Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
Portrait of woman at Lajpat Nagar Central Market in Delhi, India

Click on title to view photo in large format. To experience the true Delhi, visit Lajpat Nagar Central Market, located at the center of the Lajpat Nagar residential neighborhood in South Delhi. The district developed during the 1950’s, as Pakistani refugees streamed in following the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan. Over time, it has evolved into one of the most sought-after communities in Delhi. Read More

Vendor sells colored powder for Diwali celebrations at the Lajpat Nagar Central Market in Delhi, India

Click on title to view photo in large format. Street vendor at Lajpat Nagar Central Market in Delhi, India, sells colored powder for Diwali celebration. Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important Hindu holidays in India. In the northern part of the country, the powder is used to make designs called Rangoli. While occasionally made by hand, many Rangoli are created using the round metal stencils stacked next to the vendor. Originally, worshipers placed the designs at the entrances to homes to beautify them and welcome guests. Today, however, Rangoli are Read More

My original visit to the island-state of Penang, Malaysia, was one of the most culturally rewarding experiences in all of my travels. The architecture in the UNESCO World Heritage capital city of George Town was simply stunning. Even more fascinating were the traditional artisans of George Town, who continue to make beaded shoes, Songkok hats, and sandalwood joss sticks by hand, in accordance with centuries-old methods.

Recently, I decided to return to Penang, as it is one of the easiest places in the world to apply for a Thai visa. I was looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the narrow alleys and street vendors of George Town, but I also felt a bit of trepidation. Six years is a long time. Would this intriguing corner of Malaysia live up to my previous experience? After attending to business at the Thai Consulate, I headed out to explore George Town on foot, just as I had done in 2010.

Within minutes, I noticed big changes. Huge murals adorned the sides of buildings, concrete bollocks had been painted as cartoon characters, and interactive art installations were scattered liberally throughout the city. Along with the city’s architecture and traditional crafts, the street art in George Town has become one of the most popular reasons for visiting Penang.

Huge mural on Penang Road, titled "Awaiting Trishaw Peddler"

Huge mural on Penang Road, “Awaiting Trishaw Peddler,” is one of the original six created by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic

The transformation began in 2009, when the Penang State government put out bids for an art challenge titled, “Marking George Town.” The Kuala Lumpur firm that was awarded the commission created 52 wire rod caricatures that depicted historical events and cultural stories of George Town. The dioramas were affixed to the sides of buildings in prominent locations around the city.

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Front facade of an eclectic Chinese Shophouse in Penang, Malaysia. It exhibits the architectural style preferred by Southern Chinese who were brought to Malaysia to work in George Town and in the tin mines in Perak

Click on title to view photo in large format. Front facade of a Chinese Shophouse in Penang, Malaysia. This is a prime example of the “Southern Chinese Eclectic” architectural style preferred by Southern Chinese who were brought to Malaysia to work in George Town and in the tin mines in Perak. Built between 1840 and 1910, it is constructed of brick with an outer layer of lime plaster that keeps the interior cool, regardless of exterior temperatures. It features classic shophouse design elements, including timber windows with iron bars and an elongated butterfly-shaped vent above the door. This latter provided ventilation from breezes without allowing the sun’s rays to heat up the interior. Read More

Chinese Shophouse Row in George Town, on the island of Penang, Malaysia, built in the

Click on title to view photo in large format. Chinese Shophouse Row in George Town, on the island of Penang, Malaysia. The “Early Straits” eclectic architectural style of this block of buildings signals that they were likely built between 1890 and 1910. Such shophouses began to appear in the Old Town district of George Town in the 1790’s. Initially, they were built of wood by Indian and Chinese artisans who were brought in as laborers. Over time, local residents who became wealthy from trade began to embellish the properties with brick, lime plaster, clay roof tiles, decorative ceramic tiles, and even cast iron. Read More

This past October, I flew to the Philippines, to attend the Travel Blog Exchange Conference, officially known as TBEX in Manila 2016. My association with TBEX began back in 2009, when an email between six travel blogger friends became the impetus for the first get-together in Chicago. There were barely 100 people at that event. We were crammed into a too-small room in the Chicago Cultural Center that had temperamental air conditioning and non-existent wifi. But to this day, it remains the best TBEX I’ve ever attended. Travel blogging was still in its infancy and we all knew one another. We were passionate about what we did and anxious to be accepted as professional travel writers. We oozed enthusiasm and hope.

Since those early days, TBEX has become the world’s largest travel blogging conference, with events held annually in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. With more than 600 bloggers and travel industry representatives attending each conference, the intimacy of the inaugural event no longer exists. And though the conference purports to offer sessions for all levels of bloggers, most seminars and workshops are more suitable for newbies than for old-timers like myself.

Filipino beauty queens parade at the Opening Night ceremony at TBEX in Manila 2016

Filipino beauty queens parade at the Opening Night ceremony at TBEX in Manila 2016

There were a couple of notable exceptions in Manila, including a workshop conducted by Linda Aksomitis titled Writing and Publishing Your E-Book. Linda has been an acquisitions editor for an e-publisher and has self-published a dozen books in print and ebook format. Since I’m in the process of writing my first eBook, the full-day session was immensely helpful to me. I also heard glowing reports about the two-day workshop, Building a Better Brand, conducted by Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel. Unlike other events at TBEX, which are generally included in the price of the ticket, Bret and Mary’s branding workshop cost an additional $200, but several attendees told me it was worth every penny. Read More