. Male pilot crew on the left, female attendant crew on the right, no cross-gender/cross-function conversation.
  • In Hoi An we saw myriad shops selling silk sleeping bags. I simply couldn't imagine why anyone would want to buy such a thing. If I were to buy a sleeping bag it would be down rated for polar conditions, not a fine silk work of art. Took me a couple of hotel stays in Vietnam to catch on. They do not use a top sheet. Presumably they change the bottom sheet between customers, but you sleep directly under a New England weight comforter. Your choice is to cover up with the comforter, snugging it up around your face sharing skin with all the previous users, or sleep uncovered. Kind wish I'd bought a silk sleeping bag.
  • Hospitality in all restaurants, commercial venues, airports, everywhere we traveled far exceeded our expectations AND the standards set in US. US Americans have much we can learn for our global neighbors.

Floating Village

Kirk, Trevor, and I left our hotel this morning behind the wheel of our guide for about a 12-15k ride to the largest lake in SE Asia, Tonle Sap. Today marked my first-ever ride on a mountain bike, and glad for it. The quality of the road was about 1/4 paved, 1/2 hard or puddle packed mud, and 1/4 major rocks. Trevor was one of our riders who joined us in Nah Trang, rode with us to Saigon, and then joined Kirk and me for our 3 days in Cambodia.

We boarded a less than impressive, but hopefully water-worthy boat and took off for a 45 minute tour of a floating village, home to 1,000 families (3-4 people/family). Homes were built on top of boats; when the monsoons come and the water rises by 30', no problem. There are a couple of schools, also floating; used to be 4 Karaoke bars, now only one. The poverty was astounding to me, what I imagine some of the poorest Philippine Islands to look like, or maybe Haiti. The totally brown lake water serves as wash water for clothes, drinking water, bath water, and all forms of toilet. There are floating churches, a floating wedding/party boat, and a floating Korean restaurant. And yes, everyone has a cell phone, the cell phone tower anchored to the bottom of the lake.
Cell Phone Tower

Homes have no furniture, just a hammock, the floor, and sacks of rice that double as chairs, but most rural Asians are more than adept at squatting on their haunches or sitting cross legged on the floor. 

Little kids, maybe 7 years old, paddled themselves to school standing on the prow of their family boat/car. Babies crawled across the floor of the boat/home, apparently unattended, just feet from the edge of the platform above what I understood to be crocodile infested waters. 

Boat houses are but one room,  the next boat being no more than 12' away, walls are either board with see through spaces between the boards, or maybe tarpaulins. We Westerners would never survive in the less than sanitary conditions and supreme lack of privacy. They, in turn, would never survive in the sterility and isolation of our our living conditions. 
We rode a different way back to the hotel through a long village along the river, shacks on stilts for the regular flooding that comes with each monsoon. As we left the dock area where we boarded our little water-worthy boat, an uncountable number of tour busses brought hoards of tourists to ride the boats through the floating village. Others came by tuk-tuk. We were the only ones who came by bike;
 just sayin'.

Yep, a croc

The School

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ethnocentrism, sadly it's everywhere

Dressed Up For the New Year

Just An Ordinary Tuesday Night

Masks and Scooter Traffic--'ya gotta take a look. It will be a long time before any city in Viet Nam earns the status of being a bike friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. Not sure that this video is a direct link to ethnocentrism, but it is signature Viet Nam.

Next on the agenda would be a metric century from Nah Trang to Buon Ma Thout, about half-way to Da Lat. Our two days to Da Lat would take us into Central Highlands, home to most all of the 53 other minority ethnic groups or hill tribes. There are 54 ethnic groups in Viet Nam altogether; the majority one being the Viet people. Some of the larger groups include: the Ede, H'mong, and Jari. All the tribes know the Viet language, but each has its own dialect that's not understood by the other. Relationships and politics are not always smooth or accepting between the Viets and the 53 others.

Seems that the obsession with skin complexion is linked to ethnic relationships, too. Hill tribes can be darker skinned, maybe genes, maybe working out in the rice fields. The Viets, especially the females, seek a lighter complexion by covering up with masks and head gear seemingly as confining to us as Muslim burkas but purely voluntary in order to less likely be confused as being one of the minority tribes and/or a field worker/farmer.

We left Nah Trang at 7:00 a.m. and by 7:30 we were in a market throng of ducks strung up by their legs hanging off either side of a scooter quacking all the way; along side the road, waiting for sale were the most unhealthy looking chickens and ducks you could imagine having lost most of their feathers, their feet tied together so as not to escape sale and an earlier death; and of course fruits and vegetables, and coffee, coffee, coffee.

Vietnam is one of, if not the largest exporters of coffee in the world. Vietnamese love their coffee as much as Americans love their beer on Super Bowl Sunday.

Beware, though, Vietnamese drink their coffee without cream/milk, without sugar and as thick as room temperature molasses. It almost has a chocolate flavor, naturally though, no additive. Kinda reminds you of Turkish coffee.

While on the subject of vices and comforts, 80% of the Vietnamese men smoke, only 5% of the Vietnamese women smoke. Wrapping up our stay now in Cambodia we asked our guide if they, the Cambodians, smoke similarly to the Vietnamese. Interestingly, au contraire. Only about 30% of the Cambodians smoke, and even fewer women smoke than in Vietnam where the female percentage is only at about 5%. Seems that smoking in Cambodia is associated with gang affiliation, not a desirable affiliation for those so committed to advancing themselves personally, professionally, economically, and in all other ways since Pol Pot summarily annihilated virtually 20% of the Cambodian population in the late 70's early 80's.

Laundry Vietnamese Style: It works!!!

We had a most satisfying laundry experience in Nah Trang. Funny how the basic (primitive?) needs can become such a dominant focus when you're out of your primary element. Behind our hotel, in an alley, is a whole world of local life. At night, when the electricity is on, you can see into the homes: the multiple scooters in the main room, satellite dishes for nearly everyone, and EVERYONE has a cell phone in the rural areas as well as the towns and cities.

Anyhow, while Kirk was out excursioning with the rest of our group, I was trying to recoup from my gut ailment and sought out how to do our laundry. Laundromats don't exist around here. You can pay the hotel $20-30 to do your laundry or have one of the families in the alley do it for $1.00 USD/kilo. I gave a delightfully happy 30-ish woman my 4kilo of wash and 8 hours later it was all washed and dried, some line dried, some machine dried, pressed when appropriate (like Kirk's T-shirts, he doesn't get that treatment at home), and returned to us with a hug and a smile. We gave her a $2.00 tip and she thought it was a mistake. Must have made her week, or maybe her month.

We didn't have a group meal our 2nd night in Nah Trang, so Kirk and I went in search of something less Vietnamese, something a little more like home. We chose Indian. Sounds funny, but lamb curry and papadum with chutney tasted like comfort food.

Had another laundry experience in Saigon. (District 1, of 24 districts, is called Saigon; the metro area is referred to as Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC, with half of the districts being named, the other half given numbers.) Anyhow, our hotel was in the heart of what would be Michigan Avenue or the Miracle Mile in Chicago or Park Ave. in NYC. No alleys anywhere in sight with  families competing to do your laundry.

We walked out the front door of the glitzy 4 Star Hotel heading for a walk with the goal of getting 4 more mug shots for our Cambodian Visa. Literally had not gotten 10 feet from the front door when a woman rushed us, thrust a business card into our hands with an offer to do our laundry. $5.00 USD/kilo, but we're not complaining. We wondered if we'd ever see it again, but she promised to have it ready for us at the same spot on the corner in 24 hours. Deal!!

24 hours later all of our laundry was more than perfectly present, folded, high tech fabrics line dried, heavy duty cottons dried another. The system works.

Again, pix will be dropped into the blog after I get home. For now, those of you on Facebook can catch some of the pix there.