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Balls

Posted on Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Dave!You know what?

When somebody kicks me in the balls, I remember it...

DaveToon Kick in the Balls

   
You would think that after being repeatedly kicked in the balls by Congress, the American people would remember it.

But apparently they don't.

Because the same wankers keep getting re-elected so they can kick us in the balls again.

Which is pretty bad, but not so bad as having to listen to people bitch about getting kicked in the balls by Congress.

If you don't like getting kicked in the balls, then do your part to make sure ball-kicking assholes don't get re-elected.

Otherwise, I hope you're a big fan of getting kicked in the balls.

   

Fall Season

Posted on Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Dave!With Breaking Bad, Burn Notice, Happy Endings, and a lot of other television shows being axed, you'd think that I'd be looking to add shows to my schedule... but the opposite seems to be true. I've dropped a good dozen shows from last year, and will probably dump even more by the end of the season.

I'm just not enjoying TV as much as I used to.

And so... here's a look at returning shows that I can't seem to live without...

  • Elementary. The best show of last season featuring the impeccable casting of Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu with really, really good stories. My favorite show on television right now.
  • Raising Hope. Just when I think they're running this one into the ground, they move past the status quo into even more interesting territory. Heartwarming, funny, quality entertainment.
  • Arrow. Completely took me by surprise... one of the best comic book adaptations for television, and a quality show no matter what genre you assign it.
  • The Big Bang Theory. It's kind of treading water with me, but the addition of Mayim Bialik's Amy Farrah Fowler has kept the show on my radar.
  • Castle. I think getting Castle and Beckett together was a huge mistake because there's nowhere to go but down. Watching the season opener only confirms my fears. Still, good mystery stories and cast that keeps me watching.
  • Scandal. This is delicious television suspense that is beautifully crafted week after week. I watch every episode live because I am paranoid that somebody will spoil it for me.
  • Sons of Anarchy. This show is headed in a tunnel of expectations being met, but it still has some good stories to tell. I really hope that they wrap it up this season or the next so they can go out on top, like Breaking Bad, instead of fading into irrelevance.
  • Hawaii Five-0. I started watching again last season and, surprisingly, find that I really like the show again. The chemistry between Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan is television gold, and the writers know how to take advantage of it.
  • The Walking Dead. I am growing a little frustrated by the series and find myself wishing that they had just stick to the story as it's unfolding in the comic book, but I just can't resist zombie horror!
  • How I Met Your Mother. It should have ended two seasons ago when it was still "great" instead of merely "good"... but here we are. Still has plenty of laughs, but I am hating Barney and Robin getting together more than ever and wish it would just end already.

Usually, I watch every new show that sounds even remotely interesting before deciding on what I want to add to my television habit. This season I'm just getting so tired of television that I'm looking to add as few shows as possible. Here's the four shows that made the cut...

  • Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As a comic book geek, I'm pretty much compelled to watch. It's an okay show... but needs some time to find its footing. Right now the writers are spreading the effects budget too thin, and they need to learn that a few really good effects is far better than a bunch of weak ones... but I think they'll get there. I hope they settle into more of a "early Alias vibe" as time goes on, and do more with the "spy" angle than what they are now. The opening scene of the first episode is really where they need to be. Oh... and fucking KILL Fitz/Simmons ASAP, because they are annoying as fuck and drag the entire show down.
  • The Crazy Ones. When Robin Williams goes off the chain, he's almost unbearable to watch. But when he's kept on a leash and reigns it in a bit, he's one of the funniest people alive and an incredibly gifted actor. I am really, really hoping for the latter, because the cast here is excellent. So far so good with the first episode... but the minute the writers start running out of ideas and let Williams go mental, I'm gone.
  • The Blacklist. I haven't watched this show yet, but the premise (and the presence of James Spader) is really too good to be true, and so it's waiting for me on my DVR. I am seriously hoping for the best here, because this would fill a big hole in my schedule of shows.
  • Almost Human. Karl Urban and Michael Ealy in the same show? And it's a sci-fi show? Uh, yeah... needless to say, sign me up.

And... that's the end of it. Roughly half the television I was watching last year.

What will I do with all that extra time?

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Shutdown!

Posted on Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Dave!Well poop on a biscuit.

Nothing quite like needing to research something, finding out that the information you have to have is on a government-funded site, then going to the site only to find THIS staring back at you...

   

Government Lapse

   

So... to sum up...

I need to make sure something is in compliance with government standards.

The government standards are made available from government-funded entities.

Now that the government is shut down, those government-funded entities are no longer available.

But I still have to comply with the government standards, even though I have no way of knowing what they are.

Just when I think things can't get any more fucked-up than they already are, the government has to come along and prove me wrong.

Alrighty then.

   

Yes!

Posted on Friday, October 4th, 2013

Dave!It seems like only yesterday I was complaining about how my vacation felt like it was going to take forever to get here.

Then, in no time at all, here we are...

Vacation Countdown ONE DAY LEFT!

I am so not ready to leave.

But I am oh so ready to go.

Tonight I drove over to Seattle... tomorrow I'm flying off to someplace new.

That it will take me seventeen hours to get there should fill me with dread. But I kind of like the idea of being seventeen hours away from Real Life.

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SEA->ICN->SGN

Posted on Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Dave!Seattle to Seoul... 11 hours.

Seoul to Saigon... 5.5 hours (including delay).

Add two hours waiting for my flight in Seattle, an hour layover in Seoul, and an hour-and-a-half waiting for the rest of our group to arrive for transportation to the hotel... that's a 20 hour day of travel right there.

Needless to say, I'm pretty beat.

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Bullet Sunday 350

Posted on Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Dave!Good evening, Vietnam! Please put your seat in the upright position and stow your tray tables... because Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Flight! Long-haul flights are nothing new to me but, as I mentioned yesterday, twenty hours of travel over 7,425 miles can really wear you down no matter how seasoned a traveler you are. Putting that aside, I was surprised how efficient my trip was given that I had a layover in Seoul. The total route is almost a perfect arc when plotted out by the Great Circle Mapper...

Great Circle Map SEA->SGN

   
• Korean! And speaking of my flight... once again had a great trip with Korean Air thanks to the wonderful crew. Asian-based airlines always go above and beyond, and Korean is a solid choice for crossing The Pacific. Leg room in economy is surprisingly decent, making for a more comfortable trip than you'd expect. And the little details... like these stickers that let the flight attendants know if they should disturb your sleep or leave you alone... are a nice consideration...

Wake Me Stickers

Food is also pretty decent... especially for an airline... though they aren't big on snacks. You get a tiny bag of peanuts with your drink service which is immediately followed by a departure dinner on the way up, or arrival dinner service on the way down. A light meal or even a bag of cookies would have been much appreciated at the half-way point...

Half-Way Point Korean Airlines

Fortunately, I never travel without my own snacks, but still. Oh well. Still an excellent airline.

   
• Movies! The selection of movies on my flight were pretty good, and watching a bunch of them back-to-back makes the time fly by. I re-watched Man of Steel, which is a film I downright hated (despite a fantastic cast), hoping that I would like it more on second viewing. I didn't. If anything, I hated it even more. Then I watched The Lone Ranger, which was disappointing yet entertaining, and deserves a little more credit than it got from the critics. But the highlight was finally, finally, being able to watch 42, which I had wanted badly to see in the theater but never got around to...

42 Movie Poster

What a great film! I'd recommend it, even if you're not a baseball fan. The movie focuses on Jackie Robinson's struggle for acceptance as he becomes the first African-American to play for the major leagues. In that respect, it really does the job, and the casting is flawless. Chadwick Boseman, who I've never heard of before, plays Robinson with an enthusiasm and dignity that is essential to the character, and his performance anchored the movie beautifully. The biggest surprise to me was Harrison Ford's role as Dodgers President and GM Branch Rickey, which is probably one of the best performances of his career. Maybe it's because I fully expected John Goodman to get the part, but I honestly didn't think Ford was going to work as well as he did. No less shocking to me was seeing Alan Tudyk (my favorite actor from Firefly) as racist Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, and I have to give him credit for taking on a part that is the polar opposite of the lovable roles his fans love him for. If I have one bit of criticism, I wish the film had dug even a little deeper into Robinson's life outside of the game. Yeah, I know that's not the focus of the film, but I can't help but feel it would have been a much stronger movie if they had added more dimension to Robinson's personal life. Still, a film worth seeing. And I'd be remiss if I passed up an opportunity to plug The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, which is an essential look at baseball, and a fantastic precursor to Robinson's history-making career.

   
• Incheon! Transfers at Incheon International at Seoul are always easy and efficient, and the airport is laid out very well. The weather was pretty good as I said farewell to the plane that had become my home for the past 11 hours...

Layover in Incheon Seoul International

A beautiful evening in Korea... which almost makes me wish I was sticking around for a while.

   
• Hosed! Before leaving Seattle, I used the Ask Dave! app to see if I would have a good flight...

Ask Dave! Lil' Dave says

Now, given the terrific experience I just had flying from Seattle to Seoul, I was beginning to think that Lil' Dave was dead-wrong. But then came the flight from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City... which was pretty much unbearable. There was turbulence over the Yellow Sea and again over China that was a bit rocky, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was the HIDEOUS FUCKING BITCH sitting across the aisle to the right of me who was having a conversation with a second HIDEOUS FUCKING BITCH that was behind and to the left of me. Never mind that there were TWO PEOPLE between her and the person she was talking to, she was screaming non-stop for three of the five-and-a-half hours I was stuck on the plane (stopping only to take a nap half-way through). She. Did. Not. Stop. Talking. And if there was a cabin announcement or somebody else was trying to talk... she would just screech even louder. So loud that even blasting music in my headphones at full volume was not enough to get rid of her. At one point, I think the guy behind me asked if she'd like to trade places so she could sit next to her chat buddy, but HIDEOUS FUCKING BITCH NUMBER ONE refused because she had an empty seat next to her. Or something. Holy shit was it awful. There was more than one time I had to restrain myself from telling her to shut the fuck up... or just punch her repeatedly in her stupid fucking face. I cannot fathom how incredibly fucking rude some people can be. Maybe... maybe... if this was a daytime flight, I could have overlooked it as a cultural thing... but a late night flight where people are trying to sleep? Sorry, that makes you a rude asshole in any culture. Seriously one of the most miserable flights I have ever had.

   
• Dong! I am part of a tour group that's arriving on different flights. This necessitated hanging around Tan Son Nhat International Airport much, much longer than I wanted. But, since I didn't want to abandon the people I'll be spending the next two weeks with, I decided to hang around waiting instead of doing a peace-out and grabbing a taxi. One of the things I did to kill time was get some Vietnamese currency from an airport cash machine so I could buy some fries from Burger King. Now, usually I am prepared for international travel and know what the exchange rate is. But this time I never looked into it, and I couldn't get data service on my iPhone to check it out. So I just rolled the dice and told the ATM that I want 50,000 dong (Vietnamese dollars) because it was the middle option of the quick-cash amounts displayed. Much to my horror, the machine spit out 200,000 dong instead of the 50,000 I wanted, and I was standing there worried that I had just stuck myself with $200 worth of money I probably wouldn't spend. But then I got to Burger King and saw that an order of fries was 33,000 dong which I hoped didn't translate to $33.00, so I thought I was probably okay. When I got to my hotel, the first thing I did was look at my bank account online and saw that the 200,000 dong amounted to $10.38 US being taken from my account. Guess I should have gotten more dong when I had the chance.

And... I am completely trashed, so I guess it's time for sleeping and no more bullets.

   

Day One – Ho Chi Minh City

Posted on Monday, October 7th, 2013

Dave!Not wanting to arrive the minute my tour was starting, I decided to book an extra day in advance so I could rest up before my vacation begins. Which, of course, proved impossible. Lounging around a hotel when I'm in a city I've never been to before is crazy talk. And so I set out into Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Sài Gòn (or "Saigon" as Westerners know it).

The only "must see" item on my wish-list of things to visit was the monument to Thích Quảng Đức, the monk who protested the persecution of Buddhists by first South Vietnamese President Diem by burning himself to death in 1963...

Thích Quảng Đức Memorial Park

Thích Quảng Đức Memorial Park

You probably know of him even though you may not recognize his name. The horrific event that took place almost exactly 50 years ago was immortalized in a famous photo that's known around the world...

Thích Quảng Đức Self-Immolation Photo by Malcolm Browne
Photo by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Malcolm Browne for Associated Press, colorized by MyGrapefruit

His final words...

"Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism."

Throughout the entire ordeal, Thích Quảng Đức did not move or cry out. His remains were cremated, but his heart survived as his body turned to ask and is now a holy relic.

The monument itself is spectacular... easily one of the best I have ever seen. Behind the statue of Thích Quảng Đức is a relief carving of his final moments, and it's beautifully rendered...

Thích Quảng Đức Monument

Thích Quảng Đức Monument

Across from the park is a memorial pagoda in his honor...

Thích Quảng Đức Pagoda

Mission accomplished. Anything else I did today would be gravy.

And so I decided to visit Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất), the former offices of the president of South Vietnam. The taking of this "palace" signified the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon...

Reunification Palace, Saigon

It's pretty much just a big building filled with dozens of beautifully-appointed rooms, all just a little different from one another, but basically the same...

Reunification Palace, Saigon

Reunification Palace, Saigon

Then I was off to take a look at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, a basilica established by the French after they conquered the region and wanted a place of worship for their colonists. Remarkably, all the building materials used in construction were imported from France...

Notre Dame Basilica Saigon

And... that was about as much sightseeing as I could endure today.

The thing about Vietnam is that it's hot here. When I left my hotel at 10:00am, it was a breezy 82 degrees with overcast skies. Then, as you can see, the sun came out. At which time the temperature soared to roughly 270 degrees. Eventually I had to cut short my wanderings and head back to the hotel at 2:00pm because I was melting and close to death.

The other thing about Vietnam is that it's not the least bit friendly for walking in the big cities. This is much like my trip to China where everybody is driving, and walkers just have to get out of their way. But at least Vietnam drivers slow down a little bit when people are in the crosswalks... unlike in China where all drivers are actively trying to kill pedestrians for sport, and will speed up if they see you crossing the road. Being in a country where pedestrians DON'T have the right of way is always a challenge, and going out for a pizza can get you run down in the street. Give me the good ol' USA where all I have to worry about is getting shot when I go out for pizza. USA! USA! USA!

But the cars and billions of motorcycles is only part of the problem. The bigger issue for pedestrians is that the sidewalks are almost always obstructed. People are selling, buying, cooking, eating, sleeping, and parking on them, and getting through can be tricky...

Ho Chin Minh City Sidewalk

Look closely...

Sleeping kitty looks like Spanky the Cat...

Ho Chin Minh City Sidewalk

Half the time, there's not even a path for you to get through it all, meaning you often have to venture out on the street to get anywhere, which is about as dangerous as it gets...

Saigon Sidewalk

Saigon Sidewalk
Oh? You want to get through? Well, fuck you! Fuck you, stupid pedestrian!

And these photos are relatively mild examples. I've tried to navigate through seas of scooters and motorcycles that seem to park wherever the hell they want. Oh... and when you do happen to find a sidewalk that's not obstructed? That's when you REALLY have to be careful, because that just means motorcycles will come driving down the sidewalk any minute now... guaranteed.

After wishing I had more dong yesterday, I stopped by an ATM on my way back to the hotel so I could pick some up. Don't look now, but I'm a millionaire, bitches! I've got more dong than you can handle...

ONE MILLION DONG!
Um, yeah... one million dong is about $45 in US dollars...

The last thing I saw before escaping the afternoon heat was a little girl walking down the sidewalk with a box on her head. Probably just playing around, but she could have been trying to escape the unrelenting sun. In any event, it's the cutest thing you'll see all day...

Girl in a Box

After taking my second shower of the day, I hung out in my hotel room until the sun went down and things cooled down enough that I could venture out without melting. In other words, I hid indoors until dinner-time. At which point I came back and took my third shower of the day, because it was still hot out.

And there you have it, my first full day in Vietnam.

Oh... and did I mention that I visited my 152nd Hard Rock for lunch today? Because I did...

Hard Rock Cafe Ho Chi Minh City

There's a newer section upstairs that's decorated in the awful "hipster lounge" aesthetic of the modern properties, but the beautiful original section downstairs is a bit more traditional...

Hard Rock Cafe Saigon

The bar is one of the best I've seen yet...

Hard Rock Cafe Bar

Absolutely worth a visit... even though they didn't have a veggie burger on the menu. Instead I had a pesto pasta, which was fantastic. Better than I've had in some fine Italian restaurants, believe it or not.

Xin chào! Mai mốt gặp lại! Good bye until tomorrow!

   

Day Two – Mekong Delta

Posted on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Dave!And so today my Adventure by Disney officially begins (yesterday was just an add-on that I booked so I'd have a little time to recoup from the flight).

The name of this tour is apparently "Jewels of Southeast Asia," though the official website page doesn't show a name at all. Unlike most of the "Adventures by Disney" which are designed as "family vacations" which include activities for kids, this is an "adults only" tour.

Usually, I'm not big on organized tours, but when you don't have time to plan things out, it's just easier all the way around. Disney is more expensive than other companies I found, but I decided to just bite the bullet and go for it because Disney is a name I trust to do things right.

The day started when everybody boarded a bus for the Mekong River Delta. The interior was a bit unexpected, with decorations plastered everywhere...

Tour Bus Teddy Bear

There were symbols of good luck lining the dashboard, which makes sense given the insane traffic you have to navigate through here in Saigon...

Tour Bus Good Luck Charms

Half-way through the drive, we stopped at a rest area, which is unlike any rest area I've seen before...

Rest Stop Lily Pond

Lotus Flower

It was a long drive, but you're never bored because entertainment is always just outside your window. A guy riding a motorcycle with a washing machine while texting? Got it. Entire families of five people on a motorcycle? Yep. Babies on motorcycles? Of course! Saigon has it all...

Motor Bike Refrigerator Haul while Texting!

Motorcycle Momma... Literally

Eventually we made it to a small fishing village on the Mekong River where we boarded boats to explore life on the river...

Mekong River Boat

Mekong Cruise on the Boat

Passing a Boat on the River

River Homes of the Mekong

Mekong Homes

Mekong River House

Mekong Fruit Seller

Mekong Houseboats

After wandering around a while, we stopped off at a family-run candy factory. One of the candies they make is from popped rice. The popping itself is accomplished with large woks filled with hot sand. The sand and rice is mixed together and, almost instantly, the popping starts. The sand is then filtered away in a sieve and, violà, rice has been popped. It's then mixed with sugars and flavorings, pressed onto a cutting table, then sliced into bite-sized pieces and wrapped for selling...

Mekong Popped Rice Making

Mekong Vietnam Rice Candy Shop

The company also hand-makes rice paper for spring rolls and such. It's a hot, tiring, difficult job, but the woman working there made it look easy...

Vietnam Mekong Rice Paper Making

Rice Paper Drying in the Sun in Vietnam

Another item on the menu... SNAKE WINE! Wine that it cured with dead snakes in it for some reason...

Mekong Vietnam Snake Wine

All throughout the factory there were dogs laying around. We were warned that dogs here are not petted and cuddled, so trying to make friends is a bad idea. The dog may think that you reaching out to pet him is an attack, so you'll get bit...

Mekong Dogs of Vietnam

And speaking of dogs... prosperous homes sometimes have dog statues standing guard in front. I've seen it more often than you'd think, and most times it's these exact same statues over and over again...

Mekong Dog Statue Guardians

After an incredible lunch of fresh local foods, we zoomed back along the river so we could drive back to Saigon. Dinner tonight was on the 51st floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, which is an easy building to spot because it has a helicopter pad sticking out the side of it! The view of the city was quite nice and the food pretty darn tasty...

Dinner in Bitexco Tower

Since this is a Disney tour, they hand out pins for you to collect. On the first day I got a welcome pin with Pluto...

Welcome Disney Pin!

Then today I got a Donald and Daisy Duck Mekong pin...

Melodic Mekong Pin

Pretty nifty.

And tomorrow starts early, so off I go...

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Day Three – Củ Chi

Posted on Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Dave!Originally named "Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes" but also known as "The US War Crimes Museum," a popular attraction documenting the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese was renamed "War Remnants Museum" when trade relations were re-opened with the United States.

Overall, it's an interesting (albeit decidedly one-sided) look at the war that can get fairly graphic at times, but is entirely more effective because of it...

Vietnam War Remnants Museum

Displays are fairly straightforward and stark, but well-presented...

Remnants Museum Exhibits

Some of the exhibits are obvious propaganda, and leave out huge chunks of the story, but at least the museum isn't hiding their agenda. Unlike shit-bag organizations that claim to be "fair and balanced" yet are anything but, the War Remnants Museum doesn't lie about their intentions as you make your way through the exhibits...

Requiem - The photo collection of the US aggressive war in Japan

Other sections of the museum include such topics such as "Aggression War Crimes" and "Historic Truths," and are certainly open for debate, but one area of the museum draws conclusions that most anyone can agree with... Agent Orange was some heinous shit that ruined lives on both sides. It was chemical warfare on an epic scale that had both immediate and long-term affects on health and development that are still affecting people today...

Remnants Museum on Agent Orange

Seeing the horrific images and reading heart-wrenching stories about the tragedies of war is not easy, no matter which side is telling the story. Regardless of how you feel about the Vietnam War... whether it's America's stance of playing "World Police" and saving the planet from "communism"... or large segments of the Vietnamese population being forced to accept a government they did not want... or an entire class of peasants being decimated when they just wanted to be left alone... or wealthy corporations encouraging war so they could make money... or indigenous Degar/Montagnard minority persons being overrun because they didn't fit in with the Vietnam majority culturally... or the American CIA and the French battling it out using the Vietnamese people for the fight... or the involvement of Korea (North and South) and Australia to serve their own interests... or any number of factors that made this such a highly complicated and confusing conflict for everybody involved... I think everybody can agree that war sucks.

Which is why, despite my personal feelings and obvious bias, this museum (hence Vietnam's official position over what they went through) has my deepest sympathies.

At least they did until I got to the gift shop and saw this...

Remnants Museum American Dog Tag Souvenirs?

At first I thought that these dog-tag "souvenirs" were war trophies being sold, and I was absolutely horrified. But one of the guys in our tour group who actually served in Vietnam said that they were not real, as American dog-tags had different information on them. Even so, they are clearly meant to be American dog-tag replicas when they feature names like "Matthew Johnson" on them. And the fact that they've been aged and dirtied up to look like war trophies is almost as bad as selling the real thing. This is incredibly disrespectful and disgusting regardless of the circumstances, and I had a very different feeling leaving the museum after seeing this than I would have had I not seen them at all.

Though, to be fair, you could say the same thing about American museums selling Indian artifacts and replicas like they do, so I guess we're no better.

Anyway...

From the museum we took a bus north to the Củ Chi district, once again zipping through traffic with horn blaring...

Củ Chi Bus Drive

How we managed to reach our destination without an accident remains a mystery.

The area we visited is famous for the Củ Chi Underground Tunnels, which were used by the Viet Cong to very effectively infiltrate hostile territory and wreck havoc with their enemies. Now the tunnels are part of a sort of "outdoor museum" where you can learn about how they were made and used. Our tour guide gave a very effective demonstration of how everything works by popping in and out of the tunnels using secret doors that were invisible on the forest floor...

Củ Chi Tunnel Surprise

The tunnels themselves are small. Tiny. Impossibly miniscule. And looking at them makes you wonder how people managed to survive in such claustrophobic conditions. It also makes you respect the people who were so dedicated to their cause that they were willing to endure such conditions. Surprisingly, the tunnels for tourists have actually been ENLARGED so that we can fit into them. And they are still horrifically small. Three people in our group decided to give the first tunnel a try, and it was a bit nerve-wracking to get through even though it was a short distance...

Củ Chi Tunnel

The woman I followed above was smaller than I am. I am so tall that there was no way I could just hunch over and fit... oh no... I had to squat down and shuffle my way through. Not at all easy, but I made it...

I Escape from the Củ Chi Tunnel!

Turns out that trying to breath was the most difficult part of going through the tunnel... which is good, I suppose, since it takes your mind off of the crushing claustrophobia that you feel.

After looking at tunnels and learning about how the Viet Cong used tricks and traps to attack their enemies, we got to see a fashion show of Viet Cong jungle apparel...

Củ Chi Fashion Show

I don't know how Tim Gunn would feel about that little ensemble, but I think she is totally pulling it off!

And, with that fashion moment, my visit to Củ Chi came to an end, and we were off to the airport.

BUT NOT BEFORE IT WAS TIME TO COLLECT MY DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

And how in the hell is Disney going to turn a day filled with war and death into a fun-time activity for kids, you may ask? Well here you go...

D3 Disney Pin

Baloo the Bear and The Jungle Book makes any activity a fun one! Even after you've watched somebody explain how a pit filled with spikes can mean an agonizing death for somebody unfortunate enough to fall into one.

   

Day Four – Hội An

Posted on Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Dave!Last night we arrived in the city of Da Nang, where we were quickly transported to a resort in the UNESCO Heritage city of Hội An. The city is kind of conflicted, trying to both retain the culture and heritage which makes it unique, yet service the throngs of tourists showing up to play on their beaches. It's a delicate balance, and not everybody is convinced that it can work. Development is rapidly encroaching on the city, and "progress" (if you can call it that) is winning out.

Hội An is said to have beautiful sunsets, so I woke up at some ungodly hour so I could walk down to the beach and take a look. Unfortunately, there was a haze out, so it didn't look like much...

 Hoi An Sunrise

Given that this is an Adventure by Disney, they don't just want to drag you from place to place and give you an overview of the highlights... they work hard to tell a story of where you are and the people who live there. Today that began with a trip to the Hội An market led by a local chef who could explain everything. It was a really great walk...

Hoi An Market

Hoi An Market

Hoi An Market

Hoi An Market

Hoi An Market

Hoi An Market

Hoi An Market

I stopped buying souvenirs years ago because I just don't have the space. But I saw this tree carving hanging up, and thought it was pretty cool...

Hoi An Tree Carving

Much to my surprise, when I took a look at it, the name "DAVID" was carved on the top! I guess fate was telling me to buy it, but I was not tempted. What would I do with it when I got home? How would I get it home in one piece?

After the market, we took a boat back to "Brother's Cafe" where our chef works so we could get lessons in how to cook Vietnamese food...

Hoi An Cruise

Hoi An Cooking Class

Hoi An Cooking Class

My Spring Rolls didn't turn out that pretty, but they were sure tasty...

Hoi An Cooking Class

I had better luck with the eggplant and tomato dish, but that didn't stop me from accepting help when offered...

Hoi An Cooking Class

Hoi An Cooking Class

After cooking school, everybody went to a local tailor to be fitted for custom clothing. I ordered two shirts for the bargain-basement price of $70 total, and they were waiting for me when I returned to the hotel this evening. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. After having your measurements taken, you had free time to wander around town...

Hoi An Walkabout

Hoi An Walkabout

And then it was time for... LANTERN-MAKING!!

Yes, Disney arranged for everybody to go to a lantern factory so we could learn how to make the beautiful lanterns that are hanging all over the city...

Hoi An Lantern Factory

You start out with a bamboo frame, then glue on strips of fabric to create the lantern...

Hoi An Lantern-Making

At least that was the plan. I'll spare you from having to look at the glue-soaked mess that I ended up with.

The good news is that you could buy beautifully hand-made lanterns to take home with you, so I did just that. Though there's little hope that my living room is going to end up looking as cool as Hội An at night...

Hội An at Night!

Hội An at Night!

Ah well. It makes for a beautiful memory.

And now it's time for THE DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

D4 Disney Pin

Chip and Dale would be a mess in the kitchen. What do squirrels know about cooking? They should have used Remy from Ratatouille! Given the influence of the French here in Vietnam, it would have been totally appropriate!

Ah well. It was another fantastic day in Vietnam, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

   

Day Five – Hội An (Part One)

Posted on Friday, October 11th, 2013

Dave!This was a long, long day... so I'm breaking it up into a two-part blog entry. This is Part One.

Today is what Adventures by Disney calls "A Day On Your Own," meaning that they don't have anything scheduled, and it's up to you to figure out what you want to do. Except... not really... because they're still around and eager to help you get the most out of your day.

A friend had recommended taking a Hội An Photo Tour, which she had done two years ago and raved about. Anxious to step outside the Disney Protection Bubble where everything is sanitized for your protection, I was happy to sign up and get out into the "real" Vietnam for a day. Lucky for me, I was able to convince three people from my tour group to go as well.

Pick-up was at 5:00am, where we were quickly whisked off to a small cafe near a ferry dock. There we were introduced to our guide and photography instructor, Pieter, who got us situated and went over some camera settings. It was pouring rain, but the forecast said things would clear up shortly, so we braved the wet and headed out to a small ferry that would take us across to the fishing village of Duy Hải...

Morning Ferry

The village fish market was an amazing wash of activity, with fishermen pulling into vịnh Cửa Đại (Cửa Đại Bay) where guys in round rafts float out to meet the boats, gather up the catch, and head to shore so the ladies there can negotiate, yell, and fight their way to the best price. It's fish fish fish everywhere...

Fish Market

Fish Market Washing Fish

Vietnam Loading Fish on a Bike

Fish Washing in Hoi An, Vietnam

The rain didn't let up, and became a deluge around lunch time. My feet were soaking wet in no time, and my shoes were made up of water more than anything else in short order...

Raining in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hiding out from the rain, we darted from cover to cover where all kinds of interesting things were to be found... including a man making an anchor from scrap metal...

Hoi An Vietnam Welder

After a delicious Vietnamese-style veggie sandwich for lunch, we were off to a fish sauce factory where we could practice taking photos in different lighting conditions.

The smell was bloody awful.

But the rain stopped, and that's something.

Fish sauce is made by salting fish in a giant barrel and letting it rot for six months to a year. The rotted fish is then strained through cloth to produce sauce...

Making Fish Sauce in Vietnam

Workers at the factory get fresh fish sauce, right from the tap. I don't think the puppy hanging around looking for food got any though...

Fish Sauce Workers Having Lunch in Vietnam

The village was filled with busy people, but those who weren't working were quite friendly and willing to pose for photos. This little boy made quite an impression on our group, and I don't think there was a single one of us who didn't want to take him home...

Father and Son in Vietnam

But, alas, the lucky little bugger had a dad who loved him and could spend his days pants-free, so why would he want to leave home?

Father and Son in Vietnam

The father and son were waiting at the local barber shop for a haircut. The barber there was doing a masterful job with his client, which made me wish I hadn't cut all my hair off before I left for Vietnam...

Barber in Vietnam

Vietnamese children are a special flavor of adorable, and this little one found us more interesting to look at than grandma trying to feed them rice...

Lunch with Grandma in Vietnam

Most everyone seemed content to go about their business while people were snapping photos. This little girl was probably used to the attention, given that she is featured on the Hội An Photo Tour brochure...

Girl Washing Dishes in Hoi An, Vietnam

Girl Washing Dishes in Hoi An, Vietnam

DUCKS!!!

Ducks in a Row in Vietnam

Eventually we passed by a couple kids putting in a hard day's work at the sewing machine. The young man had some nice ink across his back...

Young Vietnamese Sewing Workers

Young Vietnamese Sewing Worker

And, just like that, the tour was coming to a close. I had already taken hundreds of pictures, but that didn't stop me from taking dozens more as we headed back to the ferry dock. There were some cute mangy puppies we ran across along the way that broke my heart. It doesn't seem as though animals are treated very well in Vietnam...

Vietnam Doggies

Cows seem to fare much better...

Vietnam Cow

If only the sunshine had been around earlier in the day. The bay is quite nice...

Boats in the Water Near Hoi An, Vietnam

Dock in Hoi An, Vietnam

The last thing to see before heading "home" was a shipyard where boats come to be repaired...

Vietnam Shipyard Repairs

Vietnam Shipyard Repairs

One last doggie...

Puppy in Hoi An, Vietnam

And the tour was over. But not my day. But you'll have to wait for Part Two for that.

In the meanwhile... if you're ever in Hội An, I give the Hội An Photo Tour my highest recommendation!

   

Day Five – Hội An (Part Two)

Posted on Friday, October 11th, 2013

Dave!And here we are for "Part Two" of my second day in Hội An.

As this was a "Day on Your Own" for our group, I had booked a morning photo tour months ago. Then yesterday our Disney guides tell everybody that they have organized a trip to the "Marble Mountains" and I was like "Oh crap! I'd like to see that!" and I was bummed that I would miss it.

But no worries... this is Disney after all... and so the guides arranged to have the hotel take four of us to Marble Mountains when we got back. Turns out they're a cluster of hills which are filled with caves and tunnels, and became a Buddhist retreat where many pagodas and grottoes can be found.

The main "mountain" has a path you can climb but, since we were short on time, we took a newly-installed elevator part-way up. From there you can see other "mountains" in the chain...

On Top of Marble Mountain

I probably only ended up seeing a small part of the stuff that seems to be packed into every nook and cranny, but what I did see was pretty spectacular...

Marble Mountain Pagoda

Marble Mountain Buddha Wheel Vietnam

Marble Mountain Hoi An Dragon

Marble Mountain Entry Way

My favorite part was this massive cave with sunlight streaming in. Just past the light there's a small Buddha statue waiting...

Marble Mountain Cave Light

Marble Mountain Cave Buddha

Marble Mountain Cave Light

Marble Mountain Cave Tiger

Everywhere you look, you see something that pretty much looks like I dropped out of an Indiana Jones film...

Marble Mountain Arch

Marble Mountain Tree

I only had an hour-and-a-half to walk around and, before I knew it, I was having to head back down the mountain. But not before searching for a bathroom and running across yet another Buddha, temple, and cave...

Marble Mountain White Buddha

Marble Mountain Temple

Marble Mountain Lucky Buddha

So... pretty much a must-see destination if there ever was one.

And when we got back to the resort? It was time for a barbecue and... the DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

Hit the Beach Disney Pin!

Hmmm... well, the only beach I saw today was littered with fish guts and garbage, but I finally have a pin with Mickey Mouse on it, so I'll take it!

   

Day Six – Hanoi

Posted on Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Dave!As much as I would have loved to lounge around the resort at Hội An for a day, this morning was an early wake-up so our group could fly to the Vietnam capital of Hanoi (or Hà Nội, as it it known to the locals).

Our first stop in the city was lunch at a restaurant called KOTO. This is a pretty special place, as KOTO stands for "Know One, Teach One" and is built around a working cooking school started by an Australian Vietnamese man named Jimmy Pham to help disadvantaged kids build a career. As if that weren't enough, the food was incredible, and the place is hugely popular. If you're ever in Hanoi, KOTO has my highest recommendation...

KOTO Restaurant

Our next stop was to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which explains the various cultures and peoples of Vietnam. It has numerous displays, like this one about how the popular conical hats are made...

Conical Hat-Making!

But the real gem of the museum is the outdoor displays of many of the various house and building styles of Vietnam. You've got a tall house... a long house (where each time the family expands, then just knock out the back and add more room)... and an interesting crypt-type building...

Tall Vietnam Building

Long Vietnam Building

Vietnam Crypt

The crypt is interesting, because it features symbols of rebirth around the edges...

Vietnam Museum

Vietnam Museum

As this is Disney, the day wouldn't be complete without some kind of cool activity. This time it was Vietnamese mask-making...

Vietnamese Masks

I made a red dog...

My Red Dog Vietnamese Mask

My Red Dog Vietnamese Mask

Pretty sweet!

After leaving the museum, we passed by an interesting set of buildings...

Skinny Buildings

The width of the building there is about 4 meters... 13 feet. Apparently when the city government decided to turn the two-lane street into a four-lane street, they took the land on either side of the road, leaving the owners with just a tiny strip from what they once had. Not ones to let valuable land go to waste, they constructed impossibly thin buildings to fit on it. I would love to see inside. I'm guessing there's a spiral staircase at one end to move between floors, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out they came up with something more ingenious than that.

Our group ended up staying at the premiere hotel in Hanoi, the Sofitel Legend Metropole. It is heavily influenced by the French (as many things are here), having been constructed by them in 1901. Everything has a very European feel, including the staff, who address everyone as "madame" and "monsieur." The rooms are beautifully appointed, and the grounds of the hotel are worth a look...

Sofitel Legend Metropole

Sofitel Legend Metropole

Sofitel Legend Metropole

That last photo is of the Bamboo Bar. And just in front of the Bamboo Bar is a staircase leading down to the bomb shelter that was left over from the Vietnam War (or, the American War, as it's known here). If you're lucky, you can make your way onto a list to take a tour...

Sofitel Legend Metropole Bunker

Sofitel Legend Metropole Bunker

The hotel itself is home to a lot of history and has been host to many, many famous people from around the world. Joan Baez recorded the song Where Are You Now, My Son? during the bombings that took place around Christmas of 1972 after spending some time in the bunker. And Jane Fonda stayed here on the second floor during her infamous "tour" of Vietnam during the war. Which isn't exactly something I'm excited about, because I still think she is a total asshole for having done it, regardless of her regrets or how many times she apologizes. Opposing the war is one thing... I totally get that... but Fonda worked non-stop to make life hell for American kids fighting and dying far from home by opposing them, and that's unforgivable. As if the guys drafted into service wanted to be there. Unlike Jane Fonda, they didn't have money or privilege, so buying their way out of a war they didn't ask for wasn't exactly an option.

Dinner was at an Italian restaurant called "Angelina"... and can you guess which famous guest inspired the name?

Sofitel Legend Metropole Angelena Restaurant Bar

The pizza and pasta I had were okay... not great... but the ambience can't be beat. At the end of your meal you get a tiny juice drink that has a splash of incredibly pricey Remy Martin's Louis Tres cognac. That's about as good as it gets right there.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for... it's time for the DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

D6 Disney Pin

No offense to Mickey Mouse, but my mask is way more awesome than his.

   

Day Seven – Hanoi

Posted on Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Dave!After another night at the amazing Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, it was time for an early wake up call so we could go... do tai chi?

Yes. Apparently this special form of martial arts exercise is as popular here in Vietnam as it is in China (where it originated).

This being Disney, they don't just send you out in street clothes... oh no... they provide you with a badass tai-chi uniform. Here is me striking a "snake" pose with our tai chi master instructor...

Tai Chi Master

And then it was time for a ride around the busy streets of Hanoi... not in a tour bus looking down on everything, but in an electric mini-bus that puts you at street-level. It was a pretty cool experience, and I took hundreds of photos as we zipped around the city. Here are just a couple shots from the beginning of the trip...

Hanoi Streets

Hanoi Streets

Hanoi Streets

Hanoi Streets

And, of course, no visit to Hanoi would be complete without a visit to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum! Unfortunately "Uncle Ho," as the locals call him, is in for some annual restoration work, so we couldn't go inside to say "hello"... but we did get to walk around the building, which is quite impressive...

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

You can also visit Ho Chi Minh's former residence, which includes three of the cars he used...

Ho Chi Minh Cars

On our way to our next destination, I was once again amazed at what an efficient use of space the Vietnamese have. Land is very expensive, so they build up instead of out...

Skinny Buildings of Hanoi

At last we arrived at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, which is a beautiful spot in the city dedicated to Confucious...

Hanoi Temple of Literature

Hanoi Temple of Literature

Hanoi Temple of Literature

Hanoi Temple of Literature Souvenirs

Hanoi Temple of Literature

Out of respect for General Vo Nguyen Giap's funeral yesterday (he died at age 102), all official flags in Vietnam were tied with a black ribbon. General Giap was a genius military officer who many consider to be the mastermind behind the defeat of both the French and the Americans in Vietnam. Today, since the funeral was over, all the black bands were removed from the flags, and we lucky enough to see that happening here at the Temple of Literature...

General Giap Flag Ceremony

General Giap Flag Ceremony

And then we were off to the infamous "Hanoi Hilton," which is the name given to Hỏa Lò Prison by American POW's who were unfortunate enough to be incarcerated there. Of the inmates, the most notable would probably be Senator John McCain, who spent part of his five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war here. The prison itself was mostly demolished in 1997, but a chunk of it was saved to become a museum. It's interesting to note that the prison itself was titled "Maison Centrale"... or "Central House" in French... assumably because it sounded more pleasant that having "PRISON" painted on a building in your neighborhood...

Hanoi Hilton Entrance Maison Centrale

Unsurprisingly, this is not a very pleasant place, even when sanitized for consumption by the general public...

Hanoi Hilton

The interior has several rooms explaining the history of the prison from it's early days when it was used for Vietnamese prisoners... to the later years where American/foreign prisoners of war were put there. The displays, naturally, say what a terrific place that Hỏa Lò Prison was to be a prisoner and how well inmates were treated... which is not quite the story former prisoners have told when they were finally released.

What was formerly the back-side of the prison, is now a courtyard with a mural and a 20-story building...

Hanoi Hilton Courtyard

The final stop for the day was a visit to a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show... which was utterly bizarre... but really entertaining...

Hanoi Water Puppets Theater

Somebody was kind enough to upload a short video compilation to YouTube, if you're interested in seeing what it's all about.

And, yes, before I go... it's time for THE DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

D7 Disney Pin

It's Shere Khan! One of my favorite character's from Disney's The Jungle Book!

Dang. That just makes me want to watch the movie again!

   

Day Eight – Luang Prabang

Posted on Monday, October 14th, 2013

Dave!And so today we left Hanoi and Vietnam to fly to Luang Prabang in Laos.

Despite a haze off in the distance obstructing the mountains, the area is incredibly beautiful. The airport is pretty much an airstrip on the outskirts of town, and walking across the tarmac lets you soak in the scenery...

Luang Prabang Airport

Disney wasted no time in getting things rolling by leaving the airport and driving directly to the Luang Prabang National Museum, which was formerly the Royal Palce...

National Museum Luang Prabang

A new temple is being built to house the Golden Buddha of the Royal Palace. Since the Buddha is not there yet, photography was permitted inside...

National Museum Luang Prabang

National Museum Luang Prabang

National Museum Luang Prabang

Unfortunately, photos were forbidden in the palace itself...

Royal Palace Shoes!

Lunch was at the Coconut Garden, which was a fantastic restaurant with some beautiful decorations hanging around the courtyards (that made me regret that we weren't returning there for dinner to see it at night)...

Coconut Garden Restaurant Luan Prabang Laos

Coconut Garden Coke

Coconut Garden Restaurant Luan Prabang Laos

After a delicious lunch, we were off to visit a couple of temples. The first of which had me more than a little worried about an electrical fire starting...

Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Outside, some novice monks were making arts and crafts in spectacular colors...

Novice Monks at a Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Novice Monks at a Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Then we were off to yet another one... the Vatxiengthongratsavoravihanh Temple (say that three times fast!).

A Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

The sun was setting behind a Buddha on one side...

A Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

While shining on an incredible golden building on the other side...

A Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Temple elephant break!

A Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

In what I can only consider to be a huge stroke of luck, the tour was running late, which meant we got to see the monks being called to prayer. The chanting was mind-bogglingly beautiful...

Monks Call to Prayer at a Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Monks Call to Prayer at a Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Eventually a dog fight broke out during prayers, so one of the young novices was tasked with getting them out of the temple. Much like herding cats, the pour guy had his hands full...

Monks Call to Prayer at a Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

And... dinner time.

But not before we received THE DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

D8 Disney Pin

I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but I do like Huey, Dewey, and Louie, so there's that.

Tomorrow is absolutely packed, and requires a 4:30am wake-up, so I suppose it's best to turn in early.

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Day Nine – Luang Prabang

Posted on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Dave!

UPDATE: I've arrived safely in Cambodia. Thanks for the kind emails and messages concerning the Lao Airlines plane crash that took place outside of Pakse... I was on a different Lao Airlines flight that connected through there. Internet has been dodgy ever since leaving Vietnam, so that's why I am behind in posting. So sad to hear about the 49 people who lost their lives in this tragedy.

Given the limited time we have in Laos, the schedule for the tour group was jam-packed today. We started out by heading to old town early in the morning to offer alms to the local monks. Every morning after prayers, the 250 or so monks in the area leave their temples and walk down the streets to receive their food for the day. As they walk past, people drop small clumps of sticky rice into their bowls. This is collected and shared for the two meals they get in the morning and afternoon.

I know it sounds easy, but offering rice is no easy task. First of all, they walk kinda fast. Second, it is disrespectful to look up at the monks, so you have to keep your head down. Third, you are not supposed to touch their bowls when depositing the rice... especially if you are a woman. And lastly, sticky rice is sticky, and it's hard to pull out the tiny portions required so you don't run out. Still, it's a humbling experience, and one I very much enjoyed...

Morning Alms to the Monks

Morning Alms to the Monks

Morning Alms to the Monks

Believe it or not, the monks don't even get to keep the small amount of rice they are given. If a poor person holds out a bowl along their path, the monks will give part of their rice back.

Above the city is a hill with a number of temples and Buddhas on it. After making our rice offerings to the monks, we climbed to the top so we could watch the sunrise...

Temple Climb

Temple Climb

Temple Climb

Temple Climb

Temple Climb

And, yes, it was pretty spectacular... despite the clouds obstructing the mountains...

Temple Climb Sunrise

Though I was more interested in the cats that were hanging around...

Temple Climb Kitty

The walk down was a lot easier...

Temple Climb

Temple Climb

At the bottom of the hill, there were people making beautiful little flower pots. I think they must be used as offerings like candles in churches, because you see them everywhere...

Temple Climb

Tree Offering

After our trek, we got to head back to our hotel for breakfast before heading out again. This time, out into the countryside to a rice farm so we could see and experience how this very important crop in Southeast Asia is cultivated...

Country Roads Cat

Living Land Rice Farm in Laos

Living Land Rice Farm in Laos

Living Land Rice Farm in Laos

Living Land Rice Farm in Laos

Living Land Rice Farm in Laos Rice Snacks

Then it was time for a picnic lunch next to beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall...

Waterfall

Waterfall

Then off to a bear rescue sanctuary...

Bear Rescue Trail

Bear Rescue Bears

And then to a school for deaf and disabled kids. This was a bit of an odd side-trip, as I didn't see how it fit into the "story" that Disney was telling here. Disney isn't sponsoring the school, so it's not like they were telling us "See what some of the profits from your trip are doing?... so I guess it was some kind of misguided attempt at guilt-trip humanitarianism, which is not so cool.

In any event, the visit was a real eye-opener. These kids are collected from the Luang Prabang area, as most of their parents don't know how to handle their disabilities or don't want to deal with them. At the school they are cared for and educated, and are welcome to stay until they find a job and can support themselves... they aren't kicked out once they reach a certain age, which was unexpected.

All of the kids were adorable, friendly, and extremely well-behaved. We got to spend a little time with them asking questions and such, which was fun...

School Kids

School Kids

Our local guides gave us an address where we can send stuff to them for the kids, which I was quite happy about. Yes, there are places like this around the world that are all in need of help, and the situation seems overwhelming, but knowing you can do something about it... even something small... is a good thing.

Once we returned to the hotel to get cleaned up, we hit the local night market, which is huge, colorful, and entertaining...

Night Market

Night Market

I ran out of room for souvenirs a long time ago, but even just looking was fun.

And then, after a tuk-tuk ride back "home," it was time for THE DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY...

D9 Disney Pin

Meh. I don't like Goofy at all, so this is not a favorite... but at least I have a keepsake from working at the rice farm earlier today.

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Day Ten – Angkor

Posted on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Dave!Well, thanks to there being no useable internet in my room here at the beautiful Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort, who knows when this will ever get posted. Sorry, but I'm just too tired to head out to the lobby at the end of the day.

Anyway...

Whatever I say here today is going to be under the shadow of a tragic plane crash that occurred outside of Pakse, Laos... mere hours after my flight from Luang Prabang landed in Pakse for a transfer to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Lao Airlines flight 301 was apparently caught by high winds that blew in shortly after my flight took off. This gives the snapshots I took on the runway a rather sad and ominous feeling, as disaster was just around the corner...

Pakse Airport

Pakse Airport

I didn't even know about the crash until 3:30am when I was awakened by a text message from a friend who was wondering if I was safe.

As my flight was landing in Pakse, I was looking outside my window at all the flooding that had occurred the past week... and keeping an eye out for the giant gold Buddha which you can see as you land...

Pakse Flooding

Pakse Gold Buddha

Luckily, my flight in and out of Pakse was without incident, and I arrived in Siem Reap in the Angkor Region of Cambodia an hour later...

Siem Reap Airport

There wasn't a lot of time left in the day once we arrived at the hotel, but Disney took advantage of the impending sunset for a wonderful gondola ride through the Angkor Wat moat... complete with a bar on a boat that would keep your drinks filled as you drifted along...

Angkor Gondola Ride

Angkor Gondola Ride Bar Boat

Angkor Gondola Ride

Angkor Gondola Ride

Angkor Gondola Ride

And that was that.

Well, except for THE DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY...

D10 Disney Pin

Given my love of all things Donald Duck, I was pretty happy with this one.

   

Day Eleven – Angkor

Posted on Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Dave!And today, at long last, I got to check something off my bucket list that has been sitting there for decades... I got to visit Angkor Wat here in Cambodia.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The day started when we were informed that our tour group would be competing in an "Amazing Race" kind of competition. We'd get an envelope with a clue which would lead us to a location for the next envelope. The clues were in the form of photos that had been cut up which you have to glue together in a sticky mess so you could tell your tuk-tuk driver where to go.

Now, apparently tuk-tuk driving is a game for the young, but my driver was having none of that. Despite his advancing years, he was pretty skilled at navigating the crazy traffic around the area...

Tuk Tuk Driver

Tuk Tuk Driver

I ended up liking him so much that I hired him to be my driver tomorrow.

But before the race begins, we were off to my dream destination of Angkor Wat. After crossing the moat that we had our gondola ride on last night, you enter the outer gate where you immediately run into a statue of Shiva...

Angkor Wat Shiva

Originally, this statue was at the center of the temple since Angkor Wat was built to be a Hindu place of worship... but when the Buddhists took over, he was moved to the outer gate. Once you pass through, the main temple is in sight...

Angkor Wat Approach

Angkor Wat

I had always thought that the building itself was fairly plain compared to other temples, but that's not the case at all. As you look closer, there are hundreds or ornate carvings covering the walls and columns...

Angkor Wat Carvings

At the center of Angkor wat, you can wander around the ruins for some pretty spectacular views...

Inside Angkor Wat

Possibility of Visit

Inside Angkor Wat

I would have loved to stay here for a couple hours, but there was a "treasure hunt" to get to, so we left Angkor Wat behind...

Angkor Wat Kid

Disney's "Amazing Race Cambodia" ended up taking us to two temples. Bayon, with carved faces everywhere...

Bayon Temple Angkor

And Ta Prohm, famous for the jungle overgrowth that's taken over...

Ta Prohm Temple Angkor

There was hardly any time at all to wander around and take photos at either stop... so I guess I'll have to get around to that tomorrow.

After a beautiful lunch at the Foreign Correspondents Club, we had an hour to freshen up at the hotel before... ELEPHANT RIDES!

Elephant Ride on Chitham

Elephant Ride on Chitham

I have mixed feelings about animal slave labor, as I think the elephants should be free to wander around in the wild... but, since elephants are being hunted to the brink of extinction for their ivory, maybe this is how they're going to survive as a species? In any event, the elephants are treated very well by their "drivers." My elephant (named Chitham) was more interested in eating and pooping than anything else, but her handler never punished her for it. When she wanted to eat, she was allowed to stop and eat. Fortunately, she didn't have to stop to poop, or it would have been a very long trip...

Elephant Ride on Chitham

Chitham did not make for a very smooth ride, but she was an entertaining one.

On the way back to the hotel, I passed a motorcycle with five people on it. This does not break the record of six people I saw in Vietnam, but at least I managed to get a photo this time...

Motorcycle Family

And, just like that, my Disney Travel Adventure was over.

Kinda.

They had a really nice dinner complete with music, dancing, and a slide-show presentation of the trip...

Disney Farewell Dinner

Oh... and of course they had THE DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

D11 Disney Pin

Ha! "Angkors Away!" get it?

And since tomorrow promises to be a very full day of visiting temples and seeing the sights, I'm off to bed.

   

Day Twelve – Angkor

Posted on Friday, October 18th, 2013

Dave!The twelfth day of my Adventures by Disney tour is not really a tour day at all. It's just that most flights out of Siem Reap happen very late at night, so Disney goes ahead and adds this as a "Day on Your Own" to their itinerary. Which means that if you do happen to find an early morning flight out, you're not even getting a twelve-day tour as advertised. This is kind of odd and misleading, but okay. I knew that I would be wanting a full day to explore Angkor, so I added a bonus day to my itinerary, which Disney is happy to sell you.

Anyway...

It had poured rain in the night and early morning. The forecast said it would be a wet day. And it was, off and on, which is nice because storm clouds always make more interesting photos... plus it would be much cooler than traipsing around in a full-sun heat.

At 5:45am, my tuk-tuk driver from yesterday picked me up from my hotel, and away we went. My first stop was supposed to be Bayon Temple but, in a bizarre twist, he stopped before we got there. He pointed up a hill and said "Very pretty. See Angkor Wat. Is pretty up there." I had my heart set on Bayon, but didn't want to be rude, so up I went.

And went. And went. And went.

The climb took much longer than I anticipated, and I began to wonder if I was being sent into the forest to be raped, robbed, or both. As if that wasn't enough, I had to watch out for elephants...

Phnom Bakheng

When I got to the top I was pretty disappointed. Everything was under construction, and the temple up there was kinda crappy. And, yes, you could see Angkor Wat from a little platform they set up if you zoomed in tight, but it was hardly the breathtaking experience I was expecting...

Phnom Bakheng Angkor Wat View

And then I noticed some stairs erected through the construction on the side of the temple. Thinking perhaps the view was better up there, I made the climb to the top...

Phnom Bakheng

And, holy crap...

Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng

Very pretty indeed. Well played, mister tuk-tuk driver. Well played.

And then we were off to Bayon Temple.

Except we weren't, because my tuk-tuk driver went right past the entrance marked for Bayon. It was all I could do to keep from screaming "YOU MISSED THE TURN, YOU MORON!" but, again, I didn't want to be rude, so I sat and watched as Bayon Temple flew by.

Eventually he made a turn. Then another. Then we stopped at which I'm guessing is the back side of Bayon Temple. WHICH WAS FLOODED! Crap!

My driver hopped off, pointed at the temple and said "Look! Bayon and Bayon in the water! Two Bayon!" And, sure enough, thanks to the flooding, there was a gorgeous reflection of Bayon Temple in the water...

Bayon Temple

Well played, mister tuk-tuk driver. Well played. Guess I'll just shut up and trust that you know what you're doing from here on out. And plan on giving you a huge tip for this brilliant advice you're dishing out.

Prasat Bayon is a massive temple complex where faces are carved into most of the surfaces. Everywhere you look there are faces looking back at you...

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

After a hundred photos were taken, we were off to Baphoun Temple which looked promising at first thanks to a beautiful stone pathway leading up to it...

Baphoun Temple

Once you get up to the ruins, however, you find that absolutely everything is closed for restoration. Not only that, but the list of restrictions are more absurd here than anywhere else...

Baphoun Temple NO NO NO NO!!!

No filming. No smoking. No touching. No littering. No kids under 12. No puking(?). No sitting. No shorts. No skirts. No tank tops or halter tops. No pregnant women. No talking. No eating. No dogs. No umbrellas. No canes. How in the hell all this is necessary when you can't even get near the temple in the first place is mind-boggling. You can't even walk all the way around, so I just snapped a photo and continued on...

Baphoun Temple

And that's when things get much, much better. A secondary temple not only can be climbed, but the ruins are spectacular to look at...

Baphoun Temple

Baphoun Temple

From Baphoun, you can continue to the Terrace of Elephants, which is kind of boring... and then on to the Terrace of the Leper King, which is fantastic. Hundreds of figures line every surface...

Terrace of the Leper King

Terrace of the Leper King

After a full morning of exploring, I returned to the hotel for a nap and some lunch.

And then, my tuk-tuk driver came back at 2:00pm for part two. Beginning with Ta Prohm Temple, made famous by Angelina Jolie and her Tomb Raider movie. Probably because it hasn't been fully reclaimed from the jungle, making it a bit more beautiful and exotic...

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Then off to Banteay Kdei...

Banteay Kdei

And the stunning man-made lake of Srah Srang...

Srah Srang

Then Pre Rup Temple...

Pre Rup

And East Mebon Temple...

East Mebon

Then Ta Som Temple...

Ta Som

There was a still a little sunset left as we were passing by Angkor Wat, so I had my driver stop so I could get that picture-postcard shot that you see whenever you look for photos of the structure...

Angkor Wat Sunset

And then...

THEN...

Something pretty amazing happened.

Heat lightning started blasting over Angkor Wat! It was incredibly difficult to capture in a photo, but I got a couple that turned out pretty cool...

Angkor Wat Lightning

I shot video of it all, but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet. My fingers are crossed that I managed to capture it, because the whole spectacle was pretty cool.

And there it was, my one very full day of exploring a handful of the many temples at Angkor.

But before I go...

Since Disney counts this as a day in their tour... last night I got my final DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY for it...

D12 Disney Pin

That would be Minnie Mouse saying good-bye... and me as well.

Until tomorrow, that is...

   

Day Thirteen – Angkor

Posted on Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Dave!After two weeks of jam-packed Disney magic in Southeast Asia, I knew that I would need a day to recover from it all. And so I booked an extra day at the end of my vacation, just so I could lie around the resort and relax for 24-hours before making the long trip back home.

At least that was the plan.

Turns out it is impossible to hang around Cambodia's Angkor Wat region and do nothing. So out I went in the crushing heat so I could see a few things that I had missed yesterday. Starting with an hour tuk-tuk ride out to Banteay Srei. It'a a temple famous for the "pinker" stone used to building it, along with lots of nifty wood-carvings...

Tuk-Tuk North

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Then a ride back South to the island temple of Neak Pean...

Neak Pean

Neak Pean

Followed by a stop at Preah Khan...

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

It was here I ran into something very cool... a Cambodian boy painting pictures to sell...

Preah Khan Boy Painting

This was such a refreshing change from the throngs of kids selling cheap souvenir crap from China that nobody wants (JUST ONE DOLLAR!!!) that I couldn't pass it up. He was asking $15... I could have bargained down to $10 (or less)... so I paid him $20...

Preah Khan Boy Painting

Then into the town of Siem Reap proper for a look at where the new Hard Rock Cafe will be when it opens next year...

Hard Rock Siem Reap

Yeah. Won't be sad about having to come back here in a year or two to see it... that's for sure!

And, lastly, a stop at Peace Cafe so I could eat some amazing (and cheap!) vegetarian food...

Peace Cafe, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Peace Cafe Salt & Pepper, Siem Reap, Cambodia

And play with their cat, who was crawling all over me the minute I walked up to take his photo...

Peace Cafe Cat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Peace Cafe Cat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

And that would be the end of my adventures through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I'd do a wrap-up of my vacation, but I have to head to the airport here in a few minutes to begin the long trip home.

   

Bullet Sunday 351 – P!NK EDITION

Posted on Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Dave!Prepare yourself for the Truth About Love... because Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Homeward! My journey home began with a five-hour flight from Siem Reap to Incheon/Seoul at 11:30pm last night. After arriving in Seoul at 6:00am this morning, I was going to spend my TWELVE HOUR LAYOVER wandering around some of my favorite parts of the city. Instead I took my aching head and exhausted body to Incheon's handy Transit Hotel for some sleeping pills and a ten-hour nap. Then it was time for my nine-and-a-half-hour flight home on Korean Air's "SkyTeam" livery plane...

Seoul SkyTeam Plane Going Home

That's one long-ass day of travel. But it wasn't really horrible... lucky for me.

   
• P!NK! After getting to Seattle, then waiting a half-hour for a ride to my car, then driving a half-hour up into the city, then waiting two hours for a room, then taking a two-hour nap... it was time for P!nk at Seattle's Key Arena...

P!NK in Concert!

As you can see, her fans were ready!

   
• P!NK! As expected, P!nk's jaw-dropping show was a beautiful spectacle from the minute the curtain went up...

P!ink in Concert!

P!ink in Concert!

   
• P!NK! The truth about the Truth About Love is that P!nk is so mind-bogglingly talented that she doesn't really need a crazy stage show... it's just the icing on the cake...

P!ink in Concert!

Doesn't hurt that she's beautiful to look at as well.

   
• P!NK! What I don't get is how P!nk isn't dead yet from the insane circus-style tricks she packs into her concerts. Here she is, flying high above Key Arena WHILE SINGING...

P!ink in Concert!

If I were to speed around at such dizzying heights, I would be puking all over the audience.

   
• P!NK! And, all too soon, one of the best stage shows I've ever seen was over. But not before P!nk was wrapped in fabric, drenched in water, and sent spinning above the stage...

P!ink in Concert!

Yeah... not a show you want to pass up if P!nk heads to your neck of the woods.

   
Annnnnd... scene. Tomorrow I drive home and back to Real Life.

   

WSDOT

Posted on Monday, October 21st, 2013

Dave!When driving from Seattle back to the wilds of Redneckistan, I have two realistic options. 1) Highway 2 over Stevens Pass. 2) I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass followed by US-97 over Blewett pass. Usually, I prefer going over Snoqualmie/Blewett because I-90 is a 4-lane road, so the odds of getting stuck behind some slow piece of shit vehicle is lessened... for half the journey, anyway.

But when I checked the Washington State Department of Transportation app (which I'm guessing polls the WSDOT website), it said that Snoqualmie/Blewett was experience rolling slow-downs. Stevens had no problems listed, so I decided to go out of my way by 20 miles and head over Stevens so I wouldn't have to stop.

Of course I ended up having to be stopped by WSDOT THREE FUCKING TIMES, which means that the information provided by WSDOT is inaccurate and useless as usual. And the stupid thing was that I couldn't even tell why we were stopped, because no construction was going on. They just restricted traffic down to one lane for fun, I guess.

I simply do not understand the thinking that goes into WSDOT decision-making... if any. You would think that their priorities would be MAXIMIZING safety while MINIMIZING inconvenience. But it always seems as though they go out of their way to inconvenience drivers as much as possible. And it sucks.

Why do they bust up their resources and manpower into dozens of projects that never seem to be completed instead of focusing on a limited number of projects so that they have enough people and can actually finish in a reasonable amount of time? Why run three projects one right after another on the same damn mountain pass so drivers have to keep interrupting their travel? And why not focus on ONE FUCKING MOUNTAIN PASS AT A TIME so that there is always one pass open and clear of construction at any given moment? Emergency repairs I understand... but clearly there was no emergency today. Just more never-ending projects which cause more problems during their construction than they seem to solve when finished.

Look, I freely admit that I have no clue what's going on with all this crap. It could be that all this FUCKING BULLSHIT is necessary for some stupid reason. BUT EVEN IF THAT'S THE CASE... THEN AT LEAST KEEP YOUR DAMN WEBSITE UPDATED SO PEOPLE CAN MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS WHEN THEY TRAVEL! Anything less is just stupid, because bad information is worse than no information at all.

   

Mavericky

Posted on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Dave!And so I installed Mac OS X Mavericks on my work Mac.

This resulted in all my email being deleted in Apple Mail. "No big deal," I thought. "I'll just rebuild my mailboxes from Gmail." Except that's impossible when Apple Mail deleted all your mail off of Gmail.

And so now all my email... absolutely everything... is gone.

Fortunately I was smart enough to make a backup before I started, so I am hoping that I can restore everything... but this is a fucking horrendous situation. Thank you so much Apple for once again releasing a piece of shit OS that's fucked me over. Hard.

UPDATE: Apparently the problem cannot be laid entirely on Apple's doorstep. Gmail uses a highly non-standard form of IMAP, and doesn't really give a shit. They want you to access Gmail from their website or official Gmail client... and with any other method you're just taking your chances. But, again, Apple is not entirely blameless because Gmail is an incredibly popular service, and they shouldn't advertise as being compatible if they really aren't... whether it's their fault or not!

UPDATE UPDATE: In all seriousness, Gmail is the work of the devil. If you are using it with ANY email client not made by Google, including Apple Mail, you should archive your mail and walk away. Immediately. I've just gone back to using my host email for a while, as I know they are using standard IMAP protocols and aren't throttling bandwidth in any way like Google does.

   

Mavericks

Posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Dave!Okay then... it took me six hours to get my email restored after the new Apple Mail app in OS X Mavericks deleted every single piece of email on my Gmail account... but I'll talk about that drama a bit later. The short version? If you are using Google's Gmail, pack up your crap and get the hell out. They use NON-STANDARD implementations of email protocols, which means you too could end up having horrible problems like I did... regardless of whether you are on a Mac or not... regardless of whether you upgrade to OS X Mavericks or not. Gmail is a tool of the devil, and get thee behind me, Satan.

And now, a quick pass at the new Mac OS X 10.9 you knew was coming...

OS X Mavericks Logo

"Mavericks" has broken away from the "big cat" naming conventions of its OS X predecessors, but that's not the only shift that's happening here. Bucking a trend that's existed since the dawn of computer time, the update is FREE for any Mac that can run it (which is most anything sold in 2007 and later). This is not only a clear broadside attack against Microsoft Windows, but something that's long overdue. Paid OS updates for Apple products have always been kind of lame since Apple sells every piece of hardware that runs it. And that's where they should be making their money. Keep customers freely updated and happy, and that's bound to factor into their thinking when it's time to upgrade to a new computer.

From a user's perspective, Mavericks is an interesting mix. Yes, it features a new coat of paint on some of the visuals, but there's a lot interesting stuff happening under the hood as well. Add to that a few new features and bundled apps, and it's a compelling upgrade... especially given the price tag of zero dollars. But how will it stack up against my scathing review of its predecessor, "Mountain Lion?" Let's take a look, shall we?

BUT BEFORE WE START...
Please, please, please make a current backup of your computer before you upgrade to Mavericks! Sure, Apple's OS X upgrades are usually bullet-proof and only a teeny-tiny percentage of users will have any problems... but do you want that to be you? If I hadn't backed up my machine, I would have lost all my email. But I took the time in case I need to rewind, and so should you.

And now... on with the show. My thoughts on Mavericks are in an extended entry...

→ Click here to continue reading this entry...

   

Adjustment

Posted on Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Dave!After three days of unsuccessfully trying to adjust back to "real life," I finally managed to get there today... thanks to a trip to the dentist's office. When it comes to snapping you back from those heady vacation days, I guess having metal tools shoved in your mouth is just the thing.

Ah well. It was good why it lasted.

And now my mind can focus on what's truly important... where am I going for my next vacation? This will largely depend on whether or not my car can hold on for another year. Right now, that doesn't seem likely, in which case my vacation savings will have to be reallocated to buying a new one. Which is the last thing I want to spend money on, but you do what you gotta do.

But thinking positively here, where would I want to go? The list is pretty huge, but I can narrow it down to a top-ten pretty easily...

  • Antarctica. The reason I haven't been to Antarctica yet is solely a matter of money. I don't just want to float by on a cruise ship... I want an actual expedition, and that costs an absurd amount of bank. I'm hopeful I can get it figured out one day soon, because I don't know how much longer I'll remain healthy enough for such an adventure.
  • India. It seems insane that one of the destinations I most want to visit on earth is still on my to-do list. I think the problem is one of time and logistics. There are simply so many places in the country I want to visit that I can't decide on an itinerary that would fit in a two-week period. I'll get it sorted eventually, I suppose, but every time I've tried in the past I get mired down with the fact that I need five weeks to do what I want to do, and no way to take that much time off.
  • Peru. Machu Picchu is a bucket-list item that I've been dreaming of for decades. Now that I've (finally) been to Cambodia and Angkor Wat, this will probably be next. Unless...
  • Jordan & Israel. There are many reasons I want to visit Jordan but, naturally, seeing Petra before I die is probably the biggest. And since it would be insane to go all that way and not visit Israel, another place I've longed to see, this is a dream trip.
  • Brazil. Visiting Rio de Janeiro, Fernando de Noronha, The Amazon Rainforest, Ouro Preto, and dozens of other places in Brazil is kind of a no-brainer. But I want to see Iguazu Falls. Badly. It's just such an amazing spectacle on movies and television that I cannot fathom how amazing it would be to see in person.
  • New Zealand When I visited Australia two years ago, I drew a line through Sydney and created a trip north (including Fiji), and a trip south (including New Zealand). I ended up going north because the southern trip would take a week longer and an additional $1600... both of which I didn't have. But that southern itinerary is still there. I still want to do it. I just need the money and the time. Again.
  • Africa. Who doesn't want to experience an African safari? Who doesn't want to see elephants, gorillas, lions, rhinos, giraffes, and the dozens of other amazing creatures that can be found there? This is another one of those trips that requires a massive stack of cash to do right.
  • Moscow & St. Petersburg. This is a pretty simple trip to plan... just call up a company who does river cruises (like Viking) and sail from Moscow to St. Petersburg while enjoying all the amazing stuff in-between. Easy! At least it's easy if you've got lots and lots of money.
  • Nepal. Always wanted to go. Still want to go. Need to find a way to go. Have never put enough time into figuring out how to go. Really must go.
  • Norwegian Fjords. A cruise along the coast of Norway through all the beautiful little fishing towns and jaw-dropping scenery seems like one of the most relaxing vacations ever. And I blame my obsession with experiencing it on Disney's Epcot. They show a movie after you go on the "Maelstrom" ride in "Norway" that shows just how amazing such a trip would be, and I've been dreaming of it ever since.

Holy crap that's a huge-looking list... and it only includes places I've never been before! There are dozens of places I've been already that I would love to revisit and see more of (Thailand, China, and Iceland come immediately to mind).

If anybody has a million dollars they want to get rid of so I can start checking things off my list, just let me know how I can take that off your hands for you.

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Missing

Posted on Friday, October 25th, 2013

Dave!While I was in Vietnam, my credit card went missing. I hesitate to say it was "stolen," because I just don't know, but I generally keep pretty close track of where my cards and wallet are... especially when traveling... and it seems strange to think that I would have just left it somewhere.

Nothing was charged to it before I realized it was gone, so no harm no foul, I guess. The only bummer is that I didn't earn any airline miles on my purchases but, since the entire trip was pre-paid back in April, I only ended up spending about $70 on a couple meals I ate outside the tour and what few souvenirs I bought, so I guess it's no big loss.

What's been surprising is the number of automated charges that have been set up on my credit card over the years.

Almost immediately after reporting the card missing and having the number canceled, the emails and calls started pouring in. My cable TV. My phone. My online backup. My Adobe Creative Suite subscription. My web hosting. My automated charity donations. My weekly Graze snack box. The list goes on and on and on. I must have at least twenty automated payments coming out of my card. If you had asked me how many I thought I had, I would have said "five or six" so this is kind of embarrassing.

What's worse is thinking that I really need to cut out a lot of these expenses, but then not finding any that I would be willing to give up.

I suppose that's exactly the kind of danger signal I need to illustrate why I should be cutting my expenses in the first place. My attachment to all this crap can't be healthy for body, soul, mind, or spirit.

It's convincing myself that I'd be better off that's the trick.

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Home

Posted on Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Dave!One week ago I was leaving Cambodia to return home.

It seems as though it was so much longer ago than that.

And yet today as I head back over to Seattle today for a weekend of fun followed by a week of work, it occurs to me how little time I've been spending at home... only a third of my time for the past three months. And next month isn't looking much better. This would be considered "normal" ten years ago. But I've made such huge strides in cutting down on my travel that it feels strange and oddly unsettling now.

Or maybe I'm just depressed because the weather... which started out so beautiful as I left town... became such a dreary bastion of depressing grey skies after I crossed the mountains...

Blue Skies and Mountains

Grey Skies and Mountains

Fortunately, the foliage looky-loos were at a minimum today. There's nothing worse than being trapped behind some asshole going twenty miles under the speed-limit because watching the leaves change is more important than paying attention to the road and going the speed limit. FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE... IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AT LEAVES, PULL THE HELL OVER! You're going to get somebody killed if you don't.

Not that this is anything new. Just one week ago somebody died trying to pass in a no-passing zone (and injuring three others in the process, including somebody I know).

Not that the guy should have been so reckless as to pass on a curve in a no-passing area... that's just stupid-insane, and needlessly endangering lives... but I understand the frustration of being forced to drive 40 MPH in a 60 MPH zone because somebody ahead of you doesn't give a shit if their selfishness is holding up the fifty cars behind them. That's no less reckless, and I wish more drivers would be ticketed and fined for going so dangerously under the posted limits. If you or your vehicle is incapable of going at least close to the speed limit, you have no business being on the road.

Alas, "going too slow" isn't taken seriously as a problem. It really should be.

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Bullet Sunday 352

Posted on Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Dave!No need to be Sleepless in Seattle... because a boring, coma-inducing Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• SALTALAMACCHIA! Well this is bad. You can candy-coat it all you want, but an error in judgement by one of my favorite players, Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, pretty much cost the Red Sox the third game of the World Series last night. At first I didn't even understand what happened... and even after they walked through it, I'm not entirely convinced it was the right call to make... but there's no denying that this is not going to bode well for Salty. The last couple games have not been good for him and, considering they're World Series games, it's tough to see what the upshot might be. I'd be heartbroken if this was the factor that resulted in him leaving the team, but it's not like Boston would be without cause. The good news is that the Red Sox came back in tonight's game to tie things up 2 games to 2... albeit without Saltalamacchia behind home plate... and I guess that's the thing I should be focusing on. But... damn...

   
• DIMENSION! I've said it many times before... but I loves me a great television advertisement!

Considering how badly most TV ads suck, it's always great to see somebody put effort into creating one that people are actually going to want to watch. With the cost of a national ad campaign being so hideously expensive, I remain shocked that more companies aren't more clever with their money. Especially given the advent of DVRs, where being able to fast-forward through commercials is commonplace. Well played, Honda.

   
• CURFEW! I used to watch the ending to the Danny Boyle film Millions whenever I needed to crawl my way out of depression. Now I find myself watching Curfew, which feels so much bigger than the little short film it is...

Curfew Movie Poster

Surprising how something so dark can manage to be so uplifting, but here it is. Totally deserving of the dozens of awards it's racked up... including an Academy Award for Best Short Film. But the best news? You can get it for just $2.99 at the iTunes Store! I can't wait to see what writer/director/actor Shawn Christensen is up to next after "Grandma's Not a Toaster."

   
• VELVET! I was never a big fan of Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed, but it's tough to deny his influence when it comes to music. Perhaps this was best expressed by Brian Eno who had this to say about The Velvet Underground's first album selling only 30,000 copies... "I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!" Keeping that in mind, it was pretty tough to hear that Mr. Reed as died at age 71. He was still making music, and undoubtedly had a lot more to say with his work. Rest in peace, sir, your influence will live on.

   
• WALLACE! And, ending things on another down note, I was sad to learn that actor Marcia Wallace had died at age 70. Probably best-known for playing Bob's acerbic receptionist on The Bob Newhart Show, she went on to make dozens of appearances... including a reoccurring role on The Simpsons as 4th grade teacher Mrs. Krabappel. It had to be tough coming up with a character that could be so well-liked while also being an adversary for Bart Simpson, but Marcia Wallace was a big part of what made it work. Her many flirtations in early Simpsons episodes was a staple of the show, and I was always upset that they ended up marrying Mrs. K to Ned Flanders... but there's no denying Marcia Wallace maintained her character's appeal despite it all. You will very much be missed.

   
Annnnd... I'm spent.

   

Joker

Posted on Monday, October 28th, 2013

Dave!A friend of mine recently had a joke played on her that didn't end up being very funny. She was led to believe that someone in her family had been hospitalized because of some crazy accident that was way over-the-top and impossible... but she wasn't in a frame of mind to parse that. All she heard was that somebody she loved was seriously injured, and nothing else registered. Even after the person messing around with her realized she was taking it seriously and explained to her that it was a just a joke, she couldn't process what he was saying. The hospital was still stuck in her head, and hysterical sobbing ensued.

Eventually she was able to be calmed down and made to realize that nobody was hurt. Then she felt bad for having made a scene. The guy joking around felt bad for having upset her. Everybody else felt bad for both parties. What had been meant to be funny had gone terribly wrong and now everyone was just feeling bad, which is the opposite of what was supposed to happen.

The take-away here is that some people aren't being funny when they think they are... and some people are not predisposed to humor outside of a recognizable context. Had this joke been in a romantic comedy movie and been played on somebody else, perhaps my friend would have found it hysterical. It's hard to say.

All I know is that joking about serious subjects... like a family member getting seriously injured... is probably not the best idea with somebody you don't know very well. Lesson learned and all that.

Which is why I was surprised when my friend told me that the same guy tried the same joke on somebody else the next day. This time his victim understood it was an attempt at humor, but it wasn't funny enough to make much of an impression. Nobody laughed.

This got me to thinking... is this guy going to just keep trying his "joke" over and over again until somebody laughs? Or is he going to finally realize he's not being as funny as he thinks he is and give up? Maybe the joke is riotously funny after all, and he's just bad at telling it? Or maybe he's funny as hell, but the joke is just bad? Since humor is all subjective, I suppose that's a tough one to figure out.

In any event, I feel bad for my friend who is still a bit shaken and embarrassed over the whole situation.

The only good thing to come out of this story is that it reminded me of when I was walking down the streets of Saigon and saw a Joker from a deck of cards laying on the ground...

Joker Products!

I couldn't decide whether it was funny or sad.

I suppose it depends on whether the person with the rest of the deck is trying to play Euchre (which requires it) or Solitaire (which does not).

Or maybe it just means that Batman should be on the lookout. Who can say?

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Generations

Posted on Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Dave!I fully admit that I have -zero- interest in the new generation "PlayStation 4" and "Xbox One" video game consoles. Mostly because the previous generation "PlayStation 3" and "Xbox 360" were already so far past what I expect in a video game that they're practically wasted on me. So long as I can play the latest LEGO games, I don't really need the insane speed and graphics that modern systems are capable of. Yes. I'm just that old.

So when I read these articles expressing disappointment with the graphics capabilities of the latest consoles, a lot of eye-rolling ensues. Just 30 years ago when I got my first gaming system... the Atari 2600... here is what I had by way of graphics compared to what is available today.

   
Racing THEN vs. NOW...

Racing THEN

Racing NOW

   
Basketball THEN vs. NOW...

Basketball THEN

Basketball NOW

   
Air Combat THEN vs. NOW...

AirCombat THEN

AirCombat NOW

   
Adventure THEN vs. NOW...

Adventure THEN

Adventure NOW

For heaven's sake... our dragon looked like a duck. A DUCK! And your on-screen persona was a frickin' DOT running around!

So, yes, cry me a river over how the PS4's superior graphics degrade when upscaled to HD resolution... or how the Xbox One skimped on pixels to create too much artifacting. I am all ears. Just let me get out this tiny, tiny violin here...

And can you imagine what the next next-generation consoles will be capable of?

I suppose we're just ten or twenty years from getting holodecks. Somebody wake me up when that happens.

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Categories: DaveLife 2013Click To It: Permalink  2 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

RED SOX WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS!!!

Posted on Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Dave!And there you have it.

The Boston Red Sox ascended to glory in Game Six of the 2013 World Series to be crowned champions!

I'm sure that my wearing a Red Sox jersey every day during the playoffs and the World Series helped a lot... so you're welcome, Boston! Just doing my part!

Lil' Dave Loves Red Sox

Considering that when I became a Red Sox fan, they hadn't won a Series since 1918... it's pretty sweet that they have now won three. The epic curse-buster in 2004. The beautiful sweep in 2007. And now their first Fenway Park clincher since 1918 (after which the Curse of the Bambino descended for an 86 year drought) in 2013.

Way to go, Red Sox!

Let's make it two in a row, shall we?

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Categories: News - Politics 2013Click To It: Permalink  3 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Wipers

Posted on Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Dave!I was too tired to drive home in the dark last night, so I decided to save myself the agony and head back home this morning. As an added bonus, I decided to wait until 8:45 so I would miss rush-hour traffic. It was a solid plan. Doomed to fail, of course... but it did look good on paper.

Within 10 minutes of hitting the road, I realized that my pricey windshield wipers were useless. Never mind that I bought them just last year... they're already incapable of cleaning off my windshield. And for the life of me, I just can't figure it out. I remember when a pair of crappy wipers would last forever. Now, with all our modern technology, a pair of ridiculously expensive blades can't even last a year? That's progress for you.

Siri located an AutoZone just ten minutes away, so I mentally prepared myself to drop $30 on new wiper blades while speeding through the driving rain.

And that's when the oil light came on.

I've suspected my car has been burning oil for a while now, as Jiffy Lube always tells me that my levels were way down whenever I drop by for service. Now it would seem that I'm not even able to make it between oil changes.

Guess AutoZone is getting another $8 of my hard-earned money for a quart of synthetic.

How typical.

At some point, car ownership becomes akin to pushing your money into a big pile and lighting it on fire, doesn't it?

And because my morning has already gone to hell, it seemed appropriate to stop at McDonalds so I could get an Egg & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich. Well, technically, I pay for a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich, then have them hold the bacon... because McDonalds is nothing if not efficient about getting you to pay for something you won't eat... but, hey, at least they're willing to make it the way I want. That' ain't nuthin.

As if punishing myself with unnecessary auto costs and an unhealthy breakfast wasn't enough torture... I had to stop three times for road construction and follow assholes who felt going the speed limit and paying attention to the road are optional if the leaves are changing color. This resulted in my screaming "PULL OVER IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AT THE PRETTY LEAVES, DICKWAD!!!" many, many times.

But there was good news to be found today.

I had no trick-or-treaters. Zero.

So that huge bag of candy I bought last week? Mine. All mine!

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Categories: Travel 2013Click To It: Permalink  2 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

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