Monday, December 29, 2008


I thought about trying to write a short story or book based on the "Simple Man" character I wrote about on here before. I started writing it while I was in China but then got busy with other stuff and never got very far on it. I don't know if I'll ever finish but I like the introduction I wrote and thought I'd post it for you. It is titled "THE GOLDEN HOUR":

Photographers call it “the golden hour,” the last hour of sunlight before the dark robs them, for a time, of the ability to do what they do best: capture the pure beauty of nature. For this brief moment, the vast contrast between light and dark on God’s canvas provides a unique aesthetically pleasing effect that has so rightfully coined the phrase, “nature in its finest hour.” It is a race against time.

Vang Kai runs the same race each day; though, his hands have never held anything so technologically advanced as an SLR camera. He has never even seen his own image on anything but the broken piece of mirror hanging in the northeast corner of his hut, a treasure he found stuck in the muddy banks of the Mekong River next to his farm after the devastating flood of 1966. Each day when the Laotian Sun poses at the pinnacle of the mountains West of “the Mighty Mekong,” Vang has exactly one hour to return home from the fields for supper – a humble meal of rice cultivated by his own hands and what piece of fruit he could find amidst the day’s labors – after which he privately enjoys the last moments of daylight in the same traditional manner his father taught him oh so long ago.

You see, Vang is alone now; he has been since his family was swept away in the raging flood thirty-nine years ago. Being the conventional man he is, he has never left the farm, not even in ’72 when traders passing by asked him to fill an open spot on their boat. “I’m doing just fine on my own,” was his only reply. This is all he knows. This is where his memories are. More importantly, this is the only place where the nightly routine of song and story telling has the power to summon spirits from his past, at least that’s what Vang believes. He, too, is in a race against time, for the spirits are put to bed with the setting of the sun. The quicker he shovels down his evening meal, the more time Vang will have to create new memories and re-live old ones in the company of those he loves. This is his golden hour.

After fifty-six years, long days in the fields are finally beginning to take their toll. Today is no different. As he feels the cool evening breeze roll across his neck, Vang stands upright to give his back a rest from sowing seeds. His thin stature tells the story of endless years with meager rations of food. The calluses on his hands have calluses of their own, an inevitable result of his countless days on the farm. Since the age of eight, when Vang first stepped into the fields, up to now, the dirt on his clothes has never seemed to fade; how could it when each day’s labor is tended to with the entirety of his wardrobe? When he smiles, it is hard to distinguish between the dark gaps where teeth are missing and the dirt-covered, cavity-filled teeth that somehow still fulfill their role of breaking down his daily serving of food.

Yes, this humble man still smiles. There is no questioning why years and years of hardships have been laid on his plate instead of juicy steaks and fries. He does not ask why survival is solely dependant on his own will to fight. The simplistic story of his life has bred the philosophy that, “that’s just how things are.” What rationale has he to frown when his viewpoint on life stands true in his eyes? He has it figured out. He is happy; and the scene across the river in front of him suggests that his happiness, like the Sun, will soon reach its pinnacle.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


i was kinda bored at the end of my chinese class the other day so i started writing, this is what happened (it's in indonesian, english translation to the right):

KALAU KETEMU DI HARI NANTI (If We Meet at a Later Day)

kalau ketemu di hari nanti (if we meet at a later day)
ku harap matamu akan tau aku (i hope your eyes will know me)
ku harap hatimu akan sayangi (i hope your heart will rejoice)
ku harap cinta tu akan kembali (i hope the love will return)

kalau ketemu di hari nanti (if we meet at a later day)
ku kan kasih tau mu ku rindu samamu (i will tell you i have missed you)
akan kasih tau mu ku sering bermimpi (i will tell you i often dream)
tentang kamu, orang yang ku kasihi (about you, the person i love)

.......then the bell rang

Monday, September 1, 2008


Rather than posting all my pictures in a slideshow on this blog, here is the link to my Picasa photo albums:

When I add new albums I'll put up a notification on here. I just added pics from my trips to Laos, Thailand, Australia, and the Philippines. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Laos/Thailand trip - Chapter 2

As I sip on my pineapple shake and watch the sun set behind the mountains across the Mekong River, I reflect on the last 36 hours and the road that brought me to Luang Prabang. I arrived in Vientiane, Laos around 10 a.m., 2 hours behind schedule. I told the tuktuk driver to take me to Buddha Park but when we arrived the park was about a meter deep in water, an aftermath of the recent floods. Determined to not see any tourists turn away disappointed, two locals had their skiff boats sitting at the entrance ready to give a unique tour of the park. The park was amazing. A man trying to offer a different view on the history of Buddhism and Hinduism and their teachings constructed the sculptures in the 1950s.

After the park I checked into a guesthouse for 5 USD. A few hours in Vientiane left me feeling unimpressed with the capitol city. It was the typical big, dirty city with a few touristy temple, same as the hundreds of temples I have already seen with a slightly different design. As such, I decided to ditch the room I had already paid for and catch a bus heading 11 hours North to Luang Prabang. The cheap accommodation prices are a perfect fit for my spontaneous nature. Besides, Vientiane is not the Laos I had dreamed about; from what I’ve read, Luang Prabang is. After all, that is the place that molded my expectations of this country.
The bus ride was an interesting one with locals and Laotian music blaring on the radio for most of the night. Out the window I could see the simple villages of the local people. Each hut was raised on stilts to avoid flood damage and there was no electricity. The atmosphere was dark with one or two flickering candles every few hundred meters. With no lights the silhouette of mountains in the background began to paint the picture of the Laos I have read about – a lush landscape of villages hidden in the trees and surrounded by mountains.

Around 11 p.m. the bus suddenly stopped in the middle of the jungle, miles from any sign of civilization. My first thought was, “oh no, a landslide from all the rain must be blocking the road.” As people began to alight I realized it was just a bathroom break, and where better than in the middle of jungle brush?

The next eight hours were spent struggling to sleep, much worse sleeping conditions than the train. My soft laptop case rolled up was the only makeshift pillow I could concoct to cushion my head on the hard plastic armrests. After a rough two hours of continuously interrupted sleep I woke with the sun. The surrounding landscape was ripe with scenes meet for any National Geographic magazine cover. Majestic mountains covered with the greenest of green trees stood tall in the background. Thatch-roof huts constructed of bamboo sat meagerly in the foreground. The few people on the roadside smiled as I waved to them from my window. “What do people do here?” I thought to myself. In my travels I have found it intriguing that people with such simple, humble settings seem to be some of the happiest people I have ever met.

We pulled into the Luang Prabang bus station at 7 a.m. Seven of us crammed into a tuktuk for the 10K ride into town. The streets were lined with groups of monks in their bright orange robes walking to the nearby temple for a day of prayer and instruction. Other bystanders would stop and stare at the white guy hanging off the back of the tuktuk passing by. The same lush green mountains built a wall around the town. It seems as though that wall is impenetrable by Western influence. There are no billboards displaying products or models from America, no foreign cars, not even a McDonald’s or 7-11 on the street corner. Yes, this is the Laos I was looking for.

Sitting by the “Mighty Mekong” now, I am already beginning to reminisce about the things I have experienced. I can tell I will miss it when the time has passed. I’ll miss the elephant riding, swimming in waterfalls in the jungle, sharing life experiences with monks I meet at the temples, talking with locals excited to practice their English, and the laid back atmosphere where the locals seem to be void of a care to keep track of the time (nobody seems to wear watches). I still have a good week and a half of traveling left before heading to China. I hope I can make the most of my time.

Laos/Thailand trip - Chapter 1

I have never been to a country where I didn’t know the language well enough to get by. A few hours after touchdown in Bangkok I struggled with and failed at trying to explain to a local hairdresser that I wanted the sides a little shorter than the top. I could tell this was going to be an interesting journey.

For the last two months I have been planning to tour through Laos and Thailand. My “planning,” however, does not involve making plans. All I know is a starting point and date, a final destination and date, and a few places of interest along the way. The starting point is Bangkok, Thailand on August 16. The first leg includes taking a train from Bangkok into Laos on the day of arrival. After making my way through Laos the final destination will be Chiang Mai, Thailand on August 23rd where I will spend a few days touring the area on a scooter. Then I need to be back in Bangkok on the 28th so I can catch my flight to Lanzhou, China where I will spend a year attending school. So far so good – other than the humbling realization I cannot communicate with the locals.

Trying to get around for the short time I was in Bangkok was an adventure all on its own. Tuktuk drivers would take me 100 meters and then stop and refuse to take me any further unless I agreed to visit and buy something from one of his friends’ stores. At least that’s what I understood from the combination of hand gestures, pile of business cards, and shattered (not just broken) English. My next attempt was a “metered” taxi. I emphasize metered because although the words “Metered Taxi” are lit up on top of the car, the first few taxis I tried refused to turn on the meter and instead tried bargaining prices with me. It was an interesting few hours.

Right now I am making sweat puddles in my bed on a sleeper train to Laos. I have the top bunk next to a fan, but for privacy and safety purposes I need to pull the curtain closed next to the bed which blocks any flow of air into or out of my windowless 5x3x2 hot-box. Comfort aside, I am excited for the trip. Laos is supposed to be a beautiful place free of Western influence. UNESCO has rated it a world heritage destination because it has held so closely to culture and traditional ways of life. What will make it even more interesting is that last night before leaving Hong Kong I saw on the news that in the past week Vientiane (my train’s destination) and Luang Prabang (the city I want to spend most of my time in) had the worst flooding they have had since 1966. It will certainly be an adventure.
The steady 2/4 rhythm of the train on the tracks is soft enough to lull me to sleep; yet the jolts of the car every few beats are hard enough to deprive me of slumber. After a three-hour battle I decided to give up the fight: one point, jostling coffin from hell.

Unable to sleep, I moved to the ground level where I could look out the window. Through the glass I could see one of the clearest canvases of stars I have ever seen. The complete lack of light pollution in Eastern Thailand allows a brilliant night sky to show itself to insomniacs such as myself.

I enjoyed God’s gift to this restless being for a while before deciding to clean up. I noticed a showerhead over the toilet earlier in the night, but there was one problem: I have no soap, no shampoo, and no towel. I quickly devised a simple solution: use the hand soap on the sink for body wash and shampoo and use my pillowcase as a towel. The shower wasn’t the best, what with the cold water and the swaying cars throwing me off balance, but it feels nice to be clean again. More tomorrow.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Simple Man

I saw the end of a rainbow, today, sitting Southwest of Chiang Rai, Thailand. There was no leprechaun and no pot of gold; only a lush green field lying at the feet of majestic mountains to the West. Now that I think about it, maybe the leprechaun was camouflaged against the greenery and the gold is in the earth below. Should that be true, somewhere in the outskirts of Chiang Rai is one lucky man sitting on a fortune; though, his meager lifestyle would make one believe he is anything but lucky.

His bed is the bamboo floor of a thatch-roof hut. The frequency of his showers is determined by weather patterns of each season. The calluses on his hands have calluses of their own, an inevitable result of his sixty years on the farm. Since the age of eight, when he first stepped into the fields, up to now, the dirt on his clothes has never seemed to fade. How could it when each day's labor is tended to with the entirety of his wardrobe? When he smiles, it is hard to distinguish between the dark gaps where teeth are missing and the dirt-covered, cavity-filled teeth that somehow still fulfill their role of breaking down his daily serving of rice, bread and the occasional piece of fruit.

Yes, this humble man, like many of those I have met along the way, still smiles. There is no questioning why years and years of hardships were laid on his plate instead of juicy steaks and fries. He does not ask why survival is solely dependant on his own will to fight. The simplistic story of his life has bred the philosophy that "that is just how things are." What rationale has he to frown when his viewpoint of life stands true in his eyes? He has it figured out. He is happy.

Like I said, somewhere in the outskirts of Chiang Rai is one lucky man sitting on a fortune. I hope he never finds that fortune; it is not the root of his luck and happiness.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chiang Saen, Thailand

Yesterday I woke up in a village town called Pakbeng located on the Mekong river in Laos. After a three hour speedboat ride north I arrived in the Laos/Thailand border town of Huayxay where I had to take a ferry across the river and enter Thailand. As the day was trailing into late afternoon most buses from the Thai border town, Chiang Khong, were already gone, but there was one heading to Chiang Rai. I had heard of Chiang Rai and knew it was about half-way to Chiang Mai (my next destination where I would meet my friend in two days) so I decided to jump on the bus.

In Chiang Mai I was surprised to see a few 7-11s in town and HBO on the guesthouse lobby television, two things I saw nowhere in Laos. The night was a relaxing one, but after reading up about Chiang Rai it didn't seem like there was much to do other than visit some temples or go to the night market, something I have done numerous places throughout Asia. When I woke this morning I decided I have one day left before meeting up with my friend and if I wanted to do anything new I would need to leave Chiang Rai. I packed my bags and went to the bus station, not sure where I would go. I saw a bus to Chiang Saen, a town just next to the Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand. The Golden Triangle is on the Mekong River where Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand meet. The place sounded interesting so I planned to go for the day. When I arrived I walked around the streets trying to find a place to stay but nobody spoke English. Finally I found a guesthouse on the Mekong River that charges a little under 5 USD a night (expensive compared to the 1-3 USD places I have been staying for the past week). I rented a bike and cruised around town for a bit and headed down to the Golden Triangle which is about 8KM away. I read in the traveler's book on Thailand that in Chiang Saen one should allow half a day to visit the sites and then plan a few hours to go to the Golden Triangle. That estimate must have been if one was planning on walking slowly. It is now 3 o'clock, just 3 hours after stepping off the bus. I probably spent half an hour to an hour finding a guest house and the bike shop and then rode around on the bike for a little while. I have already seen all the places the lady at the bike shop pointed out to me on a map.

I might head to Chiang Mai if my laundry gets done soon and I can find a bus heading that direction. If not I'll just kick it here for the night. I'll write more on my whole trip later and put up the many many pictures I have taken, just wanted to post something while I had the time. Lata'!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Routine - the Assassin of Fascination

"Finally, the bus is here!" I think to myself. Even at six in the evening, standing outside in Hong Kong can seem unbearably hot. Not to mention the car exhaust blowing on you as the endless chain of vehicles ease by in the rush hour traffic jam. The extra heat and fumes only add to the discomfort and misery of the situation.

I dig into my pocket and scrounge up seven dollars for the fare. As I step onto the 16 passenger mini bus the Beijing Opera singer on the radio sends chills down my spine. If PETA had a "Recognizing Suffering Animal Sounds" CD I swear you would think we were listening to "Track 17: A severely beaten seal." I take a seat and pull out my MP3 player to drown out the wretched sound. After all, “Mask irritable sounds and voices” is iPod use #33, isn't it? If it's not officially stated, it's certainly universally understood.

Thoughts from work run through my mind. "What do I need to pull together before my trip to Australia? What will I need to discuss with the contractor in the Philippines? What am I going to report about my trip to Indonesia?" The tasks seem endless; though, the recent daily routine seems redundant.

The routine begins each day around 6 p.m. when I leave my 20th floor office at Pacific Place in Admiralty. I descend to the underground where I fight my way into a spot on the subway only slightly smaller than my own stature. Two stops and a few close encounters with accidental moral degradation later I alight in Causeway Bay.

Resurfacing behind SOGO, one of the largest department stores in Hong Kong, I am met by the same sights as the day before. The "Chocoolate" clothing store with a huge Burger King logo is directly in front of me. And if you're asking…yes, that's how "chocoolate" is spelled; yes, it has the Burger King logo but is, in fact, a clothing store; and yes, I am still confused about the whole thing. Yet, they do have nice clothes.

As I turn left down the street, the short walk to the bus stop graces me with more familiar scenes that remind me I am in Hong Kong. I give a nod to the street vendors selling DVDs of movies that are still in the theatres. I wave my hand at the massage parlor customer recruiters on the right and the porno magazine stand workers on the left to let them know I am not interested in their services. Then, after playing a quick game of hesitate-and-go with the taxis crossing my path, I arrive at the #5 mini bus station.

Safe on the bus now I sink into oblivion, completely unaware of my surroundings. The various languages spoken by other passengers, the advertisements and store signs covered with Chinese characters, the driver nearly side-swiping pedestrians in his mad dash for a break in traffic he can barely manage – all are nothing short of customary to me. At this point I would be more startled to see a baby in a diaper rather than a kid in crotch-less pants relieving their self on the sidewalk.

As we begin to traverse up the North side of Hong Kong Island’s mountain range I hear a loud beep. “Oh no!” I think. I forgot to re-charge the battery on my MP3 player and it is about to abandon me to abhorrent singing and obnoxious passengers yelling, “有落,” at the bus driver indicating they need to get off. I guess I’ll have to suffer the consequences of my own negligence.

Without music to distract my thoughts I begin paying attention to my surroundings. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed the thought of being immersed in Asian culture. Everything is so different, yet the monotony of my daily routine has desensitized me to the fascination. To my left the skyscrapers line both sides of the harbor. The unique structure of the buildings adds to the wonder of the city. In Central District is the IFC tower, the tallest building in Hong Kong where Batman kidnapped Mr. Lau in his most recent movie. Nearby there is the HSBC building, a more than life-size Lego structure. If needs be, the building can be pulled apart piece-by-piece and reassembled in a different location. Across the harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui I can see the Peninsula Hotel, which has been cited numerous times as the world’s best hotel. Many other buildings are just as spectacular and interesting.

At the crest of the mountain, the beautiful metropolis below fades into the background as we meet the luscious landscape of Hong Kong Island’s Southern region. The vast contrast leaves me feeling as if we have teleported to a different place and time. Two seconds ago I was looking at the largest cityscape I have ever seen and now I see a nearly uninhabited forest with the exception of a few buildings reaching to the sky from the green base below. Beyond the trees sits the ocean dotted with outlying islands and fishing boats heading back to the docks. The reflection of the setting sun on the water’s surface enhances the splendor of the view.

“有落,” I yell to the bus driver. As I step off the bus the questions running through my head are significantly different than at the beginning of today’s journey. I ask myself, “How have I not noticed the beauty of the South side of Hong Kong Island before? When did I become so disinterested in the unique characteristics of the Asian culture? What else have I missed out on during my distraction with work?”

What caused the change? There is only one answer: routine. Routine is the assassin of fascination – an unobtrusive creature eradicating beings from their enjoyment of daily life. One can only hope to be reminded of the excitement in little things. Kids can do it, why can’t I?

Thursday, July 17, 2008


“You should teach people in the West the truth about Tibet.”

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“It’s up to people like you and I to bring cultures together and open them up to the truth. You should teach Westerners the truth about Tibet.”

I was standing in my favorite Hong Kong pub talking to Charlie - a plump, half Chinese, half Japanese man pushing his late forties. Charlie spent a good part of his teens and twenties in California before returning to Hong Kong again for work. I guess being of Asian descent with an understanding of Western views qualified Charlie as a mediator between the two nations. Apparently my vice-versified situation gave me the same credentials.

One night as I was exploring the back alleys of Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s not-so-surprising surprise downpours drove me into the bar. As I stepped in the door the Modest Mouse playing over the speakers made me do a double take. “Am I still in Hong Kong?” I asked myself. A quick look around at the rice covered plates and Tsing Tao beer confirmed that I was. I grabbed a stool and engaged in some conversation with the locals while I waited for the storm to pass.

Being the only white guy speaking Chinese in a “locals” bar in Hong Kong I quickly made friends with all the workers. And if the definition of a regular is “everyone knowing you by name and the drink you like” then I think I reached that status by the time the two-hour downpour was over. As a regular, one acquires certain obligations; for example, occasional drop-ins to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. It was during one of these visits that I came to know Charlie.

“So what is the truth about Tibet?” I asked, curious to hear a new side of the story.

With his “I’m glad you asked” smile, lifted chin, heightened stance, and relaxed “I’m about to take you to school” demeanor, Charlie began to educate me on the “truth” about Tibet.

“Most of the people were slaves to the Dalai Lama and the other elites of the country,” he said. “The underlying idea of communism is equality; you know, equal portions for all, right? Well the Chinese communist party wasn’t happy with the way the Tibetans were running that part of China and that was one reason they went into Tibet, to rid them of slavery and establish equality in the society.”

Searching for a parallel to help me understand better I asked, “So you’re saying it is similar to what people say was the driving conflict of America’s Civil War?”

“MUCH worse!” Charlie replied with a bit of a chuckle, suggesting the ridiculous nature of my question. “The Tibetans would torture and severely abuse their slaves. It was a horrible situation. But all the rest of the world ever hears is about Tibet being devastated by attacks from the Chinese. That place was in a bad situation before the communist party ever moved in.”

I am intrigued by varying points of view. In a foreign country I have to remind myself that the environment in which one is raised is the breeding ground of opinions. Rather than criticizing the opinions of others and judging the validity of their opinions based on my own, I found it is important to take a step back and try to understand where they are coming from. I usually find that there is truth to what they have said. An open mind will open gates that lead to roads of wisdom and greater truths.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Pop quiz: which country has the most motorcycles, the largest number of guitar/ukulele players per capita, and the best fruit juices you will ever taste? Answer: Indonesia.

Since I started learning the Indonesian language 5 years ago Indonesia has always been at the top of my "places to visit" list. I got lucky enough this summer to get an internship that requires me to do a bit of traveling around Southeast Asia, finally taking me to Indonesia this past week. The stay was brief and the time was tight but I can say I have a better feel for Indonesian culture.

All Indonesians I have met in Hong Kong are very friendly people. When one of my Indonesian friends would talk to someone I could never tell if it was their first acquaintance or if they had grown up together. I thought maybe it was that way in Hong Kong because they are all far from home in the same situation so they were very open to each other. I thought wrong. It is the same in Indonesia. Everyone is very helpful and friendly with each other, it's a cool environment.

Another thing I noticed is that what many Americans, including myself, would probably look at as "just trying to get by," to them it is "just the way things are." Example: What would you think if you were sitting at a stop sign and a random guy walked out into the road to stop traffic and motioned for you to pull out? It definitely wouldn't cross my mind to give a tip to the guy. I'd probably be apologetic to the drivers he stopped and motion them to go ahead or something. In Indonesia there are people at every intersection helping direct traffic (traffic is crazy there by the way) and people give them tips for their services. And no, they are not hired by the city to do it. I asked. They just see a busy place and decide to help out for a few hours. So my point about "just trying to get by" as compared to "just the way things are," I look at bums begging for change in the street as "just trying to get by/survive" whereas directing traffic or similar services around the city is just what you do if you need some extra change. Maybe that doesn't make sense to you, it does to me. Just one example that might help you see the congeniality of Indonesians and gain a bit of understanding regarding their culture.

Also, from the little bit I saw, Indonesia is a beautiful place. I spent my time in Jakarta mostly with a one-day trip to Bandung, a mountainous region about 2 hours SE of Jakarta. The stairs of rice fields are just like you see in any Indonesian tourist book and it would seem that kite-flying is the favorite pastime of all kids. I'm excited to head back down and hopefully can have a bit more free time to visit some more places.

Kuala Lumpur - Chapter 2

In a hotel where it costs 1.15 USD to copy a single sheet of paper I would expect nothing less of the view from my window. The scenery outside room 2617 of the Kuala Lumpur Westin is magnificent. To the left is the “Menara,” Malaysia’s version of the space needle. I’m beginning to think it’s mandatory for each country to construct a similar edifice. To the right of that, and just a few blocks away, the twin towers stand erect – a phenomenon only Virginia Baker could bring about (Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character in Entrapment). Further to my right I see an extended sidewalk of rooftops leading to the base of the distant mountains. I plot out my course. If only I had taken up training that time I visited the Shoulin Temple traversing the rooftops might actually be a reality for me. Regrets. I’ll have to leave that one to my imagination.

As my eyes reach the end of the trail I notice clouds rolling in over the mountains. It must be 2:30. Each afternoon, like clockwork, a rainstorm waters the well-trodden ground of the Klang Valley – the most populous, urbanized region of Malaysia.

I turn away to continue my work only to return every few minutes and watch the show. Rainstorms are my escape to seclusion after a hard day’s work. The soothing rhythm of the rain beating down on the window is enough to calm the fiercest of beasts on their quest for blood. I am reminded of the times as a child when I would watch from the front porch as thunderstorms eased their way past my Virginia home. The gentle breeze would carry a soft, almost unnoticeable mist through the rails bringing a cool sensation to the humid atmosphere. Now, being stuck on the inside, my memory serves me well. I can still feel the same soothing breeze. The only difference is I am standing on a much larger "porch" in a foreign land.

An hour passes with me slipping in and out of nostalgia. The rain will soon be gone. If there is one rule of thumb I have picked up in Asia it is, “the wetter the cleaner.” This is not the kind of thing to be learned from browsing National Geographic’s “Introduction to Asian Culture” issue; rather it is something one comes to understand over time. You could imagine my worry the first time I forgot to check the toilet seat before sitting down. If wetter is in fact cleaner, then the Klang Valley is now a ’57 Chevy on the way to a car show.

I look forward to 2:30 tomorrow when the raindrops will be my soundtrack for another nostalgic journey.

Rain Walking in Macau

Right now I am huddled next to a building on a cobblestone street in Macau, China occupying one of the only dry spots around. I knew when I stepped out of the front door in Hong Kong this morning that I should grab an umbrella. Not wanting to inconvenience myself with a one minute delay, however, I made the much wiser choice and opted for damp clothes and bargaining with grouchy PohPohs (Chinese for Grandma) over umbrella prices.

It may seem that no skill is necessary in the sport of "rain walking." To the Chinese it only seems second nature. The skill involved is one that any person living in even mildly breathable surroundings would never think about. I'm talking about umbrella dodging. With the millions of people packed into pockets of China, any rainy day promises quality entertainment.

From above a crowded street it looks as if thousands of colorful balls are fighting their way through an assembly line at Toys R Us hoping to be the first to touch the desperate hands of a waiting child. On the ground the underside has a different view. Thousands of flustered faces make their ways through a maze of people, raising and lowering their lead hands so as not to collide their umbrellas with those of the passers-by. When the timing is occasionally off, however, and there is a *raise*raise* instead of a *raise*lower*, the collision is bound to bring a distasteful look and maybe a few snide remarks. With only a few seconds delay they are off again, finding their groove, hoping to be free of any more inconvenient encounters before reaching their final destinations.

Next time you're in China and it begins to rain, don't stay in. Grab an umbrella and join the game.

Kuala Lumpur - Diversity at its best

I never thought this would happen. I am thousands of feet above ground. A strange mist has left everyone in the cabin coughing and tearing up, making it impossible to witness our quick descent into Malaysia. For those "catching shut-eye" on the three hour flight from Hong Kong, waking up now would be a detrimental experience as it seems to be the oh-so-feared attempt of terrorism we post-9/11-ers sub-consciously worry about each time we step onto an airplane. However this was no act of terrorism. The Malaysian government requires a thorough sanitary spray-down on each plane entering the country.

This is my first trip to Kuala Lumpur. I will come to find out that the "terrorist scenario" is the first of many firsts I will experience during my week and a half long stay. Pet monkeys on leashes, a first. Small cat-sized rats in back alleys, a first. The tranny-diva show that would leave me in utter confusion, a first.

As the mist fades I can see the earth below. All that's there is a countless number of palm trees expanding miles in every direction...another first.

The last noteable "first" is something I will experience constantly throughout my stay in Malaysia. As I step off the plane I am surrounded by people whose realm of language capabilities envelopes my own (English, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Indonesian) and more. I've never felt so fit for an environment...linguistically that is. The linguistic portfolio for a large number of Malaysians, however, is much more impressive than my own. Throw in a few more dialects of Chinese, maybe some passable Tamil, and bits and pieces of a few languages of your own choice - that will give you a better idea of the diversity of this place. Perhaps the variety of languages is a perfect resemblance of the Malaysian culture. A quick 5 minute walk in any direction brings you in contact with people from India, China, Africa, Australia, Europe, Indonesia, Philippines, and probably anywhere else you could think of. And if you want to know what food from any of these places tastes like, I guarantee you can find it at a restaurant close by.

Diversity is a great learning and growing experience. Sometimes I think about how a kid like myself from the hills of the Virginia could be so lucky and blessed to see the things I've seen, meet the people I've met, and experience the things I've been able to experience.