Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

How do I describe Saigon? It is difficult to find words that will do it justice. I finally decided it would be best to simply tell you about some of the things I have seen over the past couple of days, so here goes:

In the midst of rush hour traffic a motorbike carrying a family of four (Mom, Dad, child about 3 years old and an infant about 18 months old) approaches the right hand side of my bus. As Dad maneuvers the bike so that her can cut in front of the bus with only inches of clearance, the infant gets restless so Mom helps him stand up on the motorcycle seat as they race by.

In 85-90 degree weather, Vietnamese girls on motorbikes cover every inch of their body as they motor through the day. In addition to long pants and a long sleeve shirt they add shoulder length gloves, a hat, and a scarf or face mask that covers the nose and mouth and is tied on top of the head over their hat. In most cases the only part of their bodies that is visible is their eyes and sometimes even those are covered by sunglasses. The story told by the tour guides is that the Vietnamese women covet white skin and cover themselves to avoid the sun’s rays.

I finally figured out how to cross a street on foot. You simply step out, regardless of the traffic and take slow, even steps, as the motorbikes and the occasional car or bus Read More

I arrived in Saigon about 11:30 PM Tuesday evening and was picked up by the hotel’s car. I am staying at the Indochine Hotel, located in District 1, which is in the heart of the business district down by the Saigon River. Most of the sites I want to visit are within easy walking distance of the hotel so it is ideally located. The room is fine – basic but nothing wrong with it – especially since it only cost $25 per night. It took me four trips down to the front desk to get settled, though. First, I couldn’t figure out how to call the front desk from the phone in the room. Pressing “O” did nothing. Turns out you have to dial “100.” Then I needed bottled water. And then I couldn’t figure out how to connect to the Internet. I looked in every corner of the room and behind every piece of furniture but there was no jack to be found, nor was there a wireless connection. The guy at the front desk finally came upstairs to show me how to hook up because, despite the fact that he claimed to speak English, he couldn’t understand me very well and I certainly couldn’t understand him. (Most of the people I have met who “speak English” have only a few words of vocabulary. My pantomime skills are improving by the minute).

Coffee in Vietnam using a press pot

A miniature single-cup press pot

Did I feel stupid when he walked in to my room and pointed up to the ceiling, where a bundle of cat5 cable dangled, just waiting for me to untie it and plug in. I checked my email, launched Skype and called my Dad to let him know I’d made it OK, then hit the sack. No use. Couldn’t sleep. It was 2:30 AM here but 1:30 PM at home and I was still on Florida time. After and turning tossing for an hour I finally got up and went back on the Internet, using the time to figure out where I want to go in the next 2 weeks. I just stayed awake all night and headed down to breakfast at 6AM. Actually, I do this a lot when I travel to Asia because it gets rid of the jet lag. Read More

I’ve been planning this around-the-world trip for months and already I’m having problems. I’m using my iPod as a PDA (I put all the monthly online bill payments into my Outlook calendar and exported it to the iPod) so that I can just check it every morning and remind myself of any business that need to be taken care of on the road. I’ve also carefully whittled down the equipment that I needed to carry, since every extra cord is something else I need to carry. One of the things I jettisoned was the charger for my iPod because I just figured I’d bring the USB cable and charge it through the MacBook. However I didn’t stop to think that I had the iPod set up on the PC (Windows) computer at home, which launched iTunes every time the iPod was connected and updated the Outlook calendar in the iPod. So last night, in the hotel room in LA, I booted up the laptop with the iPod attached to charge them both, and when iTunes was launched I panicked. You see, I don’t have a calendar on the MacBook, so I was frantic that my entire calendar would be simply wiped out when the system tried to update the iPod. Fortunately, the fact that I’d switched the iPod from the PC to the Mac made the iPod freeze up completely and I was able to change the system settings so that the calendar is not automatically updated each time the iPod is connected. Of course, then I had to figure out how to unfreeze the iPod.

Second, my Skype software – the one that I will use to phone people while I am traveling – suddenly stopped working. So I had to download and install it all over again. Strange gremlins are at work – it worked yesterday right before I left home. Read More

I’m on my way! This very moment I’m struggling between the need to eat and the need to write, so I’m juggling between the keyboard (precariously balanced on a TINY table in an airport restaurant) and a huge plate of Nachos. My fingers are greasy and so is the keyboard, but this will probably be my last chance to eat good old American junk food for a while and I am taking advantage of it.

On my way, waiting in the airport

On my way, waiting in the airport

Here I am, looking exhausted, but I wanted a photo of the way I looked on the day I began this adventure, because as my friend, Leah, said yesterday, I’ll come back changed: Read More

So many people have asked me how much my trip will cost that I thought I’d share a little known secret. Star Alliance is a program especially designed for round-the-world travel. It is an alliance of 18 airlines that includes United and USAirways. They sell a RTW ticket that is based on the number of miles you fly, with four levels of mileage, the highest allowable being 39,000 miles. There are a few basic rules to this program:

  • You can travel for as little as ten days or as long a a year
  • You must head generally in an eastward or westward direction during your travel
  • You are allowed to travel in any direction within a continent – so you could go to Europe and stop in London, then go on to Germany, then backtrack to France – but once you leave the continent of Europe, you cannot come back to it and you must continue onward in your chosen direction
  • Once you have visited a city you cannot return to it unless it is to travel through it to get to another destination
  • You must cross both the Atlantic and the Pacific ocean
  • At the end of your trip you must return to the same continent where you began your journey
  • You total mileage must be 39,000 miles or less

The beauty of this program is that, once booked, you can change your days/dates/flight times as many times as you wish without penalty. You can even change your routing for a $100 fee. I think this program was originally designed to appeal to the younger folks – college kids doing “gap year” travel between graduation and going into the workplace – but it works for me. I’m sure you’re all asking the million dollar question – how much does this cost? The price of my ticket Read More

I hardly know where to begin. I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been mired in travel planning – I’m up until the wee hours every night doing research and finalizing arrangements – there’s a lot to think about when you are leaving the country for six months. But yesterday I looked at my remaining list of things to do before I leave and I realized I’m going to make it. Almost all the crucial things are done – taxes, powers of attorney, setting up all my bills as drafts or activating online bill paying, etc. Now just the little stuff remains and I decided to take a breather. One of my new friends loaned me the movie “The Secret” so I decided to kick back in my recliner, make a big bowl of popcorn, and enjoy the movie.

This movie is all the rage right now. Oprah has featured it on her show and discussion about it on the Web is rampant. For me the film was just OK. It contained nothing I haven’t known for years. That’s not to say it’s not worth watching. It’s just that I found it to be a rehash of information that was previously examined on the film “What The Bleep Do We Know?“, which I found to be so much better than “The Secret.” The premise of “The Secret” is startling in its simplicity – that we create our reality with our thoughts and our intentions and that there is only one Universal law, the Law of Attraction. In other words, if we dwell on the negative things in our life we will attract more negativity into our lives.

I have always believed that that there are two clouds of energy out there in the ether – a dark, black cloud composed of fear, hate, judgment, envy, despair, sorrow (basically all the negative emotions) and a pure white cloud composed of love, joy, gratitude, willingness, honesty, peace, etc. (all the positive emotions). I believe that if you stay in a positive emotional state – and this is absolutely a choice on everyone’s part – you will draw positive energy to you, while if you dwell on negative emotions Read More