Archives for category: Travel
One for the railroad!

One for the railroad!

This Spring has brought torrential rains. More than that, the season’s been delayed. That meant I could recently capture a freight train go by without the cover of foliage. Boxcars, liquid tankers, open-topped coal and scrap cars, grainers and gondolas. Many graffiti-laden, some empty, some loaded. That engine pulled it all!

I love a good train ride. Not the commuter sort but a true “going-some-place” trip. Even better if it’s spontaneous. The steady rumble of the carriages snaking over the ties and the metal-on-metal clanks as the wheels round a curve are soothing. The clickety-clacks are rhythmically lulling. Real sounds, not intrusive noise. I’d much prefer the clatter of the rails than the clutter of loud, lazily-worded hype polluting the airwaves as I fill up. Having to press “Mute” is akin to the “2” if I want English. Even silence in this country has now become hard-earned and costly.

I digress. Or make that “derail.” But wait, the common train of thought here is freedom. Freedom to think, move, react or say. Or not to. Freed from lame commercial pitches at every turn. Friends, decibel-level and frequency do not make up for poor content.

Hobos…now they had it right. At least the general idea. And by that, I don’t mean bum with his hand out or ex-con transient. I’m talkin’ original globally mobile, small-carbon-footprint, bohemian type: the westward-bound, hard-working migrant. Which made me curious about the word’s origin. Possibly homegrown, “hobo” could come from “ho, boy,” a worker’s call on late-1800’s western US railroads. Or it may be derived from an early 19th century English dialect term, hawbuck, for “lout, clumsy fellow, bumpkin.”

How Boxcar Willie entered the picture? Whooaa, the tracks of my mind. But what a nickname! If you’re not familiar with his music, here’s your ticket. Scruffy beard, pin-studded floppy hat and jacket lapel, overalls and the trademark bandana. That’s the self-proclaimed world’s favorite hobo. Accompanied by his red bandana-necked band wearing striped conductor hats. And for the train buff, the ultimate whistle! Whoooo whoo!

Marshmallow madness.

Marshmallow madness.

Argentina has its alfajores. Canadians, Australians and Brits ask for Wagon Wheels. In Japan, you eat Angel Pies. And in the southern US, it’s Moon Pies or bust.

Chocopies, however, give them all a run for their money. South Korea’s Lotte brand (among other national confectioners, such as Orion) chocolate-enrobed marshmallow sandwiches are craved by North Koreans. In fact, for those north of the border lucky enough to work at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the DMZ, bonuses are paid in part with Chocopies (hard cash being prohibited). What’s s’more, they’re the subject of speculation and sold on the black market.

Alas, times must be tougher since the most recent escalation and ease of tensions in early-mid 2013. Before the 6.5-month long closure of the manufacturing site (where educated, skilled and Korean-fluent North Koreans work for South Korean companies, earning the motherland much-needed hard currency), workers earned up to 20 Chocopies a day in addition to their regular compensation. Yet, once the park rebooted in August, they were cut to a maximum of two per day. Said one vocal local, “Nobody better lay an eye on my Chocopie!”

Sourced: South Korea.


Hands-on clean.

Last summer I flew Canadian North, which is 100% Aboriginally-owned, from Inuvik to Norman Wells, then to Yellowknife and on to Edmonton. Really enjoyable. The aircraft interiors looked a bit worse for wear, but each boarding, deplaning and in-flight experience was what flying used to and probably never will be again most anywhere else. Genuine, courteous and attentive attendants, decent and more than enough food, on-time departures and arrivals, fee-less checked luggage that arrived when I did and respectful fellow passengers. From the counter folks to the ramp and baggage people (sometimes one in the same person), they were efficient, approachable and looked like they enjoyed their jobs. Humans. Not rude, insensitive, barking corporate bots with attitude. We’re talkin’ serious customer service.

Which brings me to the airline’s tagline: “Seriously northern.” Some 50% redundant, given their name, but the first half is a winner and with so much potential. The polar bear and midnight sun logo were spot-on geographically but seemed inconsistently illustrated (even dated) alongside the more simply drawn yet delightful in-flight branding. What I most liked, design-wise, were the hand towel packaging and the coffee cup (for another post). On the wipe: “Seriously clean.” — the native drummer dressed in traditional skins and snowy owl (ookpik) culturally reflecting the Northwest Territories’ First Nations who live near the Arctic Circle. A great start, if not messaging teasers. I’d love to see the brand really come alive through many more elements on board, at the gate, in uniform and online.


Meet the Family Stone: Mi, Kika and Iwa.

The cute factor of this Japanese postcard is undeniable. Order, politeness and respect…all align with common behavior by the good people from this island nation. The positive “look, listen, talk” seems a modern twist on the time-tested “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Which got me wondering why monkeys always figured in this maxim.

All is not clear on this front. Wikipedia dug deep for me on this one. Turns out that during a Japanese folk religious observance (Kōshin) around the 1500s, monkeys graced stone pillars. Who knows why. What is known is that –zaru, an antiquated verb suffix to express negation, sounds the same as saru for “monkey.” The Japanese version — “Mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru” or “don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak” — has the added possibility of being the names of the threesome.

Another interpretation attributes the monkeys’ presence to their importance in the Shinto religion, which influenced the folk rite. As if monkeys weren’t enough, even worms squirm into the interpretation picture. And, rewinding way on back, a similar Chinese phrase, “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety.” just might be the original. Lucky for us, we can often count on the Japanese to minify and cutify things.

Da wa ee! — “Thank you” in Keres.

Happy St. Esteban’s Day to the people of Acoma Pueblo! Here is a haiku in honor of your special celebration. Feast on!

The Place Prepared*

Ancient seabed bluff.
Windswept views; mica leaves let
light in. Sacred still.

*Translation of “Haak’u”

Identical design used from 1986-2009.

That’s right. And on trucks, school buses and snowmobiles. The best damn license plate ever. The newer ones are more flashy, yet still in the shape of Ursus maritimus.


Or is it the curb-matching tree? Whichever view you take, this specimen never holds back.

Laurel Grove North (Savannah, Georgia)

Today is All Souls’ Day. To some it is the Day of the Dead (“El día de los muertos” or “El día de los difuntos”). Despite the name, it is a happy, not-so-solemn occasion. As a follow-on and complement to yesterday’s All Saints’ Day, which commemorates children, this is a time to honor deceased adults.

Bonaventure Cemetery

You can tell a lot about people and their culture by learning how they bury their dead. Cemeteries fascinate me for that reason. Today is All Saints’ Day. In Mexico, November 1 is also called “El día de los inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) or “El día de los angelitos” (Day of the Little Angels) in honor of children and infants.

These little girls look like they were born and died about a year apart from one another (1860 and 1861). Fall babies who both were taken away in the Spring. Mary at 1.5 years and Emma at 4.5 months. This is one of the prettiest memorials to children I have seen. At over 150 years old, the details and legibility are outstanding.

Land of the Thunder Dragon

There is more happiness in Drukville, or as the Bhutanese call their country, Druk Yul (“druk” means thunder dragon.). The royal wedding took place today, October 13, the 16th day of the 8th Bhutanese month. It is an auspicious day, a “good day to propitiate god and deities, do Chagu, learn astrology, give promotion, shift house, start new business, name places and villages, deposit wealth, meet superiors, sow seeds, plant plants and flowers.” (It is “not a good day to do charity work in the name of the deceased.”) The first of a three-day national celebration. But, don’t take my word for it. Read about the traditional religious ceremony here. To the royal couple, I send a virtual butter lamp, a khadhar offering and prayers for Their Majesties’ long-lived happiness.

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