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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: November 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Photo of the Day: Bejing

From Bejing

not a great picture, but just love the lines and colors on the roofs there.

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Photo of the Day: Petra, Jordan

From Petra

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Picture of the Week: Bullfight in Columbia

From Bullfighting in Medellin

Sorry about the quality of this picture. This was early on my trip and I really had no idea how to work my camera. On this one, the bullfight was inside at night with poor lighting and that's why it looks so off.

In another fit of travel luck, we ran into a local Columbian lawyer who was a huge bullfight fan. He took us under his wing for the entire evening, including the post-fight party, and instructed us on the ins and outs of bullfighter.

This guy was the top ranked bullfighter in the world. He was fantastic fighter, but got a little close to this energetic bull and almost got gored. This pic looks like he's gotten the horns, but in fact he was riding on the bull's head and holding on to the horns to avoid getting gored. He threw himself off after about 10 seconds. It was wild.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Potato Chips Around the World

I don't know about you, but potato chips are my personal crack cocaine. Once I open a bag, I just can't stop until I'm finished. Small, little personal sized bag. . . right on up to the mega-Wal-Mart sized ones. They are bad, bad things.

Back home, I had pretty much eliminated them from my diet. After doing some reading up on some food basics, I had taken out almost all processed foods (and fast food) from my life. I am of the firm belief that both of them are so packed full of chemicals and other stuff that is horrible for you that we are all just slowly killing ourselves with the food we eat.

Try as I might though, I have broken down a few times on the road and bought a bag or two of potato chips, only when getting something to munch on for a long bus or train ride, but since there have been so many of those -- have had a few chips (or apparently 'crisps' as much of the world calls them).

One of the fascinating things on the road is how products that we are used to from back home are slightly different around the world. Potato chips being a good example. Back in the U.S., we've got our regular chips, BBQ flavor, sour cream and onion flavored, and a few others. It is one of the few things in the food area where I have seen more variety outside the U.S. than inside.

Here are a few of the different flavors I've seen on the road:

Nori seaweed, spicy seafood, hot chili squid, supreme sausage pizza, barbecue max, and kimchi hot plate flavor (all in Thailand). Ham flavored (South America). Ketchep flavored (Europe). Mushrooms and sour cream (Russia).

For the fellow travelers out there -- tell me which ones you have seen. And tried. Some of these varieties just sound awful to me. I've tried a few. . . with not good results.


Photo of the Day: Damascus

From Damascus

I really, really liked Syria. Looking forward to a solid 4-5 months solely in the Middle East in the next few years. Now, if I can just get an Irish passport to make the Iran trip easier. . .

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Photo of the Day: San Blas Islands, Panama

From San Blas islands

there were some really nice cloud/sunset looks on these islands. Problem was -- early in my trip, before I really knew how to use my camera (not that I'm any sort of expert now).

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Photo of the Day: Zanibar

From Stone Town

I loved walking around Stone Town and taking pictures of the great doors there. Occasionally a nice local was willing to pose in front of one for me

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Hawkers in Angkor Wat

One of the things that immediately strikes you in almost any Third World country you go to is that amount of touts and hawkers that you run into. The vast majority of the places I have been to on this trip have people that fairly constantly are coming up to you and asking if you want a taxi, tuk-tuk, bus ticket, bracelet, prostitute, meal, tour, and anything else you can think of. In addition to that, you obviously run into a huge amount of begging, depending on what country you are in.

There is a long-standing debate on what to do about this on various travel forums and in guidebooks. The general consensus that I've seen is that you should avoid giving money to people begging, even children.

I made the decision before the trip that I was never going to give money to anyone begging. It is basically the motto I followed when I was in Washington D.C. and one that I feel comfortable with. In D.C., I used to give money to the guys that were playing a musical instrument or telling jokes or something, but I've subscribed to the philosophy of "don't just stick your hand out -- do something for my money."

On the issue of touts and hawkers, I frankly wasn't prepared for the volume and intensity before the trip, but at this point, it is pretty much water off a ducks back. I've gotten so used to saying "no, thank you" over and over to people walking up to me that sometimes I accidentally say it to people that aren't even coming in my direction to ask me for anything.

Southeast Asia is no better on this score, so far, than other places (though South America seemed a bit more mellow, looking back in hindsight). I've run into a number of travelers that got very annoyed with the persistence in Vietnam, but Angkot Wat rose to a higher level than Vietnam, in my opinion.

The temples at Angkor Wat are spread out over a fairly wide area. The main circuit of the most popular temples is north of Siem Reap and is about 30 kilometers around. I decided to rent a bicycle for a couple days and ride around to the various temples, instead of renting a tuk-tuk driver for the day. I was needing the exercise and the time alone to mull some stuff over. Plus, just didn't feel like the interaction of a tuk-tuk guide.

It was a couple long, and wonderful, days. The second day, I went ahead and just did the whole Grand Circuit, 30+ kilometers in 30+ degrees (Celcius -- over 100 in U.S. terms) temps. I took a bunch of pictures and stopped a number of times at the various food shacks that are located at about every major temple.

As anyone would approach one of these areas, 7-10 women would come out of their shacks yelling at the top of their lungs "MISTER - eat here, eat here" or "MISTER -- cold water? Cold water?" Easy enough to just through a 'no thanks' and ignore them, but kind of interesting in its frequency and intensity.

I stopped at one point and got some lunch and as soon as I sat down at a table, a half-dozen kids came up asking me if I wanted to buy postcards, or jewelry ("for your girlfrind!") or other little trinkets. I politely told them all no - and a couple just stood around and watched me eat. One girl occasionally fanned me with a fan that she wanted to sell me while I ate.

I ate my meal, paid for it, and just as I was about to get up, she handed me a note that she'd obviously written while I wasn't paying attention. On one side, it had a drawing of a flower with "for you" written on it a couple times. On the other side, she'd written:

"Hello!! Nice to meet you. I give you flower for your ___ [can't read that word]. You are very nice and friendly. Nice to speak with you. Thank you for coming to see Angkor Wat. I wish you good luck with your job and your family. I hope to see you again - I hope you like my flower. I'm sorry to bother you - I like your smile. From, Heang"

She handed it to me with a smile and I just put it in my pocket, without reading it. When I pulled it out later that night and read it, I felt horrible that I didn't buy anything from her.

First time I'd had a regret like that on the entire trip.

Video of the Day: Hanoi

Photos of the Day: Sudan

From Sudan

From Sudan

From Sudan

Thursday, November 12, 2009

picture of the day - Zanzibar

Walking down the beach with my little point-and-shoot and ran into these kids. Asked if I could take their picture. I just figured they'd stand there nicely and smile.

As I pulled my camera out of my pocket, they started dancing. It was really cute. And I think the pic is pretty good

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My Berlin blog on

thanks for the travel answer man's patience in waiting for this blog that he agreed to post on his blog a long, long time ago (like when I was in Berlin). In any case, he has a great website, go check it out.

here is my blog reprinted for ease of reading, but again -- go check out his blog.

Just in time (almost) for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, here are some quick notes on Berlin. A city with almost too much to see, Berlin is to easy get around via subway and by walking. It is well worth at least three or four days of exploration. I want to focus on just a few of the sights that are all within very easy walking distance of each other.

In the center of downtown (at the Unter den Linden S-Bahn exit) lies the Brandenberg gate, the triumphal archway under which conquering German armies marched after going to war. It was commissioned by King Fredrick William II in the late 18th century and is probably most famous for its chariot of horses on top, being driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. Apparently it didn’t provide initial good luck, because Napoleon conquered Prussia just a couple decades later and took the chariot statute and Victoria off to Paris. It was returned a few decades later — after another war, this time won by the Germans.

It is an iconic sight in Berlin. Their is a line in the street on the west side of the gate that shows where the Berlin Wall once ran. The Brandenberg gate was actually in the no-mans zone for those years. Immediately next to the gate is the U.S. Embassy — prime territory in town for one of the conquering Allied powers. Across the way is the French Embassy, in a fairly ugly building that does not refect what I think of when I think France. The prime hotel overlooking these particular sights is the Hotel Adlon, which normally wouldn’t be one any sightseeing agenda, but I can almost guarantee that you have seen it before.

It was from the penthouse suite’s balcony that Michael Jackson dangled his infant child, to the consternation of most of the world watching on television. Ahhhhh, those classic Michael memories.

Right around the corner is the Reichstag, which houses the German Parliament. The building is suitably picture-worthy, but it is the addition that that building that is the real draw. Before the legislative seat of government of Germany was moved back to Berlin, post re-unification, a large glass dome was added to the top of the building. From inside, you can actually see down to the floor of Parliament and see government in action. It really does look like sausage after all. Lines are long to get in — better to go first thing or last thing in the day. Views from up top are spectacular.

Immediately south of the U.S. Embassy and Brandenberg Gate is one of the most moving places I’ve seen on my entire trip: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Often mis-indentified as the “Holocaust Museum,” the correct in-your-face name gives an accurate impression of what this site is all about. On the surface of the city block that the memorial occupies are the iconic 2,711 huge stone block that you have no doubt seen pictures of. They stand at various heights and are neatly organized in rows that take up almost the entire block. The architect of the project, Peter Eisenman, has never given any interview explaning what feelings he meant to convey with the design. Walking through the field, taking pictures of the stones with the shadows cast upon them, and seeing others walking in and out of your field of vision is interesting. I wish I had a better word for it, but that’s all I’ve got.

Underground in the small museum. Admission is free and although I hate to be the type of blogger that says “you must do this or that,” you really should take a hour or two out and go downstairs. There are only about five rooms down there. One hallway has the basic history and time line of the Holocaust. One room has maps and pictures of every concentration camps — and there were a lot more than I ever though. One room details how many Jews were killed from each country. But it was two of the rooms that set me back the most.

There is a room where the histories of 12-15 families are laid out. Family photos are on display. Letters. Descriptions of each of the members of the family: ages, professions, schooling, and so on. And then a full explanation of when the Nazis took them to their concentration camp(s) and how they died. Entire families. From Germany, France, Lativa, Russa, Bulgaria, and so many others. Among the reality of millions of murdered Jews — seeing these families stories brought it down to a level I hadn’t thought of before.

The Room of Names is a simple place with no photographs or other displays. One each of the four walls, a person’s name and biographical data is projected. Over the loudspeakers in the room, using information compiled by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, an annoucer somberly and briefly details the life, and death, of the person whose name is projected on the wall. On a continuous loop. There are about 700 such brief biographies being looped now and the project aims to expand that to several thousand. When I was there, two women sat on one of the benches crying. They weren’t alone.

I walked out that morning with one thought in my head — I just don’t understand. I don’t mean that in a disrepectful way at all. I certainly understand the facts and details of the Holocaust and the museum was an incredible jolt to my soul. But I don’t understand how people can do that to each other.

On this trip, I’ve been through Uganda, Germany, Cambodia, Sudan and skirted Bosnia. Genocides have happened for thousands of years in a variety of places and are certain to happen again in the future. I am, or at least was, a criminal defense lawyer. I can comprehend murder. Murder for greed, or anger, or jealousy or any of the other thousands of reasons it happens every day does make sense to me — I dispise it, but I can at least comprehend it.

I just cannot comprehend the systematic killing of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or in the Holocaust’s case, millions of people because of their religion, or tribe, or educational background or the other means of weeding out who “must die.” One murderer or a small gang of murderers is something I can get my head around — but genocide is carried out by thousands and thousands of people, at the highest levels of power in their government. How do they get to that point? How is it possible to convince that many people to do something that unspeakably horrible? In the end, I supposed I’m glad that I cannot understand it at all, but I do understand, and believe, in the inscription on the wall I read that day.

“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.” from Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved (I sommersi e i salvati. Turin 1986), Simon and Schuster, New York.

Primo Levi, born in 1919 in Turin, was a chemist. As a member of the Italian resistance, he was arrested in 1944 and deported to Auschwitz. He survived and began in 1945, directly after his return, to write. In 1987 Primo Levi committed suicide.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some pics from Angkor Wat

really slow uploads here, but am going to try to get 2-3 pics up here now.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Texan in Vietnam

In Hoi An, Vietnam there is a restaurant written up in all of the guidebooks I have seen called Café des Amis. It’s run by a Vietnamese owner/chef named Mr. Kim, who by his own proclamation has “the best food in Hoi An.”

There is no menu. You have a choice of vegetarian, seafood or meat. Once you choose what general variety of food you want for the evening, you get a three or four course meal of whatever Mr. Kim is serving for that evening. No options. No changes. And you have no idea what you are going to get until it hits the table. As a bonus, Mr. Kim or one of the other servers also shows you how to eat each course (chopsticks with one, spoon with another, chilies on this one, etc.). My dinner wasn’t that fabulous, but the entertainment value was high. By the way, the set cost for my dinner and beer was about $7 U.S. dollars.

Mr. Kim also has about 12-14 books that are stacked out front at the table Mr. Kim sits at soliciting prospective patrons that walk by his waterfront location. His pitch is two-fold: “best food in Hoi An” and “where are you from?”

“Where are you from?” is one of those lines that you get used to hearing in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Almost everyone asks you: shop owners, hawkers at the local market, tuk-tuk drivers, or kids begging. Once you say “the United States” or “Germany” or “Japan,” invariably whoever has asked you is able to say something in your native language and give you some fact about where you are from. It annoys some people, but I think it is very a creative and ingenious way to try to get you to stop and talk.

Mr. Kim’s “where are you from” pitch comes with a very unique twist. I told him I was from the U.S. He asked where in the U.S. and I said Texas – I find it a lot easier to just say Texas, rather than Arkansas, because so few people know where Arkansas is. He nodded and walked away to his books. About three minutes later he came back with one of the books and put it down on my table. The books are full of comments from previous customers raving about the food and Mr. Kim has an almost photographic memory of the home locations of everyone that has written in them. He’d opened one of the books to a comment from someone that signed from Dallas and went on and on about how great the food was. I read it and flipped through the rest of the book slowly, reading comments from people all over the world. A few minutes later, he brought me another book with another comment from someone from Texas.


In case you can’t read it too well, let me retype it in its entirety:

“While on business in Da Nang, I made the short trek to Café des Amis on the recommendation of my fiancée-to-be, an ever so-slightly voluminous Swede who knows a thing or two about inconspicuous consumption. In any event, although the much vaunted ‘Goat Cheese Sandwich’ wasn’t on offer today, the four-course seafood outlay was simply spectacular. Morever – miracle upon miracles – I actually enjoyed a Tiger beer served at something appreciably less than ambient temperature.”

I am a typical guy in a quite a number of respects. One of those is my love for quoting various movie lines at a frequency that seems to discourage my ability to find a woman that will put up with me. In this case, let me go with a classic from “The Princess Bride. . .” 'I don’t think that word means what you think that word means.'

You think his girlfriend – and what the hell is “fiancée-to-be” mean?? – would like to be described as “voluminous?" As my good friend, Ken Kendrick, would likely chime in at this point – “yes, quite Rubenesque.” And conspicuous consumption, inconspicuous consumption – guess that’s about the same thing. “Seafood outlay??” “Ambient temperature??” Really?

Such an effort to impress with one’s linguistic skills. I got the feeling that this particular individual was proud of their excellent college education and wanted to make sure that everyone else that read this particular comment would be impressed also. This was all verified when you scrolled down to his signature:

Get your guns up! Go Red Raiders!

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Photo off the boat -- Norway

From Boat in Norway

for those not on Facebook, one of my recent pics. You can follow the link to my picasweb photo page.

trying to upload photos and video from Mongolia, China and Vietnam, but with computer screw-ups currently, it's proving difficult. Thanks for your patience.


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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Various Notes

Sorry its been so long between me writing here. Having my computer going on the fritz has set me back, especially with pictures. The damn thing works one day and then not for two days. And back and forth. In any case, here are some various notes from some of the countries I've shot through in the last few weeks.

* Russian women are incredibly beautiful. Right up there with Columbian woman in frequency of appearance on random streets. The odd thing is that you see hundreds of model-like women in their 20s walking around. . .and absolutely no attractive women over 35 years old. Its like some switch gets pulled and they go from 9s and 10s, on the common scale, and fall off the cliff down to 1s and 2s. So odd. In every other country in the world, there are very attractive "older" women out there, but in one of the countries with the highest concentration of beautiful young women, there are none.

* If I had cornered the market on black boots in Russia, I would have already bought my Caribbean island to live on.

* This isn't remotely a unique comment, as I've heard/read it in scores of places, but Russians don't smile. At all.

* St. Petersburg is incredibly beautiful and should be a lesson to the rest of Russia. Hey Russia, try a new coat of paint occasionally!

* I have met and talked to a lot of people that had a great time on the Trans-Siberan or Trans-Mongolian. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. Most of the stories I have heard involve lots of drinking and partying with groups of tourists that are riding together in the train. Didn't happen for me. I didn't take the semi-official Trans-Mongolian that most tourists end up getting steered to -- I was travelling a different day of the week than that train was going. So, I got on the more Russian version and it was empty. In my train car, there were 9 cabins of 4 beds each -- 36 total possible berths. It was me and a family of three in the entire train car for the longest stretch I took -- 4 days from Moscow to Irktusk. Basically didn't have any contact with any human being at all for four days (save for a brief bit on night one, which I will write a seperate blog on). Pretty boring. And the scenery out the window wasn't that great either. Glad I did it -- pretty unlikely to ever do it again.

* I loved Bejing. Totally unexpected, since I default to not liking big cities. It was clean. People were very, very friendly. Got into a really fun and cool hostel right near the Forbidden City that was in an old, traditional courtyard neighborhood, down a couple alleys, seemingly in the middle of no where in the heart of the city. The sights were really good - Forbidden City was great, Summer Palace was fine (except for the crowds), even the Great Wall at the mega-tourist spot I went to was incredible. And the food. . .mmmmm. . . dumplings for breakfast (and lunch and dinner). Gotta love dumplings for breakfast.

* One reason I was unexpectedly happy with Bejing is that I actually saw the sky for a couple days. Had heard about the pollution (and got it in the south later), but had some actual, real blue sky days there. One thing I loved in that respect were the self-propelled, motorized bicycles. Bascially they had a little motor in them and when you petaled them, they charged up the internal battery, so that you could use them as a motorized bike until the charge ran out. Then you petaled again for a bit and charged them up again. Incredibly good idea. Haven't seen them before and I think they ought to be government subsidized everywhere.

* I can't spell and there is no spell check possible on this slow-ass public computer. Sorry.

* Hanoi is how I pictured a SE Asia city. Big. Loud. Busy. Bicycles and motorcycles everywere (video soon, IF I can fricking upload anywhere). People hustling about. Wow. Liked it. A lot.

* Speaking of Vietnam, I'm obviously having "opposite day" on this part of my trip. People loved the Trans-Mongolian; I didn't. Everyone hated Vietnam; I thought it was cool. I have heard a bunch of veteran SE Asia travelers say they hated Vietnam. Not sure why. Sure, you get a ton of people hitting you up for cab rides and tours and everything, but if you can't deal with that, there aren't many places you should be traveling to. Guess I've just gotten so used to that part of travel that it doesn't phase me at all. Vietnam is certainly a big touristy spot -- tons of Australians up there on cheap flights. The tourist spots are overrun with people and such, but that's partly because the spots are pretty damn great. Ha Long Bay was beautiful (again, pics at some point - promise). Hoi An was very nice, though it was in the midde of a typhon when I was there. I liked it. Except. . .

* Horns. I want to kill people when I hear horns. I think they might just be at the top of my current 'hate list.' Its especially bad, since my iPod is dead, so I have nothing to drown them out with. So, here is how driving works in Vietnam. You honk at everything you pass on the road - I suppose as a warning you are going to pass them. And by everything, I mean everything -- other cars, other buses, motorcycles, people walking 50 feet away in rice fields. Everyone. Something about that sound just kills me. Drives a stake right into the core of my being.

The really annoying instance was the bus driver from Danang to Hoi An, luckily only a two hour ride. I can understand honking on two lane roads (one lane each way) when you approach someone. They need to pull over as far as they can. But this road was four lanes. Nice road. Good condition. Regular sized lanes. We drove the whole way in the left hand. Everytime the driver approached one of the hundreds of motorcycles in the other lane, he'd honk long and hard. These for bikes just minding their own business in their own lane. Far, far from being anywhere remotely close to getting hit. But away goes the horn anyway. Arrrggggg.

* I really like cities where people live on the streets. Eating at sidewalk cafes. Beers at tables on the sidewalk. Storekeepers hawking their wares out front of their places. Bikes pulled up on the sidewalks. Activity. And warmth. I do like the warm weather, especially after sun-down.

* The movies I have seen on TV (buses and hotels) here that are translated into Vietnam completely crack me up. I have seen 4-5 now, so think I can make a small generalization. Every single one has just used one person to do all the dubbing. It is quite amusing to watch a movie and have one woman dub all the parts -- male and female. And with no voice inflection at all. Every time I have seen it, just makes me chuckle a bit.

* I was worried about China and the language issue and I was right to a degree. Very few people speak English. It is really imperative to have a phrasebook with the written Chinese symbols to show people when you are trying to get directions or a cab or such. And make sure you have a business card of the hotel/hostel, you are staying at on you at all times. If you need to get a cab back there (or have someone call them and translate for you), you will regret not having it on you.

* China is big. OK, I've said that before about other places/things, but seriously. China is big. Here is how big.

Have you ever heard of Nanning, China?? I hadn't ever heard of it before and I'm a pretty good geography buff. Its a large city in south China that I stopped in on my way to Hanoi.

Over 6.5 million people live there. Put that in perspective for a second.

London is 7.5 million. Hong Kong is 6 million. Berlin is 3.5 million. Philadelphia is 4.4 million. Toronto is 4.6 million. You heard of those cities??

Of course. Who the hell has heard of Nanning, that hasn't been in the area?? That amazed me.

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