Archives for posts with tag: travel

I am in India for a wedding, vacation, and visitation with many relatives (mine and the wife’s), proving to be fun, tiring, chaotic, colorful, and loud, which is to say a lot like India itself. Years ago I read “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found” by Sukhetu Mehta, a real-life account of someone born here and raised in the US who moves back to Mumbai as an adult (with wife/kids). The perspective provides a pretty interesting narrative for people unfamiliar with India, much less the absurdity that is Mumbai with the hypercrowding, traffic, gangsters, moviestars, and incredible (and recent and increasing) wealth disparity.

Amazingly, that picture of the city from a few years ago has only increased in all aspects. A huge housing boom is underway with new high-rise luxury developments dotting the landscape where slums used to be. Interestingly, private developers have taken to splitting parcels of land with the squatters – using half to build new mid-rise tenements (gifted to the former slum-dwellers) with standardized retail cubes on the ground level, and the other half for the glass-covered condos. It’s an interesting way to see how the private sector handles a problem when an incredibly bureaucratic government is busy handling other topics (or taking bribes). I’m suspicious of the concentration of low-income families in high-rise blocks – just this past month Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing projects were demolished, symbolizing what I took to be the final nail in the high-rise project coffin. It’ll be interesting to see how these projects end up in 10 years, both socially and from an investment perspective (looks a lot like housing growth in the early 2000s, so a bubble must be forming).

When I try to read about India, all I’ve found is a lot of excitement about BTO and globalization, which I’ve found myself tuning out. Like the “green revolution” the volume of reporting on a hot topic leads me to just forget about it. But visiting India reminds you of the rapid pace of change – neighborhoods I visited just last year are now completely different, redeveloped. The pace is hard to really imagine, and you can see oncoming catastrophe everywhere (overpopulation, too many cars for too few roads, broken anemic legal system, rampant corruption/bribery, etc) but somehow everything keeps churning forward. It’s fascinating to watch and I’m curious to see how it progresses in the future.

Advertisements

On the flight from home, I snagged the Exit row and sat next to a med student and Some White Guy. The med student broke out an exam practice test and got to work. This is a great start to the flight because it meant I didn’t have to talk to anyone. But then something ineffable (nod to “How I Met Your Mother” – solid new show in my lineup) happened. She broke out a can of tuna and a plastic fork to start digging in. Look, I’m all for health and whatnot, and I’ve definitely brought more than my share of food with me wherever I go, but tuna is a different story, because of The New Tuna Rule.

The New Tuna Rule is basically a rule I am inventing now, which just says that much like when smoking was legal in public places, it was polite to at least turn to people you were with and ask “do you mind if I smoke?”, The New Tuna Rule is that if you decide to break out a can of tuna, you have to ask everyone within 5 feet if its cool. No exceptions. Mandatory in confined spaces (e.g. airplanes)

She proceeded to wash this down with two Mountain Dews and pay for her snack pack out of a wad of cash which I’m guessing was at least $2000. These comprised strikes two and three and I began looking for another seat. The rest of the flight passed without event.

Ok. I love the Acela service service on the Eastern seaboard. I generally think train travel could do with a major upgrade in the US. For example, between Chicago and Detroit, there is one track. In both directions. So if two trains need to pass each other while going in different directions, they need to do so at the stations only. Really. This means the train takes 6+ hrs and is not worth the cost ($30)

The Acela on the other hand, is somewhat faster than the regional train (NY-BOS is 3:30 vs 4:15hrs), miles more comfortable with a cafe car, foot room, electrical outlets, and very few delays. You pay a little over $100 but you eliminate delay risk completely.

If I’m traveling between NY and Boston and there is even a hint of weather issues, I take the train despite it probably adding a half hour onto the door-to-door trip length.

It’s the best. Please build more speedy trains.

Okay so first off, I’ve been around a lot over the last two months, and I haven’t faithfully conveyed in picture or word what’s been up. The short version is that I’ve been on a project in Geneva and flying back/forth a bunch and somewhere in there spending a day in Zurich and Sofia, Bulgaria. The reason for so little communication is that most of these places are pretty boring and Bulgaria is not the type of place that is exactly fun to visit. Somewhere in there I went to Lake Tahoe for the weekend, so I’ll post that afterwards.

Today is July 4th, 2007 – actually the anniversary of my landing here in New York (plus a day or two) so it ends up being kind of a reflection on my time here in the big city (when I was in town, at least). I’m in the process of leaving town to somewhere undecided and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I really appreciate all of the great things about New York without being irritated by the many annoying parts.

So in celebration of the great parts of NYC, I went with friends to Coney Island for the day. We started off trying to catch the famous Nathan’s Hot-Dog Eating Contest, famously dominated by a Japanese teenager for some years. This year, of course, the rumors circulated of an eating-related jaw injury and possible title-loss to some other guy who looks like Peyton Manning. The crowd was abuzz.

I popped out of the subway and found a ginormous crowd of people who all were thinking it would also be cool to watch people cram inhuman amounts of pseudo-meat into their moo. I have to admit – I should have shown up earlier. You know when stuff is on ESPN, you need to show up a lot earlier. Turns out the other guy won by downing 66 dogs and buns. Not clear how long before he barfed everything up.

Anyhow, I tried even going to the other side but all I could get was this enormous Ketchup bottle in my face so I decided to go for some non-competitive eating of Mexican food followed by the Cyclone (surprisingly great for being a million years old), the Tilt-a-Whirl, Pirate Ship, and bumper cars – all classics.

All of the rides for some reason had airbrushed backgrounds from the early 80’s, and my favorite dated ride was straight called the Break Dance. Much nausea and junk food was observed

Then we stopped by the Sideshow by the Seashore, aka the Freak Show. The first thing I noticed was the reference to the Luna song “Sideshow by the Seashore” and the references to mermaids made a lot more sense. Man I wish they didn’t suck so much now.

Anyhow, the Freakshow was great because it hammered home the great American circus tradition of promising a bunch of crap and then taking your money. It felt right. The highlights of the show included sword-swallowing, fire-eating, a contortionist, and Chuy the Wolfman (Interview), who I saw on PBS once.

All in all, it felt good to get back to America’s roots of cheap entertainment and delicious junkfood. I did the most American thing I could and promptly went to sleep in the middle of the day. I woke up to catch the NYC fireworks off of my roof. Here in New York, they do two big displays – one off of lower Manhattan and the other over the East River, and from my meager NoLita 5-story apt roof, I could see both okay. The East river one seemed more elaborate.

Nonetheless, a solid day appreciating all of the great things in America which I miss when I go to stupid Switzerland like restaurants open all day and everyone speaking English. I’m glad to be here in the US and I’ll definitely miss NYC.

Two friends agreed to combine their bachelor parties and a group of 20 or so of us rented an amazing house near Lake Tahoe for the weekend.
The highlight was cruising around the clear deep blue lake in a speedboat amidst the mountains and enjoying the sun.

As a business traveler (sigh) I am constantly in cabs, largely to/from the following four places: My house, the office, the client, the airport. You tend to notice many things about cabs and their conductors after a while.

  • For example, the cabs in Boston have much less footspace than the NY ones do. I think they put the big divider thing into normal cars instead of semi-modified ones as you see elsewhere.
  • In DC, there are no dividers, and the drivers are almost entirely of African origin, especially Ethiopia. The fares are also entirely calculated by the number of zones you travel through, not the time or distance traveled according to the odometer. The idea here is to disincentivize out of the way trips to pad the fare but a flat fee just for picking someone up (as in NY) encourages them to turn fares as fast as possible already.
  • Additionally, DC cabs will think nothing of picking up other riders if they seem to be going in the same direction as you (“seem” being key here). This is wholly unacceptable in New York and will earn you a serious yelling/fistshaking by your existing passenger.
  • When you throw your luggage into the trunk of a cab, you’ll notice two things: 1) It’s way bigger than it needs to be. I mean you could really make the cabin larger if you decided not to have a swimming pool sized slot in the caboose. 2) Junk. Lots of it. Most cabbies have some crap of theirs left in the trunk which they clearly don’t care if people make off with. I’ve seen boxes, jackets, backpacks, DVDs, bungee cords, fuel cans, and babies. Okay, no babies.
  • Also in DC, for no apparent reason, the (mostly African) cabbies drive around with the passenger and driver windows down. IN THE WINTER. You have to ask for them to put them up and even then they often leave a crack open. I have no idea what this is accomplishing
  • One cab in DC I got into this past week had tons of little plastic animals in it (see photo) on the back platform thing behind the back seat under the rear window and all over the dash and ceiling. The contents were largely bobble-head turtles which were surprisingly freaky.

Last weekend I was up in Boston and some friends and I drove out to the countryside to go apple picking. I have to say, it was hilariously fun. Also, since most of the easy apples had been picked, the job really amounted to a lot of tree-climbing, monkey impressions, and assorted apple-related humor. (William Tell, I’m a Mac, you’re PC, etc) Eating apples which are freshly picked is a completely different experience and only goes to prove what an unadulterated cityslicker I’ve become. They’re delicious.

Friends:

My friend Chris has been on the ground with the Marines in Iraq for the past year. In general I’m pretty opposed to the war and am generally a raging liberal, but having a buddy running around dodging carbombs makes the position a lot more firm. Another friend at work was in the Army for many years and over drinks discussed the very moment he lost his faith in the administrations motives. I think it really crushed him. I think a lot of people out there are doing terrible things because they believe in leadership which is embarrassing at best and are now coming around to the realization that there is no man behind the curtain. As far as I’m concerned, every bumper should have two stickers “Support our troops” AND “End the war”. They’re not orthogonal ideas.

Anyhow, Chris has been sending me emails and pictures of whats going on over there and thankfully he’s now coming home. I’m happy for his wife and kids – they must have gone through a lot. Here is his sign-off email and I think it’s worth reading. Just a note, he has signed all of his emails “peace” for the past year. I hope you are all well.

“Folks,

This will be the last e mail you receive from this address as we will be starting our long journey out of here soon.

I attached two photos of things that I will not miss about being here. The first was an attack in which 3 of my Marines were injured. Two were sent home and one of them was stuck in the wreckage of the vehicle. We had to cut him out and get him on a helicopter while we attempted to kill the people responsible for his injuries. People will surprise you in such situations as often it is the person thought a coward or a follower that can step forward and lead with great courage and perseverance. We have had some hard times over here but the Lord has been with us and everybody will recover from their injuries eventually.

The second is a photo of incoming mortar fire. Rarely is anyone injured or killed by this which is usually inaccurate because the insurgents know that radar guided artillery fire usually fires back quickly enough to blow them to bits if they hang around for an accurate shot.

I have learned a lot over here some of which I would like to forget. Please let me offer some parting thoughts on a few topics:

MEDIA COVERAGE: Those who know me well would probably call me a news addict. However, since I have been here I have lost all confidence in the American media’s ability to report the full story. Rather than give a wide view of situations such as these they gravitate more towards the sensational story that they think American couch potatoes want to see. Most of the news outlets have some sort of political drive behind them (from both ends of the spectrum) that causes them to miss the full story in favor of bits and pieces that drive home their agenda. A lot of coverage is given to American casualties and potential mistakes and crimes but little is spent covering it from the other end. Terrible things have happened here at the hands of the various Islamic Insurgent groups in the name of their drive to a caliphate that never gets reported. For example, large amounts of children were killed recently in an insurgent attack which never made the news. A lot of roadside bombs now are no longer command detonated but can and do kill indiscriminately the first vehicle that drives by. My armored HMMWV may take a blast from a few buried artillery shells but a car with a family in it will not. I would estimate that over twice as many civilians are killed by IEDs than US Forces and I have personally witnessed such messes but that IS NEVER REPORTED. The bottom line is don’t believe everything you read and if you want the full story you need to consult multiple news outlets to get it. The 24 hour cable news phenomenon makes a lot of people think they are arm chair generals. Do not be one of those people.

DEMOCRACY: There are a lot of Iraqis risking their lives daily in an attempt to get their nation to the next level. However, this is a very old society and their understanding of time is vastly different than ours. Joe Six Pack American thrives on instant gratification. The land where you can have it your way at the drive through or order a commemorative Elvis Plate Set on the internet and have it show up at your door the next day needs to adjust its expectations accordingly when dealing with other societies. The rest of the world does not work that way. The 230 years of American History is a blink of an eye over here. Our democracy did not spring to life in its current painful form overnight and neither will this one. Impending civil war not withstanding, what is happening here cannot be judged on an hourly daily basis like the NYSE. These things take patience especially when dealing with a different culture. Iraq is an unnatural nation similar to the former Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito (now Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia etc) if so the ethnic fractures may be too much for democracy to heal but it will still take many years until we know for sure.

POLITICS: The Iraqi democracy will ultimately succeed on the backs of the Iraqis. Whether we pull out of here next month or in 2020, most of us will ultimately go on with our lives. However, the quest for better national security will continue regardless of who is in power. While I understand that people vote for their politicians based on the issues, all Americans need to understand that we will not get very far if all our time is spent on partisan politics. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, vote for the politician who is willing to compromise and do what is best for the people…ALL THE PEOPLE.

I just want to sign off by saying that the heroes in wartime situations like this are the families left behind to continue their lives as if everything is normal. My wife is one of those people and she has shown great strength, perseverance and support throughout the last year. I am truly a lucky person to have such people in my life and for that I will be eternally grateful. Please support such people whenever you can.

PEACE,

Captain Christopher (lastname) USMCR


By the way, the titles are meant to be read as the answer to “Where is AP?” “Oh, eating pickles.” etc.

At a wedding recently, I discovered a tub of pickles which I did not do justice to. It is a glorious creation of brine and cucumber. I think I had at least a dozen, maybe two. I highly suggest investing in one if you get married and have invited me.

I am currently a fresh tranplant to New York. I have already found myself cursing out tourists and bustling about. As of yet, I do not have access to my apartment and no address (curiously, you need an address to get a PO box) but its beginning to set in that I live here now.

Some observations: women here have to have both hands occupied with some combination of the following – coffee, dog leash, shopping bag, phone, man, or purse. Both hands. Swinging wildly.

I’m not clear where the money goes, but somehow it gets spent at a much more rapid clip here than anywhere else. Also, even though I’ve given up coffee, I find myself drinking copious amounts in The City. No idea why.

Its fun and there is a lot of life and character, especially in Brooklyn where I’m staying. I hope at some point I stop looking like a tourist.