7/26/2009

A Bird In Hand

On the 4th of July, I got to see brightly colored objects in the sky. Little did I know this year it would be birds and not fireworks.

KL Bird Park is advertised as the largest walk-in aviary in the world. Indeed, the facility, which is covered by a huge net of sorts, covers quite a bit of acreage. And for the most part, you are walking the same ground that numerous species of birds do, with some exceptions (obviously, allowing the hunting birds free reign would NOT be a good idea.)

I wish I kept track of the birds I took pictures of a little better, but here are a few shots of some of the often visually striking specimens contained within the park.






I suppose my favorite part of my visit there was the parrot exhibit. If you make a contribution to the facility, you can feed the various free-flying macaws, parakeets, and other similar birds within the exhibit. As you can see, I put the saying "A bird in hand..." to the ultimate test.

video

7/18/2009

More Blogs About Buildings... (Pt. 3 - And The Rest)

If one remembers the sitcom "Gilligan's Island", one might remember the original theme song referred to characters The Professor and Mary Ann as "the rest." This post covers "the rest", which includes not only buildings per se but also other similar sights I've encountered along my travels through KL here.

St. Anthony Catholic Church on Jalan Robertson:
The uniquely shaped Menara TM (on the right; said to be designed to look like a bamboo shoot) and two of its sister buildings:
The spiraling elevator shafts at the Suria KLCC Mall:
The exterior of the centralized (but not geographically, if one looks at a map) transit exchange point that is KL Sentral. Behind me are two major hotels, Le Meridien and the Hilton:
The mockup of Stonehenge, located near the National Planetarium:
The newly opened fountain outside of the KL Pavilion Mall, which is proclaimed to be the tallest Liuli Crystal fountain in the world:

Central Market near the Chinatown district. This former wet market, saved from demolition by preservationists due to its unique architectural styling, is now a mecca for souvenir-seeking tourists:
Menara Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka - the people who work in here provide oversight of the native language (Bahasa Malayu) in all forms of media:One of the long walls of the Pudu Prison. This prison, now closed and used exclusively by the police, has now badly fading painted murals created by prisoners on the sides of its walls:

7/17/2009

More Blogs About Buildings... (Part 2 - KL Tower)

I know, I know - there's a lot more to Malaysian architecture than what you'll see in this blog, but unfortunately only so much time to explore and limited energy to do so leads to a slightly truncated selection.

In any case, here's a few shots of the other iconic building in Kuala Lumpur - Menara KL, or the KL Tower. This is the neck-breaking view of the tower from below as well as a shot from farther out for a better view of how it stands over the city's skyline:


Here's a few shots from the tower itself from the observation deck, which lies a thousand feet above the Klang Valley floor, with the help of Bukit Nanas (Pineapple Hill) whose almost 400-foot-high base helps give the tower some extra elevation.



As you may have noticed from the pictures, the view is fairly hazy - this is a problem especially as the summer months approach because of fires that burn (purposefully and otherwise) in the neighboring country of Indonesia, or so I am informed.

If you ever do come to KL, I'd say the view from Menara KL is impossible to beat. Not saying you shouldn't do the Skybridge at Petronas (if you don't mind queueing early - the tix are free, after all; you do need to fork over approx. $20 US to get into KL Tower) but if you want to see all of KL from above, it's hard to top the 4th tallest tower in the world.

7/11/2009

More Blogs About Buildings And Food (Petronas Towers version)

According to a local I spoke with here, the term "menara" is reserved for buildings 20 stories or taller, "wisma" is designated for buildings 5 stories or smaller, and "bangunan" is for everything else.

It seems to fit with what I've seen so far of the buildings. Nevertheless, with that bit of trivia of the way, much of the focus on KL is directed at the iconic Menara Berkembar Petronas, or the Petronas Towers for most non-locals. Much has been written about the history, statistics, etc. for these twin buildings, so I won't bother to add my two cents except to say they are a distinct and eye-catching vision for this skyline, and would be quite the sight for almost any other cityscape.

Without further ado, here are some pics of the steel-clad towers. First off, a view from the nearby KLCC Park:

The fountains, located across the street from the main entrance, in the plaza in front of the towers:

The "crane your neck upward until it almost breaks" view

A unique view up one the sides of the towers (with Malaysian flag in view) from a third floor outdoor deck:

The steel beams that help support the skybridge, which connects the towers at the 41st floor:

A view looking down at KLCC Park from the skybridge - if you look closely enough, you can see the fountain show in action:

Finally, a ghostly view of Petronas, with the nearby Menara Maxis (Maxis Tower) also lit up just to the right:

7/05/2009

The Wonder Of Wander

Sunday I intended to check out one of the few Roman Catholic churches in the KL area. I took a wrong turn and ended up with a touch of the less cosmopolitan side of the city.

This early Sunday morning was probably like any typical day for the folks of the Pudu district. Many were leisurely having their breakfast at the numerous sidewalk cafes, probably talking about the week gone past, or the week to be, as the streets seemed to still be waking up this clear but humid morning.

A couple turns this way and that and I ended up near one of the light-rail lines nearby in a residential area. Some kids were playing football in an apartment parking lot as I took a little side trail that really didn't lead to much of interest to the typical tourist, but it did give me a hint of why the Klang river doesn't look so pretty at times, as a stream of what looked to be untreated and fairly foul-smelling water cascaded in the viaduct beside the roadbed. Also, motorbike drivers pretty much don't follow whatever traffic laws may be in place. Several motorbikes roared down what is ostensibly a pedestrian path, and woe be the walker who doesn't have their head on a swivel traversing anywhere in KL proper.


I still wanted to try to locate this church, so I tried to retrace my steps, which by chance took me to one of the largest wet markets in the city. At the beginning, I found what seemed to be the home aquarium vendor section. Varieties of fish you probably wouldn't find in your typical Petco back home fluttered around big buckets of water, as well as any piece of equipment you can imagine for those who want a touch of the aquatic for their living quarters. But the offerings weren't restricted to fishes - frogs and other legged animals that might find the water to their liking were also available at seemingly bargain-basement prices.

Then came the heart of the wet market. What to seemed to be mostly people of Chinese descent marketed their wares, from live animals to those which seemed freshly killed and prepared for home cooking. Fish of all varieties were also on display, as well as a cornucopia of vegetables and fruits.

The stalls lay close together, leading to narrow pathways and a somewhat claustrophobic feeling as you tried to wend your way through, avoiding both other patrons and vendors toting their wares from one place to another.

A little backtrack and a turn up the road led to a little area of shops that specialized in IT and computer products, a la the more famous Low Yat and Imbi Plazas in Bukit Bintang. There were quite a few stores specializing in lighting fixtures and fans as well, which reminded me a bit of the souks of Damascus, where shops specializing in certain goods or products would be generally clumped together in one spot. I also had my first encounter with a little foodie thing I had read about - the Ramly Burger, which is a essentially a Malaysian street food hamburger, but alas the stand was closed for the day.

It was about this time when I realized that I had done just a little bit too much physical activity for the two-days-plus, as the dull pain that made itself known prior to my appendicitis attack re-emerged, a seeming little reminder that I really wasn't too far removed from the surgery room. I eased my way back toward my temporary home for the moment. I traversed near a park with a grand view of the KL Golden Triangle skyline, including the iconic KL and Petronas Towers and sidled into Berjaya Times Square to a local branch of Krispy Kreme.

As I sat there practically alone relaxing under the shade with a donut and an ice cold coffee, I just realized how lucky I was. I had still managed to make it to KL, and although I was a little tired from the weekend's festivities, plus the still not-quite-completed adjustment to local time, I really couldn't have imagined a better way at that time to come back to the cushy, more tourism-board friendly version of KL.

7/03/2009

The Recovery Goatee

In the past, I've always kept my facial hair relatively short; I've thought about a full goatee at times, but I've always come to the conclusion that I have don't have enough facial coverage to make it work.

But ever since the surgery, I've been really letting it sprout. I've tried to keep it relatively neat, but it's been otherwise pretty much unfettered growth.

For the most part, this was a little show of defiance from me, a little message that, "okay, appendix, you made your painful point, but you're history now...heh!"

And maybe the grow-out was also inspired a bit by the story of Detroit Red Wing Jonathan Ericsson, who scored a key goal in the second year of this year's Stanley Cup only four days removed from an appendix removal. Many athletes going through playoff runs often sport what's called the "playoff beard" as much out of superstition as it is a sign of solidarity with other teammates.

But that's a whole another level from even regular weekly athletes, which I consider myself to be. Even after the doctor said I no longer needed to see him, he essentially mandated about 8 weeks of avoiding a lot of the stuff ranging from the rare to not-at-all these days (basketball, tennis, etc.) to that which I need to do more of I've determined (core work, weight training, and flexibility improvement.)

I kinda' thought personally he was playing it cautious. However, his words ran through my mind after my first full weekend in Malaysia. A full night of partying on Friday, followed by a full day of tourist doings, and then a longer than intended walk Sunday morning was too ambitious, as a dull soreness had begun to radiate from the area of the surgery.

Okay, fine - I DO have to watch myself a little more closely for the next couple months. But I can still grow out the goatee without limitations...

6/30/2009

From Souk To Zouk

As you expand your travels, you're just bound to meet some incredible people. This is my encounter with two such folk.

PM naturally drew people to her with her flamboyant, audacious style and magnetic personality. Her expressive voice and intonations seemed to fit all the three languages she was fluent in. Her natural beauty and her facial makeup gave her a look that could fit in any fashion magazine, but it was never garishly so; in fact, it was just simply part of the whole appealing package.

She had a smile that seemed to belie a devil-may-care attitude, which I personally got to experience with her driving. It didn't matter if there was rebar underneath that could piece the underbelly of her upscale car, or the ancient walls lining the narrow streets of Old Town Damascus that would easily mangle the exterior - PM just went for it without second thought, probably figuring she'd be able to handle whatever might befall her.

She would get me to do a completely clumsy rendition of some celebratory dance during the work day, and I really didn't feel embarrassed about it, but rather invigorated. Her circle of friends included those at a local Damascus hot spot for dancing - even long after she had left, those that had joined her were still enjoying the groovy beats, dry ice smoke, and incredible light show on the dance floor along with other Syrians of the mostly youthful variety.

Yes, TAIT (Thank Allah It's Thursday) indeed...

Speaking of dance floors, that's where DT comes in. I never met DT until after my first full week in Malaysia; she was there to visit one of my fellow cohorts here. She is something of PM's opposite, and similar to me in demeanor - more down to earth and easy-going, and not really the type of person who goes out and parties much on purpose.

But then we as a group got word of Zouk, the bestest, super-happening spot in Malaysia from what we were told, and having nothing better to do, we all decided what the hey and grabbed a couple taxis to make the trip over during a clear, warm Malaysian Friday night.

The outside of the club, with the beautifully lit Petronas Towers hovering just off in the distance, was abuzz with activity. After a few false starts and misdirections, we made it into a dance area that suited our tastes, the Velvet Underground. A fine mesh of dance favorites both old and new got people dancing up a storm, urged on by the in-house Mambo Jambo dancers, who were decked out fancifully a la the musical play/movie "Hairspray."

For the next few hours, our group as a whole simply had a blast together, and I think collectively we were just simply feeling that there was nothing else we would rather be doing.

But specifically, DT and I especially found we had a certain chemistry together. We danced and didn't care how silly we might've looked, we talked about this and that, had a few drinks, and smiled and laughed and just felt good about the way things were going and just enjoying the company of each other.

With the help of a few other heartier members of our initial group, we helped closed the place down that night.

Funny thing is that in real life, we don't really live too far each other all things considered - ironic how it took us thousands of miles of flying between us to facilitate this chance encounter.

Some might read this and infer a sexual connotation. There was none here - DT is already spoken for, and I'd say that person is quite a lucky one. Eh, maybe I'm a little envious deep down, but in reality, I'm just happy that fate allowed me to cross paths with one of the happy couple anyway.

Funny these great chance encounters so rarely happen considering there are so many people on this planet of ours. Maybe circumstance and chance are much more discerning than we tend to think.

6/27/2009

Pass The Teksi To The Left Hand Side

Aside from the fairly chaotic KL traffic behavior, the basic driving setup itself here in Malaysia has had me adjusting my mental window of perception.

Here in this country, cars have right-side driver setups...and they drive on the left-hand side of the road.

This has been taking some getting used to as a pedestrian. Cars seem to come from nowhere, partly due to bad drivers, but mostly due to my lack of experience. Essentially, I have to focus more on the second half of a pedestrian intersection rather than the first half, like I do back home, because that is where cars who might be crossing my path by turning will be headed.

For the first few days, cars coming in from seemingly nowhere have come into my sphere of awareness in last-minute fashion; thankfully, I have avoided a trip to the hospital up to this point.

I found this behavior extends to escalators and sidewalks. Most people here stand and walk on the left, respectively. I definitely show my western bent when I find myself wading like a salmon upstream against the masses before my brain double-checks things.

My awareness has been getting better, though, and the "right" way of doing things by going left is slowly but surely being assimilated into my psyche.

6/26/2009

Bagaimana Saya Pergi Ke Midvalley Megamall?

Someone once said to me that there's not much better way to get a sense of every day life in an unfamiliar city than to ride the public bus.

Not that it was my strict intention to test out KL's bus system, but it was convenient for my purposes, and my day after I arrived might be something that a local might venture to do - mail some letters and find me some swim goggles.

First off, it was over to KLCC Suria Mall. Through the helpful POS Malaysia website, I found out that their branch post office located there was open on Sundays until 6 PM. Being an avid runner, I had stumbled upon a couple of running events that I wanted to participate in, and I needed to have some postal orders made up for registration race fees and the entries put in the mail.

This was my first encounter with what seems to be opposite of what I found in Damascus - a lack of coinage. Clerks I've found here do not like giving out change if at all possible, and I'm not sure if its mere volume of business or actual coinage supply that causes this. You do end up with a lot of single ringgit bills pretty quickly with this methodology.

Contrast this to my stay in Damascus, where it was almost impossible to keep the smaller bills in your possession. Anything above a 500 SP note was looked at almost universally with disdain, even when your purchases were in the hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Then I made my way to the bus stop for the bus trip across town to the Mid-Valley Mall. As I found out later, I could've shopped at the mall I was just leaving and found my coveted swim goggles, but there was a certain level of anticipation venturing into strange territory.

A young man loudly rambled on in Bahasa Melayu, seemingly either touting his ticket stack (I couldn't tell if they were legitimate for fare or not) or excitedly publicizing certain transit route buses as they pulled into our stop. Aside from what seemed to be a friend of his, no one waiting there seemed to pay him any mind.

After about 15 minutes sweating in the shade, my bus finally arrived. The fare was a bargain - 2 RM, or just under sixty cents, for an all-day access fare. The bus was pleasantly air conditioned and comfortable, similar to something you'd find in almost any city transit line in the western world.

I noticed that most people wanted to venture toward the back of the bus - I'm not sure if that's the cultural norm or not. A side benefit I didn't count on was the orientation factor - the route passed by some local landmarks I had intended on visiting during my stay here, such as the KL Sentral transit building, Chinatown, and the Central Market.

Finally, I arrived at the Mid-Valley Megamall, with my first stop was to the Dive Station, which, yes, had diving equipment as long as other swim-related gear. I think the staff looked at me a bit suspiciously as I broke open goggle boxes to sample the wares (no way was I buying a leaky pair), but thankfully to their relief, I found a pair that did the trick. I also picked up a couple of hats, not only to provide some shade but also to test out my thought that they might provide enough cover to make me visually pass as a local.

Then I just walked around to figure out what was there. I wasn't quite sure how it compared size-wise to other malls I had already passed on through, but this mall seemed to live up to its "Mega" designation. The Jusco Supermarket I wandered through was pretty much the largest supermarket I had encountered there in my brief time, with plenty of selections and staff members giving out samples a la Costco, but with a decidedly Japanese bent to the offerings.

If I had read prior to making this journey that this bus route was subject to some rather horrid traffic on its route right around the mall, I may not have come at all. As it was, I sweated in the shade again as I waited patiently for my return bus home. I'm guessing I didn't really stand out at all to the other locals beside me, as they waited with their goodies for their rides away.

In front of us, taxis awaiting an un-metered tout played their waiting game in their pickup lane; some drivers, frustrated by the slow pickings, decided to wade into the ever-building clump of traffic that clotted the flow in the area. This was probably mostly caused by the numerous patrons dropped off by passenger car and taxi alike near our stop. At one point, a luxurious-looking coach bus stopped in the designated bus stop lane, dropping off what looked to be Chinese tourists and their luggage for what looked to be a stay at one of the two hotels located within the mall premises.

Finally, the air-conditioned relief of the return bus arrived, but I seemed to be the only one at this stop who boarded. For the first time, I felt somewhat isolated, as what looked to be native Malays occupied the back, a male threesome of Indian descent chatted up the bus driver up front, and two tourists that seemed to sport British accents occupied the middle of the bus.

Probably to them, I was one of the locals. But I was really one of them, but with a fairly convincing disguise on the outside.

6/23/2009

The Old vs. The New

With this being my second work-related detail (Damascus, Syria being my first), I guess some comparisons are only natural.

Damascus is of course steeped in ancient history that dates back thousands of years, and because of that, modern trappings like auto traffic just don't fit well there. Kuala Lumpur is relatively young, not becoming a city until the early 1970s, and has adjusted quite nicely.

While I was surprised by the size of the Christian quarter and the number of Christian residents in Damascus, make no mistake - Islam rules the area. Malaysia has a majority Muslim population, but it's more of a melting pot of different cultures and religions, so it's not nearly as overt.

For example, one of the things that took getting used to was the call to prayer every few hours while I was in Damascus. There's no such phenomenon in KL; rather, prayer times are printed quite handily in the newspaper for various regions.

Taxis are in abundance in both places, with the yellow Sabas of Damascus and the red & white Protons of KL. Fares are relatively cheap for both areas, but finding a cabbie to use a meter is apparently tougher than finding an expensive meal in either city.

Damascus does its local Middle Eastern quite well almost anywhere you sample it. Here in KL, the quality of the local offerings will vary from place to place, but is overall very good. This quality level also translates to the numerous westernized offerings you'll find in KL - let's just say if you venture outside the local cuisine in Damascus, you're taking your chances.

Both cities love their coffee, albeit in different forms...well, except for Nescafe, which seems to be popular all around the world.

Unless you're a local and/or know Arabic, public transit is almost a no-go in Damascus. Despite some slight problems with connectivity, KL's transit system ranks up there in terms of ease of use.

Car drivers tend to be looney in both areas, but Damascus is far worse IMO. In either place, motorbike riders seem to have the right of way even when and where they shouldn't.

Walking around in Damascus, if you're not from the local area, you stick out pretty much like a sore thumb. KL is enough of a melting pot where you generally wouldn't stick out no matter what nationality or race you are.

And obviously, shopping is a whole different ballgame. Malls and supermarkets are pretty much a rarity in Damascus. Here in KL, they're just part of the landscape. Likewise, Syria's souks little resemble anything you'll find in Malaysia...or at least, nothing that I've found yet...

6/22/2009

Shop 'Til You Drop

The central point for public transit here in Kuala Lumpur is known as KL Sentral.

You may as well call KL "Mall Sentral" for it's plethora of malls, especially in the Bukit Bintang area.

As someone who is used to having malls many miles apart, having several malls so close to each other is something that takes a little getting used to at first. Don't like what one mall offers? Don't worry - there's another one just down the block, or even next door. In one case (Sungei Wang and BB Plazas,) you can walk from one to the other and back again on multiple floors without having to cross a passenger bridge or special passageway.

Another thing I noticed was the plethora of 7-11 convenience stores around the area, which seemed to play the role of Starbucks in terms of having one on every block. Speaking of Starbucks, these were visible as well, though they had plenty of competition with other chain competitors like San Francisco Coffee and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, with prices that rivaled anything you can find in the states. These upscale cafes battle the street vendors and cafes that sell their iced coffee "take away" in plastic bags, but in good news for both extremes of the spectrum, there seemed to be ample customers for both in a society that seems to appreciate a hot (or cold) cuppa'.

Near the end of my somewhat random journey, I ended up at Berjaya Times Square, a mall seemed almost as tall as it was wide, if only to hold its indoor amusement park complete with roller coaster.

After staring down at what seemed to be a promotion based on the popular Monopoly game, I searched out for some food. I wasn't in too much of a mood to be adventurous, but didn't want to go for something that I could get back at home, so I made a compromise on the Malaysian version of KFC, Marrybrown.

There I ordered the Nasi Ayam MB, a chicken rice dish with marinated chicken fillet topped with sauce, fresh acar, crispy papadam, and a bowl of chicken soup. That plus a 7-UP set me back less than 10 RM, which equals not quite three dollars in US money.

After that meal, I started making my way back to my hotel; on the way, I spotted an ice cream vendor on the side ringing a bell, trying to entice some of the streaming masses, who didn't seem to pay him any mind, to try his wares. When I saw that they had purple yam ice cream, tasty childhood memories of my parents bringing home the Ube ice cream from a store, I couldn't help but try a couple scoops. It didn't match to the stuff I had back home, but it made for a nice cooling treat in the still quite swampy air during an early Malaysian Saturday evening.

I noticed they also had durian ice cream. I had heard much about the so-called king of fruits, but its reputation was something of a dubious one, as it is supposedly an acquired taste and its smell is pungent, to put it kindly.

Hey, I had settled on Malaysian fast food for my first meal. More adventurous dips into the fine cuisine here could wait for another day.

6/21/2009

No Tin-Horn Town Here

The flight went about as well as it probably could - I stayed up about four hours into the flight until I could no longer fight off the sleep, and got about four hours of good sleep. Unfortunately, six hours of flying still remained, and the remainder of the trip at best hit the light nap stage.

After a short layover at Kaohsuing Airport in Taiwan, I boarded the flight to Kuala Lumpur. Throughout the flight, I was reminded about the H1N1 pandemic that has many countries concerned as many people wore masks on the flight. A further reminder was given near landing time, when a health questionnaire was handed out along with the Malaysian arrival card form.

Passage through customs was a painless process (no visa was required for entry), so it was time to grab a taxi to get to my hotel. The first sense I got of the sauna that is Malaysian weather hit me as I walked out of the terminal to board my ride. This was a blanketing, almost overwhelming soup, but thankfully I only had to endure it for roughly a minute as we started the long (fifty mile) trip to around the Golden Triangle area of KL, whi

While the trip was somewhat leisurely, the time passed with rapid transitions. Almost immediately out of the terminal, the skies opened up with a passing thunderstorm, common for this time of year. Then, almost as quickly, the precipitation vanished, leaving me time to survey plant life which I had only seen on TV and movies prior. Then again, the vast suburbs and infrastructure of KL wended their way into my sights. The seeming sameness of what seemed to be vast housing developments made me even more anxious to catch sight of famous skyline of KL.

And sure enough, the city that started off as a tin prospecting camp in the Klang Valley peeked out from behind a hill crest, and it was not disappointing at all

6/20/2009

The Erratic Travelogue

Well, I've got a lot of catching up to do. The last couple weeks since I have posted have been quite the adventure as well, as I have begun the recovery from the surgery. The surgery had delayed a trek of over 10K miles across an ocean for a work detail in Malaysia, or possibly derailed it altogether depending on what the doctor found. As it turned out, the doctor gave the all-clear signal, and a few days later, I was leaving on a jet plane in the wee hours of the morning.

I found I haven't had the time to keep up with as many things as I thought I would, but here's my attempt to log in some thoughts during this trek.

Red-eye flights normally are no fun, but in this case, it could work out to my advantage if I played it right.

With the time being roughly 4:30 PM at my destination, my personal game plan was to stay up for as long as humanly possible. One thing that worked against me, and something I'll have to keep in mind for next time, is that I decided to go to work the day before the flight. The realization struck me as I went through security that to make my plan work right, I'd have to literally stay up for more than 24-hours straight.

Not much is open after 10 PM at pretty much any airport, and finding ways to keep my mind from drifting into nighty-night land would be a challenge. As it turned out, my terminal had lots of interesting art work to ponder a bit, and these pieces as well as a few abandoned local newspapers managed to hold back Mr. Sandman.







So far so good...but a 14-hour flight into Taiwan awaited. Staying awake until exhausted was now doable, but would I be able to turn the trick and actually conk out? I had a bought a new travel pillow and some ear plugs to help me turn the trick, but deep down I knew it wasn't going to work out exactly to plan...

6/05/2009

It's Been A Long Time, Been A Long Time...

Yeah, like I bet THAT hasn't been used in a blog title before...and two months can seem like but a drop in the bucket when comparing it to, say, whole geologic era's worth of events.

But nevertheless, it has been two months since I posted, and it's one of those oft-heard reasons - life just got in the way.

Most of it has been due to just plain being busy. Aside from the usual, various outside projects which have become familiar to me always hit around this time.

There were a couple trips thrown in that mix, both a combination of vacation and meeting up with friends who live way too far away physically but are always so close via the Internet.

Quite a lot of time has gone to train for my goal race for the spring, a triathlon in the middle of May. I was pretty pleased how things turned out there.

And some was due to the unexpected - that's what having a visit to the hospital to take care of a flare up of one of those so-called "useless" internal organs will do for you.

So, anyway, that's been my life for the last two month's in a nutshell.

You'd think you'd be able to keep up with everything, but sometimes it seems like it's a losing battle. To quote some more Zeppelin

"Now I've reached that age
I've tried to do all those things the best I can
No matter how I try
I find my way into the same old jam."

I'm just getting to be an old man I guess...well, not really, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Hopefully you all have been keeping up with your own personal worlds to your satisfaction.


Hopefully yours hasn't been too frenetic or crazy for your own personal liking

4/01/2009

April Frak's Day

The mosquito who feeds on joy bit me big time today, sucked long and hard, and barely got airborne it was so full of nourishment.

Not a great start to the new month...ahh, well

3/16/2009

Watching The Fish

The little ones so often have it right.

I caught one of my nephews the other day enjoying himself on the kitchen floor. No, not with one of the fancy electronic toys that had a shelf life of about a month before going into the notorious toy bin, nor one of his many themed toys that, like all kids before him, he's grown into and out of within several months.

He was floating and spinning on artificial wooden planks that made up the kitchen floor inside a big rectangular fruit carton box.

Another time, he stood propped up on a chair next to the fish tank, enraptured. He caught sight of me and yelled that I should be watching the fish. I asked why.

"Because I like to watch the fish," he replied.

The box. The fish. Maybe it's the Dr. Seuss philosophy that we adults sometimes forget.

The simple can be the most imaginative. The most carefree. And the most fun.

Now maybe it's time I catch sight of those same fishies, if only for a few moments.

3/12/2009

TMI-tter

I remember as a kid having a lot of fun with those cheap 9-volt battery-powered walkie-talkies you bought at the toy store.

Sure, the reception was crappy and the range was limited, but it was fun to hear someone's voice from so far away.

Twitter to me seems like the internet version of those old walkie-talkies. Through a computer or an internet-enabled cell phone (a fancy version of a walkie-talkie, if you think about it), you can update anyone who wants to follow you on your progress throughout the day.

Twitter seems the next big thing in social networking - many famous people tweet their progress many times a day, and in this day of fast-arising events, this instant updating ability has shown its potential - I recall checking in on some Twitter logs a few times as Hurricane Ike roared onshore near Galveston, Texas.

I have no need for such a service, and I doubt I'd need it in the near future. But during some idle time on the bus today, I thought of a variation that would probably have only the heartiest and most dedicated of followers - TMI-tter.

(Note: this train of thought has no relation to, nor was influenced by, an actual Twitter-oriented keyword tracking service website called Tmitter, which I just discovered existed literally a few minutes before I typed this post.)

On my vision of TMI-tter:

- every visit to the latrine would be drippiliciously scrutinized.

- Kermit the Frog would not be serenading folks about a "Rainbow Connection", when colors like puke-yellow, split-pea green and fudgy brown are predominant.

- words like "turducken" and "scabby" and phrases like "lung butter" would be commonplace.

- graves everywhere would sport "vacancy" signs, as millions of better-left-untold secrets would never complete that fateful journey.

- the 1960's experiment with Smell-O-Vision would earn an unfortunate renaissance

- oh, those colors I mentioned? Many of them would be associated with the word "stain"

- "Oooh, my (insert body part here) shouldn't be bending that way" would be so often tweeted, a variation of the line will end-up in a top-selling hip-hop tune.

Yeesh...Okay, enough of that - TMI is TMI indeed.

I think I've only scratched the surface of "potential" for this concept. And no, potential does NOT have a scabby surface either (thank goodness!)

3/08/2009

Just A Place To Call Your Own

"That's the third time we've crossed that river," Pauline sighed as she idly watched nature blur by the window beside her.

"I think that's a different one, Paulie-girl." Trent brushed her long stringy ebony hair casually as he stared blankly forward. After a long two days, the downtown area and, more importantly, their destination were in sight.

"Lots of trees anyway," she muttered, as she closed her eyes and snuggled closer.

Trent kept his focus forward as the bus made its exit from the freeway. It had been many hours of crimped necks, cheap food, and numerous, sometimes foul-smelling strangers. In fact, he realized that he and his partner could badly use a shower themselves.

They had never been outside of Ohio prior to this journey, and the kaleidoscope of fluttering farm fields, high-arching mountains, and now deep green forests were almost too much overload for their uncertain psyches. He knew that he just wanted it to be over; his girl had had no problems telling him such ever since they boarded the bus back on Chester in Cleveland.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching the station in Eugene..." The bus driver's crackling announcement awoke Pauline from her stupor. She raised her eyelid and groaned, "So much for our holiday."

Trent chuckled audibly. "Heh - you can't find the words to say."

Pauline glanced up at him confusedly as Trent continued. "You said we'd run away together. And spend some time forever."

"Wha?" Pauline pulled slightly away from Trent.

Trent smiled out loud and broke into tune. "We'll never feel bad any-morrrre."

She snickered. "Ha! Hip Hip." Her boyfriend joined in the chorus. "Hip Hip." However, Trent's third verse was interrupted. "Hip hey ohhh..."

"What?" Trent's fade and dissolving smile caused Pauline to sit up at attention. Turning toward the window, she caught sight of what Trent had spotted - a blackened bus station exterior and a gutted interior. Fire had apparently raged through the building seemingly not to long ago; the bus seemingly had slowed down to accentuate the numbing effect on their two minds.

Suddenly Trent reached into his left coat pocket and pulled out his belongings in there. A couple of twenty-dollar bills, a few singles and some odd change; a piece of paper with a phone number; a half-eaten Snickers bar; and a couple of crumpled napkins lay in his half-clasped hand, causing him to lightly clench his lips and take a deep breath.

"Trent?" He stared into her hazel green eyes; her expression duplicated the one she flashed the exact moment he told her of his plan to leave and overcome their circumstances behind, and that Oregon would be as good a place as any to do so.

"It's going to be fine." He kissed her gently as the bus lumbered itself over the curb toward its eventual resting spot.

3/05/2009

Radio Free Aleppo

Occasionally I'll be posting about some of my experiences in Syria from late 2008. This is one of them...

Damascus' hectic cityscape had now faded into the arid brush and dirt of the high Syrian desert as the sun started its rise from behind the horizon. For most of us, this would be our first time outside of the city borders since our airplane trip into the country, and we had been looking forward to seeing the historic sites outside of Syria's capital. However, the early hour we had to wake - even earlier than most of our workdays so far - left most our contingent bleary-eyed as we loaded up and started off toward the ancient city of Palmyra.

The travel agent had assured us that our vehicle could hold 10 people easy, but that proved to be something of a reach for our group. There was no room to stretch out, so bodies turned askew and legs and feet lay at odd angles as people straddled over belongings as well as each other.

The surrounding land, covered with scrub brush and rolling dirt and stone mounds, brought back memories of the Tehachapis in California on Route 58, right before you reached the Mojave. The otherwise pristine mountains which lined our valley were oddly at times chunked out, as if someone had taken a huge spoon and dug into a big mound of coffee ice cream. Perhaps that was to gather needed building material for the buildings of Damascus, or perhaps to provide the roadbed the very highway we were traveling on at that moment. As the sun brought more light to the blue sky, I caught sight of misty cloud fingers wafting over the tops, snaking down the slopes and providing alluring eye candy for my anticipatory mind.

Someone had told us that camels would be prevalent as we got closer to Palmyra, but it was apparent early on that the true ship of the desert these days was the two-wheeled motorcycle. Even the Beduoin tribes we passed, otherwise nomadic in their ways, seemed to have one or two vehicles handy just in case they needed to make a quick trip into the suburban sphere of the state.

As the landscape grew more sparse, our driver turned on the radio - Palmyra was still a couple hours away. Perhaps acknowledging his Western world contingent, the driver fiddled with the dial and soon we were listening to songs that we might hear back home during our commutes, or maybe populating our iPods.

Even the deejay spoke in English and Arabic - from what I could make out, we were hearing a station out of Aleppo, which didn't seem to make sense distance-wise, but I figured if I got out here in the first place, anything was possible.

Soon, the familiar strains of a Bee Gees tune came on the air. Maybe it was the novelty of hearing 1970s disco in the middle of the Syrian desert, but our still sleepy contingent perked up and tuned in.

And then came the chorus we all knew well, and we all became backup singers.

"More than a woman...more than a woman to me."
"More than a woman...you are, more than a woman to me."

Laughter broke out amongst us all. The driver turned back to us briefly and joined us in our chuckling.

Shortly afterward, many of us drifted back into napland. But for a brief moment, Barry, Robin, Maurice, and a bunch of Westerners far away from home serenaded the mountains of Ajjibal Attadmuriyeh.

3/01/2009

Drummer Man

It was the Bicentennial year, and patriotic images transitioned within my fuzzy mind. The Declaration Of Independence. Paul Revere. George Washington. Mount Rushmore.

The scent of Gordon’s...yes, very familiar to me...permeated the final image, and the bright light made me squint. Those four faces stared with curiosity. Concern. They looked youthful.

“Are you okay mister?”

They hovered around me, like pigeons awaiting for stale bread to drop underneath the 480 freeway along the side of the bay. Wide-eyed. Peering. They asked questions amongst each other.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Should we tell the teacher?”

“He might be a wino, you know.”

“What’s a wino?”

My hand tried reaching forward, but merely dropped to the cold concrete floor below. A uniformed female face, with that same curious concern, mumbling for me to enjoy my time at the zoo...I tried reaching for my right-side coat pocket.

A metallic clink, and then the pressure of a butterfly upon my chest. I glanced downward; it looked like one of those newfangled quarters, with a nattily dressed drummer beating out a determined march. There was nothing like that to greet me several years ago, not that it would’ve made a difference, or perhaps...

“I don’t know, do you think that will be enough?”

“Yeah, I think so. Besides, I want one of those chocolate malts. The cart said fifty cents.”

“Yeah, malts! Let’s go back. Teach' is probably looking for us now.”

And then, Mount Rushmore was gone. Well, one face lingered. He looked Asian, though not Vietnamese; he was not threatening. He stared. Concerned. Curious. Perhaps a little scared.

I would’ve tried to reassure him, if I could. There was a time I could. But now, I needed to fade back to the darkness.

2/20/2009

50 Ways To Leave Your Money

Through circumstances not in my control, I recently ventured forth to somewhere I had never purposely planned a trip before - one of the many Indian Casinos that are found typically in the rural reaches of the state.

Gambling in and of itself does not give me any particular thrill, so casinos aren't normally in my line of sight as destination places. Even a place like Las Vegas, with its myriad of options other than gaming, has a built-in, saccharine-style glamor and luxury that I can stomach for only so long.

In contrast to their more well-known and higher-patronized Vegas cousins, the atmosphere within this casino struck me as distinctly blue collar. These were mostly working-wage customers, the casual gambler with nothing better to do, or older folks who had planned smartly, retired, and were more than willing to lose a few hundred in the hopes of winning a few thousand.

In fact, that few thousand was a prominent theme. Instead of touting the possibility of mega-million jackpots, the current casino promotion emphasized lots of little jackpots of between $2000 and $3000, with a nattily-costumed, comic-book-superhero character in evidence to advertise the point. Indeed, little mementos featuring our masked money giver were prominent at every machine that had hit the jackpot in what most would assume recent history.

Likewise, there was no hint of a glitzy, scantily-clad female revue or the stretchy showmanship of the latest Cirque de Soleil creation here. Entertainment consisted of bands simply making a living on old glories of the 1980s and before, or singing acts based in foreign countries designed to draw the gambling-happy populations of various Asian countries in droves.

Outside the rustically-styled stone facade of the casino, nowhere could you locate the neon jungle of the Strip, faux volcanoes and multicolored, dancing fountains. Instead, one was greeted by creaky, wooden buildings and fences, as well as the austere beauty of dormant olive trees back-dropped by green foothills shadowily bathed by the dull light of the winter sun.

As I walked around the gaming area, I noticed the section featuring poker, the phenomenon that shows no sign of letting up, bustling with patrons, with waiting lists to fill tables. This was in stark contrast to the high-limit area, which had all the liveliness of a school library. Perhaps sedated by the lack of patronage, both dealers and players there appeared all too serious or, perhaps, just a bit bored.

There are few things a penny can buy these days, but one of them is a pull on a slot machine apparently. For me, and perhaps reflective of the recent economy, I was surprised to see a large collection of 1-cent, 2-cent and nickel slot machines of wide-ranging themes, from the traditional to the pop-cultured (an eBay slot machine? Who'da thunk?)

I had heard stories of the slot jungles in Nevada featuring these machines in droves, and had thought how a casino could possibly make substantial money off one of these things. But, as I sat down to wile away the time at one of these frugal fixtures for the first time, I noticed that I hadn't given the casino executives enough profit-making credit.

Sure, one can play one penny and play one line on these slot machines. But, when there are fifty lines you can play...ahh, I get it now.

So here I sat, in front of a Hee Haw machine (Hee Haw? Do I have more in common with Buck Owens than I thought?) and trying not to play the maximum allowed. Psychologically, it's hard not to push that "Max" button.

As it turned out, I actually doubled my money. Yeah, I turned a Lincoln into a Hamilton. But alas, video poker wasn't too kind to me that night, so overall it was a small but manageable loss in the pocketbook.

2/15/2009

Stranger No More

In terms of swimming, water and I have had a non-existent to uneasy relationship.

As a kid, my considerable girth, thanks to lots of overeating mostly the wrong things, helped me float in the pool, and I could kick fairly decently. But ask me to break into a stroke of some kind, and I would just smile at you quizzically.

Somehow, I managed enough pool time to develop a workable backstroke over the years, but traditional freestyle remained non-existent.

Flash-forward to my late-30s a couple years ago. I had become a certifiable but happy running fool for a few years, but one too many bouts with the dreaded iliotibial band syndrome had made me move to what I considered into a temporary journey into triathlon-training.

Biking would be challenge enough - I hadn't ridden a bike regularly since college, but I knew I would eventually pick up the knack again. And I would need to engage muscles that weren't normally worked during my running workouts, but that would come around eventually.

Swimming, however, remained the elusive, mysterious stranger. Yeah, I could backstroke, but not seeing where you are going is generally a bad thing during a race. Freestyle would have to embedded into my athletic lexicon somehow.

Those first few lessons were fairly laughable. That chubby girth that had helped me float on top of the water was no longer in existence, thanks to my running and better eating habits the previous few years. Another anti-swimmer "gift" running gave to me was the dreaded "runner's kick" - a whirling dervish of little propulsive value that would often times leave me thrashing in place or even traveling backwards, seemingly against the law of physics as I knew them. The 20-yard width across the local pool may as well have been the English Channel with how long it felt to get across sometimes.

Breathing resembled a clumsy, neck-wrenching whale breaching - I hadn't the confidence to breathe out into the water, like you're supposed to do, so I would try to breathe in and out all at once while my mouth was out of the water.

And those drills - they were supposedly helping aspects of my swim I thought I had knew everything about.

Rotation - Of course! That's what planets do on their axis.
Catch - That's something you do with a baseball, yep.
Pull - What, this ain't tug-of-war lessons, right?

Flash forward to this morning. The weather was nasty - dark gray skies which spilled cold rain and gusty winds, not the kind of weather you would want to be in, even in a warm jacket and water-resistant clothing.

But there I was, with a few other more of what I would consider the hardcore and higher-skilled triathletes, dressed in nothing but my polyester jammers, rushing to get my swimcap and goggles on so I could jump in the luxurious steamy-warm waters of the outdoor pool.

Once in, rain peppered the water around, but with earplugs on, the sound wasn't noticeable. The drops themselves splattered about me when I stopped by the side of the pool to catch my breath, or to check out the next routine of the first ever typed-out workout I've ever followed, an experience that was actually very unique, and if I say so, kinda' cool.

I'm still no speed demon in the pool, but I do feel I am progressing. My kick is still a weak point, but I can kick across lengths of a pool with no issue. During this workout, there were times that I could feel two or even three things click at once, if only briefly. In most previous workouts, I'd have a light bulb go off for one aspect at a time, if that.

And oh yeah, I swam over 3000 yards this workout, nearly one and three-quarter miles, and either over 700 or 800 yards farther than any workout prior. Sure, I didn't quite get through the whole workout as written out - yes, that darned slow speed raring its head - but said completion makes for a good goal in the future.

There was a time I considered swimming something of a three-month-stand. Now it's a lot more - I don't know if I'd call it my significant other or even very best friend yet, but it's gone way beyond the stranger status.

2/12/2009

Strictly Ballroom

From all I've been told, I'm doing quite well for someone who has never remotely tried formal dancing in the past four decades of life.

However, the past six weeks has revealed a few things that I didn't really think about when I decided to take dance lessons on a whim starting this year.

There's a scene in Rocky III where Rocky Balboa's former bitter rival turned good friend Apollo Creed has Rocky swimming in the pool. His friend Paulie asks Creed why he's got him swimming, and Creed responds something to the effect of, "He's using muscles he never knew he had."

These dances, especially the Latin ones, really utilize those glutes and hip flexors. Dancing never crossed my mind as cross-training, but I'm figuring this will come in handy in my future running, swimming and biking.

Another is the whole notion of leading. I'm happy to be a follower; in fact, that is the role I feel most comfortable in - ready to pitch in wherever while flying under the radar.

Here, you as the man have to be the guide, the lead. Keep your frame solid, and lead your partner where you want to go. And it's not particularly easy mindset-wise.

At least I've gotten over the stepping on the toes thing; that was foremost on my brain the first couple of weeks out. Now it's a matter of being something of a middle-of-the-packer amongst back-of-the-packers dance-wise. There are some in the class who are having a dickens of a time getting the steps down, and I try to guide them best I can with my limited knowledge.

Then there are those who have been at it longer than I, or who have been dancing with a partner (a significant other of some sort) and have a great level of comfort with them. I feel funny leading these people around, being so relatively inexperienced.

Finally, there's a mantra that's not the general mindset of most of my other athletic pursuits, but that mindset is well expressed in the words of Simon and Garfunkel:

Slow down...you move too fast


Gotta' stick to that beat, whether it's a lazy waltz or an energetic rumba or cha-cha. One of my kindly partners has been pointing this fact out, and last week I tried to take my time, against my prior instincts. I think I did a fairly decent job.

With that said, these routines can be pretty exhausting. Makes you wonder if someone could combine the idea of Latin dance and fitness...oh, dang, it's already being done.

Ahh, well, happy stepping to you all...

2/05/2009

Will You Be My Valentine?

Valentine's Day hasn't meant much to me lately, especially as a single who hasn't been in a significant relationship in awhile.

I've been browsing some of the stories as the day approaches in the various news reports with something of a neutral, dispassionate eye. In the past, it's alternated between "yeah, I'm glad I'm single!" to "please don't remind me, okay?"

News wise, the main headline isn't too surprising - spending is expected to be down this year for the holiday, which I'm sure isn't good news for the myriad of businesses who traditionally get an economic shot in the arm from this occasion.

As far as the day's relationship to single people, I've found the usual, similarly-themed stories. Some reports tell you how great it is being single around this day. Other columns detail the steps you should take and/or talk about the warning signs for those who are having a tough time seeing love blossom all around them. And still more highlight the options and events available for single-folk to try to change their social status on that day.

I've always thought of this day as definitely an economic holiday, and something of an artificial holiday. As I have heard some people say, why can't everyday be Valentine's Day? With this in mind, if I ever do have occasion to encounter this day with another significant other, I'd love to have someone who can think out of the box for recognizing the event.

Perhaps having a Valentine's week of sorts might be fun. Or maybe celebrating the 15th or the 13th or just any random day except the one numbered 1-4. Gifts? Sure, but again, I'd like to think out of the box on this one. Flowers, jewelry, greetings cards, etc. will always be there. I guess as each occasion comes up, that certain special thing will materialize.

Whatever the case, I'd want it to be a time where there's no stress on either party. Might as well make it fun, right?

I mean, there's been enough days of not seeing V-Day as fun in my viewpoint. These lyrics from Oingo Boingo summarize a thought process that has ruled a bit more of my past than I'd really care to admit:

I do not trust my ears / I don't believe my eyes
I will not fall in love / I cannot risk the bet
Cause hearts are fragile toys / so easy to forget


But these days, I'm not thinking about love and all its machinations much, if at all. If love comes my way, it comes my way, you know?

And for this year's Valentine's Day, the title of said Oingo Boingo song is apropos - "It's Just Another Day...Just Another Day, my friend."

2/02/2009

Word Up

Perhaps in a sign of both economic and, perhaps, just changing times in general, Stacey's Book Store announced its closure in March of this year after over eighty years in business.

I admit I probably don't read as much as I should. And a recent visit in here, to take advantage of their 30% sale on all merchandise, confirmed to me why.

Shelves were still stocked full of books. In fact, it's overwhelming to my mind how many selections there really are.

One of my goals for the visit was to pick up a cookbook or two. Now I am no master chef or baker; I'm much more of a dabbler. But I would like to learn to cook more, if nothing more to add some badly needed variety to my diet.

But I didn't know where to start. Should I grab a recipe book from one of the famous local aficionados of popular neighborhood hangouts? There were multiple examples available, and they all looked enticing to one degree or another.

Same thing with the vegetarian/vegan cookbooks - there were at least 30 titles available for browsing, from the fancy-schmancy to ones that preached simplicity.

Baked goods? How about a dozen titles for cookies, several for pies, and big behemoths that covered the gamut of sweet sinfulness.

After much deliberation, I made out with a vegan cookbook with 200 simple recipes and a breakfast-specific book - my first meal of the day has become woefully samey, and I'm need some fresh new ideas in this field.

The political section was on its own a beast to navigate. Dozens upon dozens of biographies of figures famous and obscure took up three longish shelves. A couple more sections were devoted to the Obama phenomenon, dealing with everything from his life and times to what the pundits a plenty thought our new President should do with his opportunity. Another section soon to be fading away into the dustbin of history was the George W. Bush section; with this being San Francisco, most if not all of the selections were geared toward the negative, from the factual to the scathing to the humorous (depending on your point of view, of course.) I noticed one of the probable last examples of this "genre" displayed prominently in several places in the store.

Geography was always one of my unofficial hobbies, so the book "How The States Got Their Shapes" stuck out like a bright beam of light amidst the rhetorical clutter. Bet you didn't know that the state of Delaware actually owns a small chunk of the western New Jersey shore...not that you would want to set up your homestead on a pile of dumped sediment from the Delaware River/Bay.

"Easy Arabic Script" is my effort to try to keep whatever Arabic ability I picked up during my stint in Syria alive and functioning. As I read somewhere, it probably makes no sense to learn a language if you can't read the script, especially when you're an adult and especially when the alphabet isn't anything remotely close to what you're familiar.

Finally, I figured something that was lacking lately for me was exercise for my brain. I picked up "The Everything Brain Strain Book", a book loaded with various mental puzzles, mind-benders, and logic tests. I used to love these kinds of books as a kid, but that was long ago - upon glancing through it, I realized I'd need a good dozen minutes to get my mind warmed up properly; heaven knows I can't afford to blow a neuron or three.

I ended up with five books for just over $60 bucks this day. The thing is, I could have ended up with many more. There were plenty of books available related to my main driving forces fitness-wise of running and triathlon, and lots of options to possibly whet my bug for future travel. Graphic novels, the literary version of one of my childhood favorite comic books, had the young-at-heart part of me salivating for awhile.

Thousands upon thousands of selections were there for the choosing. And to think, the local library has even thousands and thousands more selections that just requires a little plastic card and a promise that you will provide a timely return for your little treasure.

Taking my Arabic script book, thousands if not millions more options in other languages exist to stimulate your cerebral cortex, should you have the linguistic capability.

Technology, one of the main reasons behind the demise of the brick-and-mortar model, continues not only to reach back to the past (such as Google's Book Search engine) but also lives comfortably in the present (the millions of folks on the blogosphere) and strives toward future, still unwritten frontiers. It even has room for a modern take on the past model (the Sony E-Reader and Amazon.com Kindle devices.)

And to think, more ideas, stories, topics were proposed to publishers all around the world, and never ended up seeing the light of the day.

This virtual Everest of selection is enough to put a serious strain on anyone's brain. Where the heck do you start?

Heh, this little math teaser doesn't seem so bad after all in comparison.

1/25/2009

The Scar

Some people have mentioned my loss of weight as inspiration for their efforts, and of course I feel very happy that I could help in their efforts in some small way.

However, if you just looked at me without knowing the history, one would probably assume that I was skinny all of my life. This is what happened to me with the pool on Friday, when a gentleman of Japanese ancestry struck up a conversation with me and assumed that about me.

I told him my story, but it was only really in part because he had a much more visible story to tell, in the form of a one-foot-long scar on his chest.

He had undergone triple bypass surgery roughly half-a-year ago, and had taken up swimming as a way to not only get more active but also to get the weight, cholesterol and all those other factors which caused the surgery under control.

So far so good on his part - he has changed his diet and has lost some weight. He mentioned he would like to lose about 20 pounds or so more.

I said keep up the good work. And I told him my story paled in comparison with his - if anyone needed that final kick in the butt to get off the couch and get their fitness in order, all they needed to do was to look at his chest.

1/20/2009

Unity Of Purpose

I, like many others, had the opportunity to watch Barack Obama as he was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States.

I'm sure many of the people who watched were visibly moved by his ability to deliver a speech - Mr. Obama's eloquence has been well demonstrated in the past, with his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention acting as first exposure for many in the public at large.

And many were visibly moved by the event itself - I'm sure numerous people had their doubts that an African-American would ever be elected to the most powerful office on the planet, not to mention elected in their lifetimes.

Yes, I too was moved by the moment playing out before me on the television screen for the reasons mentioned above, but it is my nature to view things with as unbiased and as objective an eye as possible.

What Mr. Obama laid out was a beautiful in nature - people taking personal responsiblity for their actions, and breaking down the barriers that tend to divide us, such as those the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (to whom our current president owes a huge debt of gratitude) alluded to in his famous "I Have A Dream Speech" 45 years ago, to function as a working whole. As Obama stated himself in his speech, "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

That is a wonderful vision - people joining together despite the differences to overcome the obstacles which now face us all as a country.

But is it possible? Is it really? My objective mind says I'll believe it when I see it. However, my heart ever slightly tilts more to the hopeful and optimistic rather than the skeptical and pessimistic.

I wish our new President and we as a country the best over this first term.

1/18/2009

Damascus Doings Pt. 2

Well, upon second thought, I just figured I might as well post the link to my Syria experiences blog. If you'd like to read about it, you can check it out here

Whatever Happens In Damascus...

I hope you enjoy the read :)

1/13/2009

Looking Over Bellatrix

The constellation Orion has always held a special fascination to me. The pattern is quite distinguishable, and it gives me an odd comfort when I am able to spot it in the night sky, unlike some other constellations whom others insisted resemble things like telescopes or lions.

It also marks to me that winter is here in full bloom. I don't have any particular love or hate for the season, but it does make me aware that certain things like rain and early nightfall are going to be the norm for awhile.

I remember seeing a graphic somewhere about how the constellation would look in the skies thousands of years from now. Other than looking nothing like the perfection it seems to have now, I tend to think that if we're still around then we'll be viewing it, and its resident stars like Betelguese and Rigel, from much closer in from spaceships or colonies.

Recently though, I caught it in the sky glimmering in a crystal clear, chilly night sky, just days after I was literally thousands of miles away in another country. It made me realize that I was home again, and that made me happy.

Damascus Doings

I've started my blog about my experiences in Damascus, Syria, during the latter part of 2008.

If you would like to read about it, just contact me and I'll send you the link