Thursday, October 24, 2013

REPOST: Super Minimal packing from Zen Habits

This is a repost from an awesome email/blog I receive called Zen Habits. I thought I packed light, but Leo Babauta has shown me up! Nice work!


zen habits: My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet

Posted: 24 Oct 2013 12:00 PM PDT
By Leo Babauta
I just got back from a trip to Beijing and Shanghai, and really loved how light I traveled for 8 days.
It was the least amount of stuff I’ve taken on a trip of any length, and traveling has never been less tiring.
When you have very little on your back, it’s less draining. It’s faster and funner.
I thought I’d share my latest travel setup, in hopes that it’ll inspire a few of you to try the joys of traveling lightly.

My Setup

This setup is unique to me, so I don’t recommend that you copy it … but that said, I’m sharing it so you can possibly get a few ideas and see how light travel is possible.
  1. The backpack. I traveled the entire time with just a tiny backpack, no luggage or roller bag. The one I used is the Goruck 15L Shadowruck, which is just 15-liters in volume and only 0.27 lbs. (!). It’s super light. It’s tough. Not much room in it. Perfect.
  2. No laptop. The most significant change I made to my setup this trip is to travel without my 11-inch Macbook Air. This tiny laptop is only 2.38 lbs., but traveling without a laptop is a huge change in weight. I was only going for 8 days, so I did my writing before I left. This wouldn’t work for many people. If I had to write for a longer trip, I could find an Internet cafe in most cities and write there.
  3. The iPhone. While I resisted getting an iPhone for 6 years, in June Eva bought me the iPhone 5 for Father’s Day. So I’m now a part of the smartphone masses. And I embraced it on this trip, carrying only the iPhone, no laptop or camera. I did my reading, Tweeting, email and other work on here. And of course used it to document my trip with sweet photos. Also included: the charging cord.
  4. Clothes: I favor workout clothes, because they are breathable, washable, comfortable and dry fast. So I wore the Ascent Pant, which looks a little dressy and is light and breathable. And a Precision T. And ExOfficio boxer briefs. I packed: another Precision T, two more boxer briefs, some workout socks, workout shorts, and a long-sleeve workout T-shirt. Just in case, I also packed a thin, lightweight Nike rain jacket (I didn’t need it this trip). Just in case it was cold, I also packed a beanie.
  5. Toiletries. Deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, nailclippers.
  6. Food. Just in case, I packed a handful of fruit & nut bars, and some raw almonds.
  7. Other. I also had a couple of notebooks and pens, for writing, my passport, earbuds, a travel towel, a sleep mask, ear plugs, and a universal travel adapter.
Total weight: under 8 lbs.

Questions and Answers

Q: Why travel without a laptop?
A: I liked traveling without all the weight. And I tend to use the laptop too much when I travel, so I thought the restriction of not having a laptop would be good for me. If I needed to write, I might have found a foldable keyboard for the iPhone, or used an Internet cafe.
Q: How do you travel with so few clothes?
A: I simply wash them in the shower, wring them out good, and hang them to dry in my hotel room. I didn’t need to wash the pants, though they’re easily washable (as opposed to jeans). If you wash underwear, a shirt and socks on most nights, you only need one or two changes.
Q: Why workout clothes and not cotton?
A: I love cotton. It’s just heavier, and it gets smellier, than the workout clothes I pack. And it takes longer to dry. And wrinkles more. So the clothes I brought solve all those problems, and they’re very comfortable.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Hi Team!
So, in a rare bit of traveling repetition for me, I returned to Burning Man this year.
I didn't feel like I got everything I could out of the festival last year. As amazing as the experience was (SEE BLOGS HERE I felt like there was more to see, do, feel etc.
And there was.
Walking into the fire...

First off, RENO.
Yep, this years burn adventure started in Reno, NV with us picking up some bikes from fellow burners Bryan and Denise Warner, who might possibly be the nicest people I have ever met. Their generosity is staggeringly awesome. My roommate Brian had connected with them on facebook / twitter before the event and they said they had some bikes they would gift to us and other burners. Reno Bryan wasn't going this year and wanted to help out/participate somehow. (I've noticed that this happens with Burner's who don't go. They want to be a part somehow.)
Well, on top of two great bikes we were gifted for the week, they let us borrow a 35 gallon water jug, venager, tools, tape, vasaline, vegatables from their garden. They let us sleep in their trailer the night before and after. Use their shower. They cooked us breakfast and dinner and breakfast again. Gave us beer. Tequila. I mean, for the love of God these two are nice! :)

New friends!

And in many ways they were some of the best connections I made on this trip, ironically not on the Playa. There's no way we could repay their kindness, and that after all is part of the point of Burning Man. It's gifting. It's not trading or bartering as many folks think (and I did before I went for the first time). It's a gift. It does not need to be repaid. Though it's interesting how gifts make you WANT to repay. Not because you have to, but because gifting rules. Roommate Brian took awesome pictures of their firespinning daughter after we returned (She's 12. She's awesome). That was a great gift from him.
PLAYA, take 2.

So we drove in on Tuesday around sunset. I was super hungry, so the 1 hour and 45 minute wait to get searched (they're looking for stowaways and nothing else) and get our tickets was pretty rough on me. I wish I hadn't gotten so frustrated, but I did. That's me and food. I get like that. It sucks.

Especially when you realize other people waited 6, 7 or even 12 (!!!) hours to get in. No shit. To me that's a serious problem that Burning Man needs to deal with. It wasn't that many years ago this event was 30,000. Now it's almost 70,000!. I've got some suggestions I'll email them that will hopefully streamline things for next years event (assuming they listen. :). Maybe that'll be my gift to the Burner's next year.
We camped with the French Quarter Press Corps this year. A nice group of folks, though I never really bonded much with any of them. I tried, but for some reason it didn't happen. We even had a meal plan, where we help cook a meal one dinner or breakfast and (in theory) have food the other meals. But it's still burning man, and people might not show up, or might not do it. Most meals we had, and I was always grateful for what I did eat. It was nice to not have chili and clam chowder every meal like last year. :)
This years theme was "Cargo Cult". I'm not sure what that really means. I had a few people explain various versions to me. In the end, it didn't matter. But it is what led the man to be standing on top of A GIANT FLYING SAUCER!!!! How awesome is that!?!?! It was amazing to see at sunset and you could climb inside it and slide down slides. It pretty much ruled. (If you goto the blog page you can see a picture or two of it).

Pyramids. 5 Pyramids. Power. Strength. For me this was no temple of sorrow or death. It was something else. However, for many others the death and sorrow were there. There are tales of this years temple I will put in another email...

Black Rock City. It was fun to be back. It did sort of feel like "home". People welcome you home when you get there with hugs and smiles. ANd it did feel much more familiar than last year when it was a giant bunch of "What the heck is going on?!?!?" :). This year I knew what was going on... but was still regularly surprised. There were some familiar staples, like the giant fireblasting octopus art car. The shark. The boat. But there were new things like Steam rooms, foam parties and more.
It was really fun to see some of those happy familiar things, but also discover new things. Also, camps and art were in different places. For instance, Crossroads, the great live music camp, was in a different location with a bigger stage. Burning man is always in flux. Everything is temporary after all.
Just like German Language Camp!

This is the area outside the "city" blocks. It's where the man sits (or stands or flies), where the temple is and also tons of art and sculptures. Many of which get burned. This year there was a giant Mir space station replica (which burned), a 85 foot tall woman that lit up with different patterns (which didn't burn), and a "forest", where you lay on sheepskin (like) rugs under these waving ribbons of white while ambient music played. It was pretty cool, and apparently a romantic destination, as many folks around me, half hidden in the "trees" were smooching and doing other things you would normally not do in public. :)

But that's burning man. Do your thing, whatever it is, as long as it doesn't hurt someone else.
As I said last year, if you're not comfortable with people expressing themselves however they want to, this might not be your best choice for an adventure. That being said, I think everyone could go to burning man and have a great experience. It'll rock you out of your comfort zone, but also let you see things you could never see anywhere else.
A lot of critics of Burning Man have said "Ahh, that's just a place for dirty hippies to get naked and walk around". Or "That's just a place to do drugs and be delinquents". (Yes, I've heard both of these). And though there are definitely naked people walking around, dancing around etc. And there are people doing drugs (more on that in another entry), many of the people that go to burning man are the smartest, most driven folks you could ever meet. THey are CEO's of companies (Mark Zuckerberg anyone?), they are creative, engineers, artists, scientists, cops, movie folks, doctors, dreamers, psycholgists etc etc. It's kind of amazing. It's generally that you don't ask folks what they do in the real world, as it doesn't matter. But it's fun to see these people create things.
Like the Pirate Ship. Which I missed. It was not there this year. It was incredible, and it turns out Bryan (Reno) was one of the folks who worked on it. For months and months. This group of people built this amazing thing (which did not burn). It's awesome to see the drive and creativity.
I'm rambling... more to come.
Burning Man 2013!

Monday, August 19, 2013



I'm back in LA, back to work, back to writing, back to reorganizing my apartment, working out, running, visiting with friends.
In fact I've been back more than a week now.
Already the trip is fading.
Not permanently, (I'm not senile yet! :), but the intensity of it.
Sure, I look at the photos and peek through my journal and see all the amazing things I did and felt and saw. When I see Alicia back here in LA it's fun to reminisce and think of what we did. We're so fortunate to be able to take trips like this and see the world that is out there.

I wanted to type up a "in conclusion" of the trip. Something that sums up the observations... but it's strange how some of them are probably already lost to time. Still, I'm going to do my best to give some final thoughts on the Southeast Asia Odyssey 2013.

If you haven't figured that out yet, I haven't done my job or expressed how I feel. :)
Pick your destination. Buy your ticket. Pack your bag and go.
Trust me, it's possible to find the time. It's possible to have the money. If I can do it, so can you.
It's a matter of prioritizing what's important. If your $5 starbucks a day gives you more joy than a couple weeks in Indonesia, then keep drinking the Starbucks. (By the way, they have those in the touristy spots over there so you won't be left out.:) But that $5/day ads up to a plane ticket very quickly. And the memories of those two weeks will likely be better than that caffeine fix... just a guess.

2. INDONESIAN thoughts
I love Indonesia. I never thought it would rank so highly in the cool places I've visited. Sure I only saw a fraction of the 17,000 islands, but I saw enough to make me love it. From the safe, yet exotic Bali to the wild west of Flores. It's my kind of place. So many things to do, beautiful places to see and wonderful people to meet. You can be as rough and tumble or safe and pampered as you'd like. The price is right, the place is paradise. Go.

3. MALAYSIA thoughts
Who knew? Malaysia is way more modern than I expected. Nice roads. Great food. Wonderful people. It consistantly surprised me at every turn. I would arrive someplace, think "hmmmm, this isn't what I was hoping for" and be 100% on board in less than a day. Every single time.

And the food! Yep, so good. Go. Eat. If you're a foodie you've gotta go there. Yum Yum.

4. And both these places are predominately Islamic.

And no I didn't feel unsafe. No there were no "terrorists" lurking at every corner. No Islam does not make one evil.
It baffles me from both sides of this stupid battle between Islam and Christianity. The religion does not make one evil, or close minded, or violent or radical. It's the people who choose to use religion as their war cry. Neither of these religions preach murder. And every time I visit these wonderful places with wonderful people who might believe something different than me I am grateful to see their faith. To see that they care so much about what they believe in.

And it was really interesting to see how each country embraced it differently. In Indonesia it seems like they don't just do the call to prayer 5 times a day over the loud speakers. They do the whole prayer! 20-30 minutes. I heard far fewer calls in Malaysia. In fact there was a heavy blending of religions there. Even though the country is official Muslim, all religions are welcome. Believe what you want.

Isn't that how it should be?

5. SINGAPORE thoughts

With only the 1 day it's hard to say I really saw Singapore. It was a great experience since I've heard so much about Singapore and how clean it is (true) and how many rules it has (also true) and how many strange laws they have (also true. No gum. No Urinating in Lifts. No this. No that). But again. Nice people. Sure it's a big city and things are moving along rapidly. But it was a fascinating mix of different cultures (Chinese, Singapore, Indian). And of course, having a friend there to show me around made it even more awesome. Friendship around the world. That's a great reason to travel too.

6. HONG KONG thoughts
Love it. New York meets Asia. Energy. Excitement. I love the weather: bring me a thunderstorm any day. The harbor is amazing. The trains rules. And Disneyland. Oh yeah. And I barely saw a fraction of it. So much more to see. I'll enjoy catching up on my Hong Kong cinema now that I've been.

7. Food.
Did I mention the food on this trip was amazing? I'm not a foodie. I don't get all googly-eyed over food. But damn, this was a tasty place to eat. So many types: Indonesian, Balinese, Lombok-ian, Malay, Indian, Chinese, Dim-Sum, Indian, Western, Indian... did I mention how good the Indian food was? :)

8.  Perspective

Every time I travel I like to get out of my comfort zone. (Leeches, here I come!).
I think it's important, I'd even say critical to my life.  And honestly for everyone's lives, to get out of our comfort zone.
It's easy for people to have their worlds shrink. Mine can. If I'm in LA to long I'll lose some of my gusto. Some of my free spirit. I think it's just part of how human beings are wired. If we aren't getting out there, seeing and doing new things, then what we will be OK tends to become less and less. I'm not saying we'll get in fights or run away in fear if something new happens. But we'll shrink away. We'll choose the comfortable path. I know I do it. I doubt I'm alone in this.

So getting out to see the world is my way of forcing myself to expand. To open up to all the amazing things the world has to offer. To interact with people that I might shy away from in normal life. Sure, there were times on this trip that I was uncomfortable. That boat ride with 25 people. The first afternoon I was not feeling it. I knew it was going to be cramped and their was no place to sit and chill... but a strange thing happened. By the 2nd, and 3rd and 4th day I was suddenly fine. It was okay to be in such close quarters with people. Sure, there were times with a bit of annoyance or need for space. But it's awesome how I could find my own space when there wasn't any. How we got comfortable being right on top of each other. Sure, by the end of it I wanted to get the heck off the boat, but now I know that I will be fine if I'm in such close quarters with people.

And the leeches. The jungle. The nasty.
It was dirty. Wet. Stinky. Awesome.
Very quickly the jungle makes you it's bitch. And being able to adapt in that environment was great. If I'd had another day I think I really would have gotten comfortable with that level of uncomfort. :) Yes, it's nice to have a perfectly climate controlled house and car and have everything clean and a shower. But its surprising how important dry feet become when that's all you can get. Just dry feet. It's good to be aware of how little I need to be happy...

That's always a great lesson I learn and relearn. When I'm backpacking I have so little with me. So few clothes, so few items. I always, on every trip, feel like I have too much stuff. When I'm packing I think "I'll need this and that and this and that", but once I've got my See Legs and am on my way, I think I could get by with half the items. And I only have a small bag to begin with. :)

Maybe travel isn't your way to find perspective. Maybe you like to cook, or draw, or play sports, or meditate, or... But listing off all those things. None of them do for me what Travel does. Not even close.

So I will urge you to try it. Push you even. Do it. Get out there. Don't be afraid. And if you are... face your fear down. Stare it in the eye and tell that fear to kiss off. Your confidence will grow. Your heart will grow. Your mind will grow. YOU will grow.

See what you're made out of. Likely you'll be surprised.

This is Craig Ouellette,
Last surviving member of the Nostromo
Signing off.


Thursday, August 15, 2013


 May 29, 2013

Hong Kong.

Two words:  Hong Kong. Two more words: Kick ass.

I spent 3 1/2 days and Hong Kong. It's an amazing city. So full of energy and people and passion and rain and business and harbors and mountains and skyscrapers. It's like New York, Asian style. The people are great. The location is amazing. Top notch.

DAY 1:

I took the train in from the airport, past more skyscrapers than I've maybe seen anywhere but New York. Given that land is VERY expensive, they build up here. Way up. The 4th or 5th tallest building in the world is here. 118 floors tall. And there's a bar at the top (it is the Ritz Carlton after all) and the it felt like stepping out of an airplane to go out there. It's amazing. And it's located across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong proper so you get the view of the city and mountains. It's also conveniently Feng Shui from the building across the Harbor (which Batman jumped off of in The Dark Knight) and makes a door across the harbor (or a window, I was confused which one).

When I got to my Hostel, the Yesinn Causeway Bay (which I highly recommend of you're going to HK), I met the first of the Hong Kong 6. Anne and Toby. Dutch and English. And both kick ass cool. We clicked right away, and as we all were planning on going to see the Light / Laser / Sound show that night, we headed out together. We gathered Anton (from Slovakia), AJ (England) and Kevin (Venice, California... yep). We headed out, grabbed some food (which is super cheap in HK. Go figure. I thought it would be really expensive, but it was easy to eat for US $5-7 and have a lot of tasty food.).

On our way across the harbor we stopped at 7-11 (everywhere in HK) and got beers. HK$12 for 2 big cans. That's a buck fifty US. And you can drink on the street. Hell, you can drink anywhere (almost). So in a festive mood we took the Star Ferry across the harbor. It's been running for over 100 years and gives you some amazing views of the city. People were gathered on the waterfront for the Light show. It's the largest permanent one on earth. 40 buildings have dancing lights to music. People say it's cool. But what's that? Is that lightning flashing over the city?

And is that rain starting to fall? Lots of it?

Yep. People scattered and ran below the covered promenade, but not us crazy travelers. We danced in the rain and watched the real light show. Mother Nature blasted lightning all over. Thunder rolled and boomed. The city vanished in sheets of rain. It. Was. Epic.
Me being me, I was the last one out in the rain and it was a blast to just dance and cheer every time a lightning bolt crashed. Bring it!
I got a kick ass photo which you will see below, and Anton actually got a pic of a lightning bolt!!!!!

From here we explored, hit the night market, ate, played music on my new mini-speaker, sang and laughed. It was a great combo of people who all got along. The energy was high. Fast friends were made. It was really great.

Four of us continued to the party area and danced in bars in Lan Kwai Fong and on the street to 50's and 60's music. A good night. Fun people all around. And it's a Monday.

The Hong Kong Six!

DAY 2: Big Buddha Baby.

 Anton and I headed to the Big Buddha today despite the torrential rains in the morning. They cleared up and we were able to climb the 200+ steps to the largest outdoor sitting buddha in the world. (There are a lot of specific records when it comes to Buddhas :). 

We ate at the monestary on the hilltop. It is on Lantau Island which is also home of the airport, fishing villages and Hong Kong Disneyland. Booyah! The best part is the cable car which runs to and from the mountain top. The weather was no good going, so we had to take a bus, but on the way out we were able to do the 25 minute ride. We chose the "Crystal Coach" and rode in a cable car with a clear floor! Talk about vertigo. It was super cool and really bizarre.

After a nap I was going to meet Anton to hit Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum. Though we didn't see any other of the Hong Kong 6, we gathered a new member, Valentina (German). Super cool gal doing her first solo backpacking trip through Thailand, HK, Shanghai and Bejing. I remember my first solo trip, also in Southeast Asia. It's where it begins for many I think.

We found the Dim Sum place. Just in time too. Order up. HOLY CRAP IT'S GOOD.
I mean. WOW. WOW. Yummy wow. It's Michelin star rated... and cost us less than US$10 for 4-5 items each.
Best bargain meal on the planet!

Valentina and the heavenly Dim Sum

We grabbed some 7-11 beers and hit Victoria park at 10pm. Sat on the playground. Danced in yet another rain storm. And talked about travel, life, meaning, destiny and more sitting under a small gazebo as the rain fell, and stopped. Fell and stopped. Over and over.

Finally we head back to the hostel and Valentina and I went to the roof. We sat under the tarp as the skies opened up with rain. The lightning blasted everywhere. I don't think I've seen that much lightning since being a kid in Texas. We were surrounded by much taller buildings my friends, so we weren't lightning rods. But man, that was a hell of a lightning storm. Some bolts must've hit the buildings next door because the blast was instant and deafening. Mother nature is giving quite the show!

DAY 3: Museums, Horse Races and more dancing

I was solo most of the day. The Hong Kong 6 is leaving in pieces. In truth we only all hung out one night, but it was epic fun. Anne is off to Nepal to trek with her mom. (That's right parents, you don't have to pass up on traveling just cause you're getting older! ;). Anton is taking off for Thailand, I think. Toby's going to Tokyo. I'm heading to the walk of fame and museums.

Yep, Hong Kong has a walk of fame just like Hollywood. It should, being the "Hollywood of the east". Stars and handprints along a promenade. A statue of Bruce Lee. The difference is, It's right on the fricking harbor with views of the city! Take that LA! :)

Me Directing in Hong Kong! Sweet!

That's Jackie Chan!

The history museum had a fantastic and exhaustive exhibit about the history of HK. Which is exactly what I wanted.

Then I hit that 118th floor bar at Sunset. Nice.

Happy Valley Race Course is next. Apparently horse racing is BIG TIME in HK. It's the only legal gambling. It was fun to go to, but the fact that we have horse racing in LA made it not exactly unique. Still, I was able to find AJ of the Hong Kong 6 and hang out with him and his friends for the night. We started here...

... and headed to Wan Chai for more bars, more dancing, more drinking and more fun. Going out in HK is way fun because people are friendly. It's not as isolated as going to clubs in LA where everyone's trying so hard to be cool that no one actually is. People were friendly, open to dancing and super nice. Some travelers, some students, some locals, some prostitutes. Wait, what? Some, you mean MANY. More so here than Lan Kwai Fong. One bar I walked into and thought... "hmmm, I think 90% of the women in here are looking for some business". To answer some folks questions: No, not for me. Guess it is for someone, and it's always amusing to navigate the streets as a solo guy in those areas. It's straight out of Full Metal Jacket: Me love you long time.

DAY 4: The last day of my trip and I'm going to Disneyland!

I was going to go to Victoria Peak. You have to do it. The views are amazing. Or so I heard. I never made it up there.
It was often in clouds and I was going to go, then thought: Nope. Disney bitches.

A 25 minute train ride to the Happiest (sort of ) place on earth.
I had a blast. I was skipping with excitement when I got there. It's the Mickey Tram! It's Main Street USA! It's Space Mountain!

From this angle you can't see the jungle mountains behind the castle

The whole place is about 2/3rds the size of the Annaheim Disneyland, and has about that percentage of rides. But it was a blast. It's cheaper too. It was fun to see the differences: All signs are in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Any tours, like the Jungle Cruise, with a tour guide, you had to choose your language. Space Mountain was cool, as always, though not as good as LA. The Haunted Mansion here is completely different, it's called Mystic Point and has a story to it with a Balinese music box. I wish I'd done that one twice. The lines were short. And I think many of the folks there had never been to an amusement park before. It was funny how complicated it was to get in line and wait for your seats. People had to be told multiple times how it all worked. And in all honestly, I bet a lot of folks haven't been to them. I grew up with Six Flags, but I bet a mainland Chinese person wouldn't have access to amusement parks like I did. Hopefully they loved it.

To end the trip... Pub Crawl.
Yep, socializing again! Lots of travelers. Lots of cool people. Gangnam style: yep. Pitbull: yep. And Kevin! Of the HK6. Ran into him and got to hang out again. It was great!

The best part was coming out of one of the bars and people were dancing on the street to Party Rock Anthem. Just bumping. And this 75 year old Chinese guy was grooving. We were all cheering and dancing and celebrating a fantastic 38 days in Southeast Asia. Okay, maybe not everyone, but I was. What a trip! What a way to end it!

Everyday I'm shuffelin'!


PS: One more email to come...

Street dance party!

Monday, August 12, 2013


May 24, 2013

City. Country.
40km wide by 20km tall.
4.5 million people.
24 hours.
Let's do this.

I arrived by train after 15 hours of travel from Taman Nagara National Park in Malaysia. (I will fly home from Hong Kong in less time. :). But honestly, it was a well needed day off from traveling. Yes I was traveling, but I was able to mostly zone out on the boat, bus and train. Just enjoy the scenery. Write in my journal. Think of all the great things that have happened, and the few things I regret not doing. And also laughing at my complete misread of a certain situation that will make for great comedy in a movie someday.

The best place to be when the AC went out... and even when it didn't.

But for now: Singapore.

I took a cab from the train depot because it was 11:45pm. Had to hit the ATM. Grab some food since there was only snacks on the train. Yikes! The ride was going to cost about 20 Singapore $. But at midnight he said: "Now there's a 50% up charge for after midnight". Then there was another surcharge for something else. In fact, that's a joke of Singapore cabs is that there are always surcharges on surcharges.

It's all good. Check in, head to bed. For tomorrow...

I'm up and out and ready to go. it's Sunday, so few things are open to eat at for breakfast. Thus, I go for Starbucks. Yep, I'm in an international city now. In fact I've noticed and accepted that what makes a "world city" a "world city" is that it has Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Nike Stores and on and on. The first world of consumerism is what makes the first world I think.

I walked along the riverfront and thought: I'm in Chicago... with buildings on only one side. :)
It's a great place. The people are nice. The energy is good. It is indeed as clean as you think Singapore would be. There are FINES for everything. In fact it's a big joke that Singapore is a "Fine" city. Smoking: S$1000. Jaywalking: S$500. Urinating in Lifts: $5000. (I bought a magnet that said that. It's so specific). In the end this makes the place safe and easy to travel in and really doesn't affect tourists much.

I saw the MerLion. Yep. Half fish/ Half Lion statue on the bay. There were dragon boat races. I went to the Science/Art museum and they had a LEGO SCULPTURE exhibit! Called "Art of the Brick". So I had to check it out. Some really moving pieces, which is strange since it's Legos. But it was cool. I wanted to buy the one called GRASP. It has a life size red man pulling away from six grey arms holding him back from his goals and dreams.



After a brief view of one of the many botanical gardens and the casino I hopped a train to meet up with Jeremy.

Jeremy is a friend I met in Zanzibar in 2008. We hung out with a few other folks for 4 hours total. But we kept in touch and now we get to reconnect in Singapore. And I have to say, having him as a tour guide and friend really made the day special and wonderful. I got to see things I never would have without him. To enjoy food and places I wouldn't have seen. It was a really great way to see the city and learn about it, as well as learn about his life growing up here and his family. Very cool.

First stop: Eating.
Real Singapore food this time. :)
A curry with all sorts of stuff that we got a food court. This used to be all about Hawker stalls (which ironically in Singapore they can't "hawk" their wares anymore, but they still have places with hundreds of them you can walk around in). It was great.

We checked out the History museum which had a piece about Singapore cinema.
Then to Little India. Which, is well, full of Indian restaurants, markets and foods. We wandered a wet market, filled with fresh fish and slaughterhouse stalls where you could just pick the piece of meat you wanted. We stopped into a place and ate some south Indian bread and sauces. Yep, meal number 2.

His parents live nearby, so we went up to their 30+ floor flat. Said hi. They were super nice. The view was amazing from up there. It's such a different way of growing up than what I had. Many folks in Singapore live in Public housing, and unlike the USA where that often meant "The Projects" and bad news. In Singapore it's normal and really one of the few ways you can afford a place to live. A house with a yard would be multiple millions for a tiny place. The view from their place was great and they pointed out all the buildings that would be gone in a few years and new ones being built. Jeremy says most of the places he used to go as a kid are gone now, rebuilt and changed into something else.

To Sim Sim building (shoot, I forgot the name). It's a building where you can buy electronics. Like 10 floors of them. Shops on shops on shops. Back in the day there would be a lot of pirated and fake stuff. But now it's all legitimate, and other than Apple products, they're at great prices.

On to Chinatown. The sun has set and we wander a very touristy street, with a market. But then we hit hawker stall heaven. It was hot and noisy and people were eating tasty food and snacks all over. We had bbq stingray, and a traditional clay pot rice with chicken and veggies and soup. And this nasty ass salted fish that I don't recommend. Jeremy hates it too, so we took it out.

The best part was just talking and learning about the politics, the history, the people of Singapore. How it was part of Malaysia and got kicked out. How the founder and first leader was a lawyer, thus all the laws. Also a hard ass. How crime is very low, but it does exist. The death penalty for anything involving drugs is always carried out and never negotiable. The casino costs 100 S$ if you're local, but free for tourists (though you need an ID). How he used to race dragon boats and did so on the river to cheering crowds. He's got a little boy and a wife and how life is with them. It was fabulous.

Off to the Marina Bay rooftop bar for a view of the city. And conversation with a Kiwi couple traveling. They spoke of swimming with whale sharks and touching them and it nearly made me cry. Man I want to do that.

A long walk back to the hostel along the lit up bay brought the day to an end. A fabulous time. Thanks Jeremy.
Rock on Singapore.


PS: For all my gamer friends. They have a SETTLERS CAFE. It was closed when I walked past, but they have an entire WALL of board games. Floor to ceiling. You can play anything you want, have drinks. It's rad. If I'd have had more time, I would have traded some wheat for wool and rolled some 12 sided dice!

Thursday, August 8, 2013


--> May 21, 2013

We've got fun and games.
We've got tons of leeches
Sucking your bloody veins.

Ahhhhhhh the jungle.
Filled with bees and bugs. Vines and trees. Leeches and leeches and oh did I mention leeches?

So in Taman Nagara National Park I decided to do a two day / 1 night Jungle trek where we sleep in a fricking cave!
There were 7 of us and the guide. Three folks were doing two nights. The rest of us the one.

We showed up with our packs and some extra clothes and then found out we had to carry our own food and supplies. Normally one might prepare for this, but it was a bit of a surprise, though completely obvious that we should. Who else will? The jungle men?
Loaded up, I had an extra backpack on the front and we go to the boat. It slips us up the river and to the canopy walkway. I think it's the longest in the world or something, but half of it was closed. Still, it's 100 feet off the ground and very shaky and cool.

2 hours more on the boat and we begin our hike. Everyone is sweating, but it's fortunately not that hot. We are careful to avoid the muddiest patches and walk on roots and rocks to skip streams... until we hit the first creek. It was a foot deep and 10 feet wide and we're getting wet. From this point on it was really pointless to try to dodge the mud or water and I can tell you, that speeds up the pace a lot! There comes that point in a nature journey where you just have to accept how filthy you will get, and once you do it's much more fun!

This is the official "Before" photo...

We hiked 8-10km the first day. About 6 hours worth. It was tiring. And at every stop there were leeches on us. Little wormy, trembling leeches. I've never actually seen one before and it was odd to. They're so small and they move so erratically. Becuase we had pants tucked into socks, they were most often just trying to find a way to our skin. And sometimes they did. I pulled one off my foot and the wound bled for a long time. It didn't hurt. But it's strange to watch. When we stopped near the end of the hike, Monja had a HUGE blood filled leech on her knee. It was nasty. Blood ran down her leg like crazy. It was like a hidden beast under her pants... um, you know what I mean. :) At every stop we would check our feet, legs, and I'd check my junk. I'm not ending up all "Stand By Me" with a huge leech on my balls.

Bloody good fun

We stopped to rest in a little cave and the bees came out. Hundreds of them. Attracted to the sweat on our packs. I tried to go zen and not have them effect me, but eventually the buzzing became to much for everyone and we grabbed the packs and hustled away. Only to stumble into a wasps nest.  I'm not sure who touched it, but they went crazy. Buzzing around. Starting to sting people. We were bottled up at a creek / rock crossing and no one could move as Tek from France started crying out as he was stung. I jumped down into the mud and hustled along and others followed me. We all made it through. Fortunately these weren't the bad kinds of wasps and the stinging went away quickly... versus the person being paralized or dying.

Make a wrong step and you're knee deep in the mud. Hell, make a right step and you're knee deep in the mud.

We reached the cave at 6pm. It was getting dim and dark. But it was super cool to stay there. There were bats, but few insects. We all went down to the stream and rinsed off. It was fun. We were all careful at first, just rinsing our hair or arms, but then went for it, and were washing our clothes wearing only underwear. What the hell? We're covered in so much mud. We were going native!

We ate in the cave and slept on camp mats. No need for sleeping bags, as it was so hot and humid. The cave was probably 100 feet tall and was mostly two big chambers with some small off shoots. And a large opening near the upper wall which would let light in... sort of... during the day.

Home sweet home

Sleep came easy even on the hard ground.

I woke up in darkness. Total darkness. The candles having burned out. I switched out my headlamp and walked over to pee. On my way back four eyes stared at me from not 10 feet away from our sleeping bags. They watched me, glowing in my headlamp. They would jerk around. My light isn't bright so it was hard to make them out. Rats? They'd be reallllly big if they were. Porcupines? Probably, that's what Sam (the guide) said would come to eat the left over food. I watched for awhile, and it was creepy to be there alone with them. But finally I laid down to sleep...

... CRASH!

I sat up. And so did Sam. He turned on his very bright light and indeed the porcupines were eating the food. Along with a rat with the longest tail I've ever seen. Others started to wake up and watch. I was creeped out at first with the rat, but then thought: In this situation, what's the difference between the porcupines and the rat? This is their home.

I had a lot of wild dreams.

The cave was dim as we woke in the morning, slowly ate, packed and headed out. The hike was 6km. About 4 hours. Over roots and mud and creeks and more. We smelled TERRIBLY in just one day. our clothes ripe and nasty. I can only imagine what it would be like to be in the jungle for weeks on end. Whew.

When we reached the jetty and the boat picked us up it felt great. So nice to take off shoes and head back towards civilization.

Yahoo, the boat! We won't have to eat each other!

We stopped at an Oran Ansi village (original people) to learn about the blow pipe. And I was struck with the strange image. They're Black. I wouldn't have expected that in Malaysia, but they looked almost African. Fascinating how people have moved around our world, or perhaps developed independently yet similarly in different places. The Blow Pipe was cool, I want one.

Back in town I took a hot shower and rinsed off the muck and mud. It's amazing how important and wonderful things that we take for granted are when they have been removed for even a couple days.


Monday, August 5, 2013


May 12, 2013

Heeeeyyyyyyy Scenic Vistas,
Op, Op Op-a Pa-Nang Style!
Heeeeeyyyyyy great museums,
Op, Op Op-a Pa-Nang Style!
Heeeeeyyyyyy hot as ball sacks!
Op, Op Op-a Pa-Nang Style!

I've really enjoyed Pa-Nang. It's a busy, energetic place. There's all these different neighborhoods: Little India, China Town etc, which are so specifically filled with folks of that persuasion it's amazing. And they are right across the road from each other. China Town is full of places to stay, Chinese temples, hawker carts and food spots. Little India is all pastel buildings, Bollywood music pumping from bootleg DVD stores, and women in Sarees. It's awesome.

And the food. HOLY CRAP BALLS is (most) of it reallllllly good.
From the Nyonya food. To one of the best Indian Kurma's I've ever had. Oh yeah, if you're a foodie, this is your spot. You can eat at posh restraunts (which might cost you $15 USD a plate) to stalls on the street that are $3 USD a plate. Either way, you'll (most) likely get good food. Great food.

It may not look like much... but WOW is it good!

For my last day here I went to the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, and had a great tour full of fun stories about the "Rockefeller of the east". They have cup mosaics, built from pieces of colored china cut into pieces, that took the artisans 4 years to recreate and cost a 50% of the restoration budget. But it's one of the few places in the world (other than huge temples in China) where you can see it.
On to the Panang museum for some history of the area. Then a sweaty ass walk to Fort Cornwallis. It was so hot by this point I could hardly function, so I didn't enjoy that to much. But to Air Con in the Indian restraunt and the orgasmic food made up for it.

Then off by moped to Kek Lok Si Temple. Since the roads here are so often 1 way and they force you into loops and turns and there isn't very good signage, it took awhile to get there. Got to see a lot of the city though! The temple is a pagoda on a hill. There's an enourmous bronze statue behind it. I barely made it before close, but got up to the top and saw good views.

I chose this, not because it really captures the view, but that level of sweat was continuous in Penang. :)

Then as evening approached and it got cooler, I explored up this road into the hills... and found a recreation area dam. There were mountain bikers in full gear. Runners. Walkers. Families. And not trash. And I thought: this feels like home. Malaysia really must be doing better than a lot of SE Asian countries, because people have time and money for recreation and exercise. Ironically, because they have easier physical lives (like us westerners), they might need the exercise, as I've seen more chubby folks here than in Indonesia.

I took pics of the views of the city and went swinging on the swings! Fun! Then walked about 50 feet into the woods on a trail and there were noises in the trees. Monkeys. A whole group of them. Leaping and swinging and climbing. So often you see monkey's on tours or on beaches with lots of people. But to be in the darkening forest with the monkeys as they played and crashed and ate was sort of surreal. They would look at me occasionally and climb in my direction, but never got very close. 

The Malaysians are super nice and friendly. They're always helpful when asking about stuff, even if they don't speak much English. Which brings up the fact that many folks here speak some, but it's not as much as I was lead to believe. And ironically, sometimes they're speaking so fast and with this interesting sing=song accent that I have a really hard understanding. It's funny, because I know they're speaking English, but have no idea what they're saying. :)

I headed up the incline rail to Panang Hill. 2500 feet elevation overlooking the city. It was night. The lights were out. I ate up there and enjoyed the view. I also explored the abandoned amusement park type place. Now, during the day there would be people there. But at night it was very quiet. And what amusement area would be complete without Buddhist temple and Mosque. 

Back to town to return my moped and... CONCERT TIME!

A stage was set up in the parking lot of this hostel and a Chinese gal in fancy costumes was singing. The music was recorded and she was taking requests from the scattered crowd. It was sort of like all request Karaoke. The audience was mostly Chinese, as it turns out this was a birthday celebration for the temple across the street. Many of them were older. 

A lot just watched, but there was a small group of lively folks who were dancing it up. This older woman was super fun. She was hunched over, but she would get up and do this very diliberate 1,2 step with her arms out. Almost like she was running in realllllly slow motion. She had her thumbs up and was having a blast... I think. Because her expression never changed. It was always completely stoic. Only her body language was joyous. Even when I smiled at her as I was dancing, she didn't change her expression. She was so cute. Some other travelers were dancing as well. It was great fun.

 It didn't matter that we all spoke different languages, because we all could dance.


PS:  I nearly lost this email thanks to internet dropping out and other things. But fortunately it is mostly in tact. Enjoy!