Proper Placement

When we went on our epic trip to South America several years ago, we decided to rent out our home . . . about a month before we were leave. This forced us to clean out some stuff and pack away everything else for storage in a mad dash. After living in the same place for over a dozen years, we had naturally accumulated a lot of stuff. Moving out was a good exercise – it forced us to get rid of things we hadn’t used, or hadn’t gotten around to getting rid of before, like a broken filing cabinet, our CRT TV, etc.

Now we’re doing the same thing again. Some boxes were never unpacked since our South America trip! This time, there’s less stuff to purge, since we got rid of the obvious ‘low hanging fruit’ last time. But with longer advance notice, the process is slower, since I can be deliberate more about that to keep or discard. This is not a good thing: I feel like I’m dragging things out, and in the end, it’ll be another frantic mad dash to finish it up.

Last time, we knew we were coming back within a year, so we kept all our furniture and appliances. This time it’s long term and long distance, so it requires a different approach in deciding what to keep and what to discard. There’s also a timing issue: some items I am still using (bed, tea kettle), so I’ll have to wait until the last to get rid of them (and hope I’ll find a quick taker). Others like the pressure cooker I haven’t used in years I could sell now on craigslist.

I’d read both Marie Kondo’s  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and  Spark Joy. One of her premises is to keep only things that spark joy in you. Even if they don’t have a practical use, you can still keep them. Conversely, if something is functional, but doesn’t spark joy, you should get rid of it anyway. Regrets, swung both ends of spectrum.

OCD: One personal hang-up is slowing me down. Some items have worth and value and value to me, and while I could just give it to a thrift shop and forget about it, I want it to go to  a good home. This isn’t even a pet I’m talking about, but inanimate objects. Yet I feel concern for its welfare even after we part. It’s a bit like leaving a job under amicable circumstances: you hope the person after you will take care and do well in those tasks that used to be yours, even after they are no longer your responsibility. Legacy issues.

I want the my discards to go the appropriate someone or someplace where it will be appreciated, used, and even needed. Even things most people would simply throw away, I try to find a use for them. I want to recycle things and avoid adding to landfills.

Finding the right recipient for different things takes a lot of work and thought. Which one of my friends would like it or could use it? Who has tastes or interests which are similar to mine? What good cause/charity would take it? It’s an obligation and a responsibility.

I have been foisting things on people. My friends are probably cringing each time they get an email from me “Hey, want a . . ?” But I also don’t want my discards to become a burden on others. Problem is I’m at that age where most of our friends already have their own established households, and/or trying to get rid of de-clutter/ downsize also, so they don’t want to take more stuff!

Sometimes I give something to a friend who wants it, which makes me happy, yet slightly guilty because I know they have too much stuff cluttering their home and I’m adding to the problem! I sold an insulated teapot and a set of nesting colanders to an acquaintance. When I went to drop them off at her house, I was surprised by how much stuff she had piled up around her place. She’s really into cooking, so I’m sure she already has a teapot and a colander. But these were really nifty versions, so I knew she would also appreciate them.

My four main avenues to discarding: (1) emailing/talking to our friends, (2) Freecycle (an online bulletin board for giving away stuff for free), (3) craigslist (both for selling and giving away for free), and (4) donating it to the appropriate charity.

Some of my recent adventures in discarding . . .

Lonely Planet books (travel guides):

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I had a hefty collection of LP’s, now very outdated. Still I’d kept them because I thought one day I would write up travelogues, and use them then as reference. And sometimes it’s fun to read the descriptions of how things were before they became how they are now. Neighbourhoods they didn’t mention or even told you to avoid, which have now cleaned up/gentrified, like Times Square. Restaurants that have since closed down. (I don’t like the new format of Lonely Planet, it’s not as informative as the older layouts. Nowadays, I tend to check out the latest editions from the library, rather then buy them, to save money and space, since I still like browsing hard copies.)

I did an email blast to my friends who are afflicted with wanderlust. I was quite surprised when I got quite a few takers for the books. It’s amazing how some destinations are so in-demand. Every one wanted Pacific Northwest. Europe locales were popular too. No one wanted Venezuela . . . or Brazil. I guess I don’t know anyone going to the Rio Olympics. (I ended up never going to Venezuela.)

Bandannas:

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I collect bandannas and use them for travelling. They are versatile, multi-purpose, decorative, and keepsakes all in one. A makeshift towel, a jaunty scarf for my neck, I can also tie them up to bundle gummi bears or pinon nuts.

The recipient was a no brainer: Fifth-graders at Lincoln School for science camp, where bandannas are used as lunch plates, i.e. ‘crumb-catchers’. Last time I chaperoned, I had brought along one extra bandanna, for just-in-case. But there was more then one student who hadn’t brought a bandanna. So now those ten bandannas can be spares for future science campers.

Bike water bottle:

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I spent $13 mailing a bike water bottle worth $2 to Hong Kong! Yes, I am THAT anal. But Pat really wanted a pull-top water bottle. “Remember those palmolive dishwashing liquid bottles?” he asked me. When Pat takes his dog for walks in Tsimshatsui, he rinses the spot where Brownie has done a number one with water. Pat is a very, very responsible pet-owner. So I gladly sent it to him.

 

 

 

Holey socks and ratty old T-shirts with fraying collars that thrift shops won’t want because no one would want to buy them:

I had accumulated a lot of them to use as cleaning rags, but I don’t clean often enough! A friend of a friend of Anne’s collects them for a group who will use them as stuffing for the pet beds and toys they make for a local animal shelter. It warmed the cockles of my heart that I was helping unknown Fidos and Fluffys out there. And I still have holey underwear to use as cleaning rags.

Ironically, when Marcella organized a crafts booth at Zoe’s school last year, she recycled the stuffing from a dog bed that her dogs had torn up, for the students to use in making pumpkin pin-cushions.

Cardigans:

It’s hard to get rid of winter things in the summer – people don’t think about unseasonable things. I foisted a couple of them on Anne. One she liked, because it’s machine washable. The other was a cashmere one I wore around the house quite a bit. She didn’t really want it “I’m a sweatshirt person!” but I persuaded her that come winter, she could wear it under a sweatshirt, and she’d thank me for the warmth and coziness!

Books:

I discovered there’s a non-profit program called Prisoners Literature Project here in the Bay Area. They will take all old dictionaries, thesaurus, current text books, self-help books, how-to books (especially drawing/art) and books by/about people of color, because there’s a constant demand for them amongst the incarcerated. You can drop them off in the hidey-hole under the stairs at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, so it’s very convenient.

This is a case of giving your items to someone who really NEEDS them rather than just casually wanting them. You might be able to sell such books, or you could donate them to a thrift store where eventually someone would browse and buy them. But those in jail who are trying to improve/educate themselves would most appreciate them, since their access to books is most limited.

I emailed one of the project coordinators to double check what they would and wouldn’t take, because I didn’t want them to be burdened with things they couldn’t use. Hardback books are generally a no-no, because they can potentially be used as weapons? There wasn’t as much demand for books by/about Asians – not too many people of yellow color in the prisons around here, I guess.

Postcards:

In my 20’s, I liked visiting art museums, and buying postcards of the works of art in the museum that had spoke to me. I also bought postcards of tourist attractions, since often they looked better than any photo I could take with my 35-mm camera. Now I had too many. But who needs postcards nowadays when you’ve got smartphone cameras and digital mail?

Perhaps prisoners could use them to send notes to their friends/family outside of prison? I consulted PLP again:

“Thanks for thinking of us regarding your postcard collection.  Because we’re a ‘books-to-prisoners’ group, we don’t receive prisoner requests for postcards; but we do get plenty of requests for art books (particularly drawing & painting).  If you’d kindly donate a shoebox or small filebox of postcards, we could tuck them into packages, along with the art books.  I don’t think we’d be able to take more than a shoebox full. As you suggested: Please omit any nudes. FYI, prisoners seem most interested in drawing and painting (representational, not abstract), and sometimes copy the work.  Few have access to sculpting materials.”

I could understand PLP being a little wary of getting too many postcards, if they didn’t get many requests for them. I sifted through for censorship, keeping Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe and Matisse’s La danse II. I had enough to fill one of the Lindt boxes in which I had stored some of my collection.

“OK, the postcards will be in a small pink chocolates box (less than a shoebox) at Moe’s,” I wrote back.

“Thank you for giving prisoners a gift much more valuable than chocolates!”

I never thought about that. If I were in prison, would I long more for art postcards or chocolates?

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A teapot missing its lid:

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This garnered 5 wanters on freecycle! (I suggested using it as a planter, which is what I used it for, for a water-based creeper plant.) Maybe that did the trick: a bit of copywriting to give people ideas of desiring something they didn’t even want.

There’s a reason why I’d kept it for so long. I used to use this a work. I dropped the lid and broke it at the office on September 11th.

 

 

TV tray tables:

I think it was the strawberries that did sealed the deal.

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It takes some effort to sell stuff on craigslist: not only do you have to write a compelling-enough description, but you have to stage it for photo, setting up the lighting. Lots of people are selling the same item you are selling on craiglist, so how do you make yours stand out other than low balling the price? I’m convinced my TV tray tables sold quickly because I put a bowl of strawberries on top of one in the photo . . . and my description said “Strawberries not included.”

Wooden blinds:

We replaced our kitchen blinds recently. They still worked, the wood slats still in good condition, but the paint was starting to flake off from countless sunny mornings. I didn’t want it to go to landfill. Perhaps someone could use it for a Burning Man orcraft project.

Things I give away for free get posted on freecycle. Things I sell go on craigslist. Having no takers on freecycle, so I posted it on craigslist as well, since that gets a wider audience. I had 2 takers. I offered it to the first respondent, who volunteered that he would use it for gardening, either as a trellis or shade structure.

He also offered to give me some tomato and pepper seedlings in return, which was icing on the cake. I wasn’t looking to get anything for the blinds, being happy enough they weren’t going to a landfill. I asked if he had basil instead. I had made caprese salad last week, and bought a bunch at Milk Pail, forgetting that I should have gone to Trader Joe’s instead to buy a plant for a little more money.

He wrote back:

There’s a quote “Every time it’s different and every time it’s good” I read in a BBC magazine interview about making pesto that’s stayed with me. I think it says so much about basil – how can one not fall in love with basil and the art of making pesto.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36014143

Yes I do have couple basil plants remaining but it’s not doing well (think it was too cold). I’ll bring them and also bring some seeds. Unfortunately I mixed fhe seeds by mistake during harvest last year and I forget which one is which (3 kinds – I think Italian Genovese basil is the smaller black seeds).

You meet some pretty thoughtful people through random craigslist transactions.

A blue cheong sam:

Other people I know have the same philosophy as I do in wanting their discards go to someone they know, rather than a complete stranger, in which case, they’d rather keep it themselves even if they have no use for it.

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My step-mom was culling some old clothes, and came across a blue cheongsam, a gift she’d never worn. It was polyester brocade with flowers, the type you’d find in souvenir shops in San Francisco Chinatown selling to tourists.

I accepted it, more to relieve her of clutter, rather than to wear it myself. I ended up foisting it on my cousin on my mom’s side and mailed it to her in Minnesota. She has two daughters and two nieces who might have fun playing dress up in it. There’s no Chinatown in Minnesota, so I think they would appreciate its exotic Chinese-ness more than people in California.

Black patent leather rainproof boots:

I gave them to Truc. We have shared memories of the boots: I got them at Bloomingdales, when we were on a trip to New York. They fit her. I’m glad she has them now, I’ll be able to see them again.

Tall purple suede boots:

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They are flat and comfy, not “slutty”, an impulse buy from Nordstrom Rack. But I understand that they are not to most people’s taste. I offered them to two high-school age girls (daughters of friends), but no takers.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going to stop writing here, and stop procrastinating, as I have lots more stuff to get rid of, and to pack. Well, actually, I’m going to procrastinate some more and go cook/bake.

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Why I never became a teacher

(This is a prequel anecdote to a much longer upcoming piece I am writing for the blog. Writing this episode got so digressive and detailed that I am publishing it as a stand-alone piece.)

Fifth grade had been traumatic for me. It was marked by a ‘it’s-so-crazy-I-still-can’t-believe-it’ incident; the loss of innocence that irreversibly advanced me in one bounding leap from child to adult.

When I was in 3rd grade, Ms. Hydon, the 4th grade teacher, got married to Mr. Lawrence, the 5th grade teacher and became known as Mrs. Lawrence. Young and pretty, Ms. Hydon was considered the most glamourous teacher in school. Getting married —to another teacher, no less— added to the aura of fairy-tale romance.

For 4th grade, I had Mrs. Lawrence. She became pregnant, and was out on maternity leave for the second semester, so we had a long-term substitute. Mrs. Cox, who ended up in our class photo, was middle-aged and decidedly less glamourous.

For 5th grade, I had Mr. Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence was the only male classroom teacher in our school. The rest of the male teachers were specialists: Mr. Butterworth taught French to the 5th- through 9th-graders; Mr. Somkid taught PE for all grades; and then there was Mr. Lawson, the headmaster. 

Mr. Lawrence had a reputation for being strict. In fact there was a kid named Steven who was transferred from the other 5th grade class into our class, because his parents wanted more discipline for him. Steven’s mother was the school nurse.

Since I was a quiet and conformist kid, I didn’t think I would have any problems with Mr. Lawrence.

He turned out to be — how can I put it mildly — a pompous, thin-skinned megalomanic jackass.

Mr. Lawrence was actually one Lawrence Kow from Malaysia. He was addressed by his first name. It wasn’t unusual for teachers in our school to go by their first names. For some, they were addressed as Mrs. Suchada or Ms. Sukon because they were Thai. Or they had polysyllabic Thai surnames that were difficult to pronounce by non-Thai students: Mrs. Angela, Mrs. Christine instead of Mrs. Bankerdmuangnorn, Mrs. Namlaifaidap.  The only teachers who were addressed as Mrs. <PolysyllabicThaiSurname> were British women who had married Thai husbands . . . and kept the perverse European practice of being addressed by their married surname, like Mrs. Phavantha, Mrs. Sananikorn.

(I guess I should have explained this at the start, but you’ve probably figured out by now that I went to a British elementary school in Thailand. In Thailand, the universal convention is to address someone by their first name, not surname.)

Now Kow is quite easy to pronounce, but worried about students mocking his name with bovine jokes, he went by Mr. Lawrence. That’s how insecure he was. In matrimony, Mrs. Lawrence had taken not just his last name, but his first name as well.

There’s a section in Roald Dahl’s “Danny, The Champion of the World” where Danny is unfairly accused in of cheating in class.[1]  Mr. Lawrence’s psychological abomination against me played out the exact same way. Except I was charged with lying.  And that even Mr. Lawrence knew better than to try inflict corporal punishment on me…

In 5th grade, I was pretty good about doing my homework.  As much as my dad nagged me about other things, even he didn’t bother to see what homework I had each day, he knew I’d finished it.

We had been doing a series of spelling lists. Mr. Lawson had announced an upcoming school-wide spelling competition, and Mr. Lawrence wanted his class to have the best showing.  Especially since Mr. Lawson’s daughter was also in our class.

We were supposed to write down each day’s words in a notebook, and bring it back to school each day, even though Mr. Lawrence wasn’t consistent about collecting them to check. It was more for practice. On the one day I had left my spelling notebook at home, Mr. Lawrence asked the class to hand them in for a spot check.

“I left mine at home,” I told him.

“You’re sure you didn’t just simply not do your homework?”

“I DID do my homework. I just forgot to bring it.”

“LIAR!”  Mr. Lawrence thundered. In front of the entire class. Without a shred of proof.

“I am not lying!”

(The funny thing was for once my dad knew what my homework was and that I had finished it the previous night.  I had asked Dad for one of the definitions. ‘Why don’t you ask my dad,’ I wanted to say to Mr. Lawrence, but of course this was before the age of cell-phones. It was inconceivable to trek down to the school office to use the only telephone on campus and call my dad at work, just to ask if I had done my homework.)

Mr. Lawrence launched into a slanderous tirade against me, fueled by a vehemently insane conviction he had to be right. There was no room for him to be wrong because he was the adult/teacher, and I was the student/child.

I was rooted to the spot, unable to believe what was happening. I had always turned in my homework, complete and on time. I’d never been in any trouble with Mr. Lawrence before.  I had never thought that adults could be so blatantly unfair and such bullies. Now I knew, I was blown away, shell-shocked.

I don’t know why Mr. Lawrence did what he did. The only remotely plausible reason I can think of is that somehow he was trying to discredit me. In class, I was one of the kids with the best grades, along with the headmaster’s daughter. Mr Lawrence had shown signs of favoritism towards her, to curry favor with his boss, I guess.

I can’t remember if I told my dad about the incident. Whether I did or not, I knew nothing would happen.  My dad didn’t call up the school to make a fuss, to have Mr. Lawrence punished, nor to have me transfer to the other 5th grade class.

(I also did wonder about Mrs. Lawrence, did she know what kind of abusive man she had married and fathered her child?)

After this episode, I resolved to never become a teacher. I knew that as a teacher, I too would become prone to biases, favoritism, and dislikes with my students. If I could not hold myself to treating all my students equally and be fair to all of them, then I would not be a teacher at all.

BACK TO POST [1] Excerpt from “Danny, the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl

A teacher called Captain Lancaster [taught] the nine- and ten-year-olds, and this year included me… He had been a captain in the army during the war… and that was why he still called himself Captain Lancaster instead of just plain mister.

We were having our first lesson of the day with Captain Lancaster. I was sitting next to Sidney Morgan in the back row and we were slogging away.
Sidney Morgan covered his mouth with his hand and whispered very softly to me, “What are eight nines?”
“Seventy-two,” I whispered back.
Captain Lancaster’s finger shot out like a bullet and pointed straight at my face. “You!” he shouted. “Stand up!”
“Me, sir?” I said.
“Yes you, you blithering idiot!”
I stood up.
“You were talking!” he barked. “What were you saying?” He was shouting at me as though I was a platoon of soldiers on the parade ground. “Come on, boy! Out with it!”
I stood still and said nothing.
“Are you refusing to answer me?” he shouted.
“Please, sir,” Sidney said. “It was my fault. I asked him a question”
“Oh you did, did you? Stand up!”
Sidney stood up beside me.
“So you were cheating!” he said. “Both of you were cheating!”
We kept silent.
“Cheating is a repulsive habit practiced by guttersnipes and dandyprats!” he said.
From where I was standing I could see the whole class sitting absolutely rigid, watching Captain Lancaster. Nobody dared move.
“You may be permitted to cheat and lie and swindle in your own homes,” he went on, “but I will not put up with it here!”
At this point, a sort of blind fury took hold of me and I shouted back at him, “I am not a cheat!”
There was a fearful silence in the room. Captain Lancaster raised his chin and fixed me with his watery eyes. “You are not only a cheat but you are insolent,” he said quietly. “You are a very insolent boy. Come up here.”

The coin toss landed on . . . Chiloe

So we were dithering on our last day in Santiago whether to go to Mendoza (back in Argentina, 6 hours by bus) or Chiloe. We ended up on an overnight bus (Hangover 3 for the 4th time) to Puerto Montt, and then rented a car to ferry over and drive around Chiloe island. Chiloe is famous for its sixteen UNESCO designated heritage churches made of wood. It’s got good shellfish, and fish. There are also lots of farms with cattle, sheep, pigs, and it’s very green and lush.

It’s been sunny and warm, which is great for touring around, but it’s also a little unusual, since Chiloe is characteristically known for its rain and fog. In fact I’m almost a little disappointed that I don’t get to experience the wet, damp and cold.  (Rather like going to Guilin and seeing it under sunny clear skies, instead of the mist like the stereotypical Chinese ink paintings.)

Every women on Chiloe seems to know how to knit: lots of sheep providing lots of wool, but the designs could do with some updating. If they knitted poncho or sweaters with churches on them,  that would be more appealing to tourists like us!

Lovely Ritas
They have these meter maids here in Chile, even in small towns like Ancud and Punta Arenas.  I guess it helps with employment. They hang around every few blocks, dressed in dark jumpsuits embellished with florescent yellow or orange safety accents.
Where/when you park on street, they punch into their hand held gadget, and print out a timed slip which they place under your windshield wiper. When you come back to your car to leave, you take the slip and pay the meter maid.
So you never run out of time on the parking meter and thus you don’t parking tickets for overstaying your paid time. And I guess if the meter maid doesn’t come to your car until X minutes after you arrive, you get those minutes free (the equivalent of getting someone else’s leftover paid time on an American parking meter.)
But I wonder how many people drive off without paying if they don’t see a meter maid to give money to? We were very honest; when we walked to back to our car, we asked to meter maid to come.

ทำบุญ (making merit) for Christmas: Since we’re not home and thus not caught up in the mad bustle of getting X’mas presents for folks; the only ‘giving’ (which is better than receiving, of course) we can do is giving rides to people. We have a rental car that’s a four-seater. Gas is expensive here. Might as well ammortize the mpg.  Chiloe is very rural in the sense that it’s not densely populated, and bus service is very infrequent. So as we’ve driven along country roads to check out the churches in small villages, we’ve stopped to people a ride home. It’s selective: the city slickers in us go by gut feeling to pick up people who seem harmless, like the family of 3: dad, mom and 5 year-old daughter. Or a farm laborer lugging three tanks. Or a mother on her way back home from a shopping trip in big-town Castro, weighed down with bags.

It’s also a proactive karmic safeguard: I worry about the car breaking down or getting stuck. A lot of these  rural roads in Chiloe are not paved, simply graded; and some are quite steep. We’ve had a couple of close calls going uphill on stick shift without enough traction. Thank goodness it’s been sunny and dry, and not rainy and muddy.

If I don’t post anything before then, Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to whomever is left of this blog’s readership!

Medellin

Medellin

I liked Medellin more than Bogota. Part of it was timing: we arrived at the start of the Feria de las Flores (Festival of Flowers), which lasts a week, with a myriad of festivities and parades that come with any large festival. But I also liked Medellin because they’ve put a lot of effort/investment in infrastructure and organization, like . . . transportation and libraries (things that are near and dear to my geek heart.)

Feria de las Flores is symbolized by a sillertero, a country person carrying a large wooden easel (think of the painting easels in kindergarten class) with a giant floral display on their back (think Rose Bowl Parade, but in 2-D, with displays made of flowers, seeds, twigs, etc.) I think it’s supposed to symbolize and celebrate traditional Columbian agricultural/rustic values.

It’s bit like the Mooncake (Chinese) or Loy Kratong (Thai) festival, in that both large corporations and private/personal families will have some sort of Feria de las Flores  floral/rustic-themed advertising, promotion or decoration, instead of a lantern or kratong theme.

Bad things first: The Horse Parade is completely overrated, and a waste of time if you’re not into horses (I’m not.)  It consisted primarily of individuals riding on horses, in what we’d term western- wear (i.e. they weren’t dressed up in matching outfits, which you’d expect from organized groups of people in processions). There were hardly any floral decorations; you’d expect that perhaps there would be flowers and ribbons braided into horses’ tails and manes. I got the impression that anyone who had a horse could simply sign up and ride in the parade.

A relatively low barrier to entry is nice (I’m sure it’s not cheap to own or have access to a horse, not to mention the know-how of equestrian riding), but I don’t get why soooo many people would show up to watch a parade of people riding on horses, unless horse-riding and horses are something highly valued by Colombians – I’m sure as a foreigner, I’m missing out on something.

We’d found ourselves a shady spot to sit an hour before the official start time underneath a loquat tree (alas, the fruit was a few weeks from being ripe enough to eat.) The parade started an hour late, of course, but even after it started, the processions came in fit and starts. One group would pass by, and then no one would come by for another 20 minutes. (It felt like dining at a restaurant with bad pacing, having an appetizer, and then not getting your main course until 30 minutes later.) It was sort of fun to watch the crowd, and all the vendors. (Pilsen, which is the official beer sponsor for the Feria has bright red booths set up at every event, although, there are individuals who simply bring a Styrofoam ice-chest or big black plastic bag of beers and drinks to sell too. It is ridiculously convenient and cheap  to buy beer on the street around here.)

The group of young men sitting in front of us bought beers, tried to bargain the mango seller to sell his sliced mangos for half the going rate! (50 cents instead of a $1). Then they tried on hats and bargained for those also.  Since the hat seller didn’t have a mirror, one young blade took a picture of himself with each hat on his phone, and then checked the picture on the phone to see how it looked on him. Smart use of a smartphone, if you don’t trust your friends’ sartorial judgment.  And of course, the young men were flirting with any of the pretty girls who were sitting around them. “Oh can I take a photo with you? . . . What is your name? . . . Oh I’ve just posted it on facebook. What’s your phone number so I can send it to you? . . . Oh do show me pictures of your puppy on your phone, how cute…”

The primary entertainment value from the horse parade itself was whenever a woman rider in a tight-fitting, low-cut blouse trotted by, up-down, up-down, up-down, so that her bosom would jiggle up-down, up-down, up-down accordingly.  You could tell someone like that as approaching as she would be heralded by male cat-callers/whistlers in the parade audience! Where is Mustafa (Old-Spice guy) bare-chested on a horse when you need him!?

So we didn’t bother to stick around for the end of the parade. Maybe they saved the best for the last, i.e. there’d be horses draped in flowers carrying silleteros, or horses doing circus or Lipizzaner routines, breathing fire, or juggling mangoes, and we missed it. Oh well, it didn’t seem worth waiting through the end to find out.  We took off to ride the cable car to Biblioteca Espana instead, where we were guaranteed good views and the pleasure of a joy ride.

Children’s Parade:  I think the Horse Parade was especially disappointing, suffering in comparison to the Children’s Parade, which was so much more fun, festive and joyful for all the senses. And that was the first parade we went to, we didn’t know how ‘lucky’ that was.

It was like a cross between Fourth of July/Halloween/ block party parade for kids. There were groups sponsored by schools, with kids dressed in traditional costumes, with their parents walking alongside to chaperone and take photos. If the kids were tired, the parents would pick the up and carry them along. Kids had smaller sillerteros, made of styrofoam, much lighter.  (I think that’s why it reminded me of Loy Kratong, since in modern times kratongs are made with a Styrofoam base, whereas traditionally they were made of cross-section chunks of banana trees.)

There were marching bands, and junior military groups, including one I thought of as the junior Green Berets. There were a couple of girls in there too, which I only noticed because they had their hair in a bun below their beret. But they carried the same loaded backpacks, and had the same camouflage make-up on their faces as the guys. Their group had one sillertero with the picture of a soldier carrying a backpack with flowers in it. I think a hippie from the 1960’s would have found that ironic.

The Children’s Parade wasn’t too long, and was on a residential/collector street, so people who lived on the street had parade viewing parties from their balconies or in front of their house, like people who live along the Bay-to-Breaker’s route in Hayes Valley or the Panhandle. Many neighbours had also decorated their homes with floral themes, which added to the festive atmosphere. Some companies or institutions also handed out cardboard visors, or hats or fans to people along the parade route as promotional materials that were also useful for keeping cool. There were the usual assortment of vendors selling snacks, drinks, ice-cream, hats and balloons, but almost no beer sellers!

Infrastructure and Investment

There’s a book called “Stuff White People Like” and I could have sworn that in it, one of the things listed was foreign cities with metro/subway systems. Somehow metro systems are more appealing than bus networks. And even if you expected the BRT system to be a metro system on rubber wheels, as we found out in Bogota, it was impossible to navigate.

Medellin not only has a metro system (Bogota has BRT), but there are two hanging cable car/gondola lines that go up to uphill neighbourhoods. There is also bus service also, hairpinning the hillside roads, as well as networks of concrete steps with bright yellow handrails.  These all look relatively new, it’s a heartening sign that there’s investment in this kind of infrastructure for residents. The uphill neighborhoods were/are the poorer neighborhoods, since they are farther/harder to access the city center. (Medellin is set in a valley, so it’s a long skinny city centered on the flatter/valley floor.) The cable cars were clean and well maintained, just like the rest of the metro system. We saw a cleaner go into a car with a broom and dustpan as we were in the very orderly queue to board the cable cars.

The hanging cable cars are not simply Disneyland/ski-lift fun rides, but meant to serve as public transportation. The cable car lines are part of the metro system, and transfers are free, so you only pay 1,800 pesos ($US 1) per ride.  As we rode them on the weekend, it was hard to gauge what normal weekday usage would be. I think many of the riders were joy-riders like us, enjoying the sweeping views below of the red brick and tiled homes. You even could see creeks with little rapids below. The line from San Javier to Le Aurora goes up and down, spanning a ridge, so there was a slight roller coaster effect!

The line to Santo Domingo leads up to the Biblioteca Espana, which is a modern architectural attraction in its own right. Three big black imposing cubes look like a stern fortress, but when you go inside, it’s fairly light and airy, with skylights, detached white walls and scattered little windows. It’s not just a library, the book collections themselves take up very little of the building space, but there’s computer areas, exhibition halls, workshop spaces for kids, auditoriums, meeting rooms, it’s more intended to be a community center. (I believe the “Spain” part of the name might be due to some contribution from that country; there were two plaques on the building, commemorating a visit from the King and Queen of Spain, and another visit from their Crown Prince.)

There’s a plaza in front, terraces for taking in the views, and adjoining park areas. And this being Colombia on a weekend, the public space was well used, lots of people around, families on an outing, teenage couple creating their own private courting space in a public setting, children playing hide and seek. The inevitable vendors and stands selling snacks for all, beer for adults, and toys for kids. The lively, festive atmosphere as white noise makes it hard to figure out if there’s really a special event going on, or is this the norm?

It’s a good sign when you get a free map put out by the city, and there’s little graphics of landmarks, not just text labels. Some older freebie maps of Paris would have little drawings of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, so a tourist could easily zoom in and figure out where they were. The Medellin map was equally as helpful, with icons of museums, plazas, and libraries. Not so much that tourists want to go check out books, but since the city launched this program to boost libraries and parks and other public buildings, in the mid-2000’s, and built them as architectural wonders in their own right. (The big library in front of Plaza Cisneros has a lovely fountain in front, as well as a little bar, which is genius. How can you not like a library with a bar!) Whereas with Bogota, there’s investment, but it seems to be more focused on private/commercial real estate development.

It reminds me a bit of a Shanghai – Beijing rivalry, that perhaps Medellin, the second city concerned about playing second fiddle to Bogota the capital. After Beijing won the bid for the Olympic Games, Shanghai set itself up to host a Expo, and in advance of that, poured tons of money into infrastructure for the expected hordes of visitors. (I was irked that the Bund was a completely dusty, noisy, blocked off construction zone when I visited the summer before the Expo.)

With both Bogota and Medellin (and maybe the rest of Colombia), perhaps it’s the pent-up demand being met now that it’s possible, since the social/political situation is stabilized. Colombia used to be considered unsafe, what with the drug cartels, and the FARC vs the government civil war in the 1990s. Roads can be built, hotels and tourist attractions can be developed so that visitors can go around the country in ways that we as Americans take for granted in the US.

I can’t really imagine what life was really like for Colombians in those times, not being to move around freely in their own country. (The closest thing I can think of would be the south of Thailand in the 70’s and 80’s, when there was a lot of communist insurgency, and no one from Bangkok would travel south unless they needed to, and even then, it would be limited to the major towns of Phuket and Hat Yai.  The rest of the resort areas in the South, like Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, etc, didn’t exist, and didn’t get developed until after there was a ceasefire.( Although now the south of Thailand has insurgency issues with the Muslim separatists.)

Botero

The Museo Antioquia has a huge collection of Botero’s paintings and sculpture (he’s from Medellin), and he generously donated most of those works to the museum, after the museum said to him “we’d like to buy your work, but we can’t really afford it.) It also had a sign, thankfully in Spanish and English that explained “Why does Botero paint fat people?” Apparently, it’s not about fat, it about expressing volume.

The museum is rather blah-looking from the outside, like a misplaced piece of soviet architecture, but inside it’s a lovely piece of Art Deco work, two wings each surrounding a courtyard for breeze and ventilation (before the advent of air-con!)

In front of the Museo Antioquia is Plaza Botero, which is full of bronze sculptures by him, which you can enjoy for free. There are no regulations preventing anyone from touching or climbing on them, except for the laws of gravity and human dexterity. As you can imagine, certain parts of the sculptures have been more polished by countless human hands than others.

However the museum costs $10,000 pesos to enter (although you get a free coffee in the snack bar with admission) and you have to stay behind the line and not touch Botero’s paintings and sculptures. Obviously there’s a  lot fewer people around, so you can easily take photos without waiting for people to get out of your way.

I used to want to take photos of arts, monuments, etc,  without any other strangers in the shot, and would wait for the scene to clear. But then I realized that having other people in the shot provides a sense of scale, and adds a touch of life to the picture.  A ‘clean’ shot seems a bit sterile sometimes. So now I actually try to spot for interesting passers-by to include in my shots, although I then worry about invasion of privacy. Kids playing, couples kissing, other people taking photos of the same view, I think it all adds interest, and makes my photos slightly more memorable.

I think I’ll post this write-up now, and maybe add the photo links later. (Children’s Parade photo link posted in previous blog entry.)

UPDATE: Medellin photos posted.

To be the second opinion when you doubt your spouse

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It had been about 20 years since I last talked to her. She sounded the same, but I had forgotten her particular diction, prefacing each question with an insistent “Celia!” as if she was interrupting me talking to someone else at a cocktail party, even if it was solely she and I on the phone.

 

I’d just visited Nancy’s sister in Brussels a couple of weeks ago, and she was planning to visit Brussels for the first time later this summer. So she called me to compare notes.  What airlines, what city to fly into, etc. Nancy had never traveled abrd, so her concerns were understandable. It reminded me of what it would feel like to be in the shoes of a newbie traveler; I’ve traveled so much that I’m quite jaded, and take much about it for granted.

 

But the more we talked, the more I realized this wasn’t so much a research call, as a quest for reassurance.  Her husband had done his research, but she didn’t quite seem to trust his homework.

 

I smiled wryly when the lightbulb flickered on. I’ve done the same thing to Joe. “You don’t believe when I tell you something, but when someone offers you the same advice, you simply accept it unquestioningly!” Touché. It felt a bit awkward. Not only was I probably going to be the subject of Nancy’s husband’s “See I told you so,” indignation, but when the dispute stemmed from someone doing travel research and planning, I felt more guilty, even as an disinterested bystander.

 

“Oh, Nancy actually doesn’t want to go,” said Nancy’s cousin who had provided my phone number to Nancy. “She’s scared and intimidated by traveling.” 

Again, to be in the shoes of someone who . . . doesn’t want to travel. I can’t quite understand it, but I acknowledge that it takes all sorts to make up the diversity of the human race, and that would include people have the resources, but not the desire to travel.

 

I’ve been kind of worried that I’m losing my ability to feel joy and wonder while traveling. On this most recent trip (which included the visit to Nancy’s sister to Brussels), I felt like it took me way too long regain my travel ‘sea-legs’. I kept getting lost, which was shock to my innate ability to navigate by instinct or by map or landmarks. I didn’t take enough photos. I was stressed out and impatient. I had slackened off on trip planning arrangements, which meant I paid a bit more than I needed to for train tickets, and subjected poor Joe and Biker to the unnecessary burden of biking 80 km on 3-speed bicycles, instead of 7 speed ones; and rushed to White Hart Lane straight from the airport, only to find out that match had been moved to the next day.

 

But it was OK, by the end I’d mostly come around. I ate jellied eels, and swam in the Serpentine, where I lasted ten strokes before fizzing out like a melting cube of champagne  (It was about 30 degrees F outdoors. At least it was five strokes longer than I lasted in Crater Lake.)  We Velibed along the Seine.  I didn’t get to put my name down as ‘Albert Heijn’ when wait-listing for a restaurant table in Amsterdam, but at least I remembered to take a photo of the chocolate- and rainbow-colored sprinkles which I discovered that the Dutch sprinkle on toast as part of their nutritionally complete breakfast (After all cold cuts, cheese and bread can only get you so far)!

 

The small ‘aha’ moment of the sprinkles was as exciting to me as the first whiff of skunk was to Biker’s 9-year-old son three weeks later, as we were driving along the Central California coast. “Let’s roll down the windows, I want to smell more skunk!” (They don’t have skunks in Thailand, where they live.)

 

It’s wonderful to see kids amazed by the first time they smell skunk  and relive that moment from your childhood; it’s an incredible relief that as an adult I haven’t completely lost that capacity for being amazed by the little things you only learn about when you travel. If Nancy goes, I hope she finds out that you are never too old to discover the joy of travel.

Annoyance tax

There was an interesting article in the NYT Sunday magazine the other week with a punchily titled “A Tax on Annoying Behavior?’ The premise was “What if we could impose a tax or fine on certain negative externalities to discourage people from generating those externalities. With such a tax, “. . . we would probably do less [of those damaging things] if we had to pay for them.”

It’s a theme that I daydream/fantasize about, often. I suspect many people do as well, even if their pet-peeve externalities are different from mine.

(There already are ‘taxes’ on externalities, but in some cases the revenues don’t cover the actual costs, or cannot be applied to directly to mitigate the cost of damages. Or in many cases, there is no practical way to collect the tax.)

A couple of my fantasy taxes/fines (transportation-related, of course) are:

1) Bike carcasses on locked up on bike racks:
Where there are clusters of bike racks, you often see bikes locked up to racks amputated of parts: front wheels, rear wheels, frames. Some deadbeat owners never return to retrieve/unlock the bike carcasses, as I call them, from the racks. Their lack of responsibility in unlocking and removing bike carcasses really annoys me. The owners should be fined.

Externality 1: As the unused/abandoned bike takes up a useful bike parking space, it is a waste of public resources. It’s also a nuisance, as it may reinforce the impression on bike thieves that the area is vulnerable for easy pickings.

Externality 2: Extra work is imposed on maintenance folks who should, but rarely, forcibly break the locks to remove the carcasses. Yes, it’s probably a hassle to have to come by car to take the bike away, since it can’t be ridden. Yes, it’s probably easier, or even cheaper to buy a new bike than to buy and install missing parts. But this is littering writ large!

A fine should be imposed on owners of locked up bike carcasses who do not remove their bikes from the racks within a reasonable time period, say 3 weeks. The financial fine should be substantial enough to motivate the owner to respond quickly. (In theory, if bike registration were mandatory just as it is for cars, all owners would be traceable, and the fine could be sent by mail.) An additional incentive would be to provide a rebate for owners who do remove their bikes upon notice, scaled to their promptness in doing so.

Plus some good could still be salvaged from those bike carcasses: by donating them to worthy fix-and-donate bike non-profits; there’s at least one in any urban area. My local favourite, Bike Exchange, is run by Jack Miller and Dave Fork, two of the coolest pedallers I know.

2) Fines for drivers who cause incidents/accidents which generate congestion:

You’re free-flowing on a freeway when traffic unexpectedly slows down. Some car has caused an incident, and the rest of the passer-by traffic is slowing down for (a) safety: in case the driver or responders are standing around; and/or (b) curiosity: what kind of car (s), and what type of driver(s) were involved? How gruesome was it? Humans can’t resist looking at crash scenes.

Whether the incident was an avoidable one (i.e., negligent driver at fault), or “unavoidable” (i.e., unexpected mechanic malfunction), the fact remains: the incident caused a traffic jam. Other people who were driving along were inconvenienced; they were forced to travel slower than they should, and expected to have to. Extra fuel wasted, increased pollution, wasted time are all externalities. The driver(s) who caused the incident should be charged a fine for causing the congestion (externality). The fine would be based on the vehicle-hours of delay generated, which can be calculated and/or measured based on the volume cars driving by in the vicinity and the decrease in speed relative to before the incident.

The prospect of such a fine should influence drivers to be more careful to avoid causing incidents and the attendant congestion. The revenues from these fines would be used for operational improvements for the roadways (i.e. more communication to drivers to enable them to avoid downstream congestion caused by a incident, etc.)

I wouldn’t mind some sort of social fine either: highlighting the embarrassment or shame of the at-fault driver for literally causing a scene that so many passers-by are slowing down to stare at. That should also change the driver(s)’ behaviour to drive more safely. Maybe it would be in the form of an indelible ink bomb on the car (like those used for money stolen from banks)?! (I personally impose my form of this by staring pointedly at the culprit driver as I drive by, although s/he is totally unaware of it. But it helps me vent a tiny bit of my frustration with the unexpected traffic jam.)

If you’re wondering if annoyance taxes exist in real-life, see below:

Cigarette tax
Do cigarette taxes really cover the cost of treating lung cancers, and laundering the smell that clings to clothes and furnishings? What about the externality of the yucky whiff of a lit cigarette that drifts towards me from the pedestrian in front of me? If only I could collect a penny from him as the fine for the annoyance he has caused me, as I overtake him in order to be upstream of his smoke – the annoyance tax.

Congestion pricing
There’s two versions: (1) the option for solo-drivers to pay to drive in the Express/HOT lanes instead of the mixed-flow lane traffics, since traffic in HOT/HOV lanes generally moves faster during peak periods (Bay Area freeways); or (2) to drive into/within in a CBD (Singapore, London.) You can either see it as a tax on the act of causing congestion: if you don’t want to pay, then don’t add to the congestion by driving at that time/place. It can also be seen as elitist: you can pay for the privilege of using the faster lane. This is the more common perception, hence the nickname ‘Lexus lane.’ Some claim that it is unfair to low-income drivers, who can ill-afford the fees.

In either case, the fee is intended to discourage demand of the road capacity and thus reduce crowding. There are alternatives though: drive at a different time, i.e. at off-peak hours (when there’s no or lower fees), a different route (which could be a longer distance, but has more capacity/less congestion), or best of all take transit, walk, or bike. Carpooling is an option for the Bay Area – you can drive on the HOT lanes and bridges and avoid paying if you have 2 or more in your vehicle. (3 people for the Bay Bridge.)

I have no problem with this kind of fee. But irrationally I hate the two-tier security check queues at airports, where people who have are traveling business or first class tickets (or paid for pre-screened security clearance programs) get priority to bypass the queue and go through first, and leave the rest of the passengers feeling like second-class citizens, fuming with frustration at how inordinately slow the regular queue is processing. Even though it’s no different conceptually from automobile congestion pricing!

Movement and Circulation

I keep thinking that I didn’t do much traveling this year, but that’s not entirely correct. It’s true I only went to two places I’d (sort of) never been to before: North Carolina and Virginia. But I did also go to old stomping grounds: Vancouver, NYC, Washington DC and Hong Kong.

FREQUENCY

A week in Hong Kong completely spoiled me.  I never had to look at a schedule, since MTR comes every 5 minutes or sooner, the bus comes every 10 minutes or sooner, etc.  When I came home, the first day I went back to work, I was screwed up because I missed my light rail train, which meant I missed my Caltrain connection. This added 40 minutes of waiting/transfer time on top of the 30-minute travel time. “What do you mean the train doesn’t run every 5 minutes?” I was indignant in my jet-lagged haze.

The second day I went to work, I simply jumped on the next train that showed up on the platform. “Hmm, why is this train stopping at San Antonio?” I thought it was part of the revamped Caltrain schedule. Then the train approached San Carlos . . . “Hmm, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down to stop. Oh, it’s not stopping.” It ended up stopping at Hillsdale. I was lucky, the next southbound train that I could take from Hillsdale to San Carlos arrived 3 minutes after I got off, so I wasn’t too late for work.

Of course, there’s similar issues on New York subways: if you don’t pay attention and hop on the Express train by mistake, it may skip the stop you want, in order to get between major stops quicker. Which happened to us once on this trip. But since we were being tourists not on a schedule, it didn’t matter.

WALKING SPEED

What I have noticed that’s common between both Hong Kong and New York City is the average pedestrian walking speed seems a lot slower than I remember. I attribute my walking fast to a habit acquired early in childhood: having to keep up with my longer-legged (older and taller) cousins in Hong Kong, or risk getting left behind and/or lost.  This has made me appear to walk at a freakishly fast pace relative to everyone else in more laid-back places, like Bangkok and the Bay Area. When I visited NYC for the first time in 1994, it felt like a homecoming of sorts in spite of the place being completely alien to me: I walked at the same pace as everyone else, so I fit in.

The equally frenetic and driven pulse of both HK and NYC seems to have mellowed out a bit. Slower walking – I attribute to people fiddling with their smartphones as they walk (a universal phenomenon): they’re distracted and walking slower.  (Of course it makes them more susceptible to getting their smartphones snatched and stolen by thieves, or getting run over. I’m sure somewhere out there, there has been an incident where a motorist who was texting collided with a pedestrian who was texting, and it’s undetermined who was at fault.

FRIENDLIER

People in both cities have also become a bit more polite, driven by the need for providing good customer service for tourism-driven economies. I used to think salesladies in Hong Kong the rudest people on earth, especially coming from Bangkok.  Now they are just helpful as sales clerks in Thailand.

On this latest trip to the Big Apple, I found a fake rhinestone and blue fur tiara in the floor of a taxi-cab and wore it everywhere the rest of my time in NYC. New York being New York, no one bats an eye an anything. It was perfectly normal, just as someone walking a brown goat on a leash with a pearl collar down lower Broadway was normal. What was surprising was how people were downright friendly. My tiara attracted seven ‘Happy Birthdays’ from strangers, as well as a “Congratulations, let me see your ring . . . you’re already married!?”

AUTO-PAY TOLL

I’m surprised at how few people use auto-toll to pay for tunnel fees in Hong Kong. None of the taxis we rode used it. None of the folks whose cars we rode in used it. You’d think they’d have incentive to use it to save time. I wonder what why.

LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT

One of the enduring legacies of the Brits in Hong Kong is the left-hand drive. Usually that also functionally dictates how people walk on the left hand side of the road as well. This usually leads to passing or faster traffic on the right, no? But Joe noticed something odd on this trip to Hong Kong: on escalators people who stand are on the right, and the people who hurry/walk up the escalators are on the left, like we do here in the US. Why is that?

COINS

Every time I visit my dad, I end up sorting and ‘cashing in’ all the coins he’s collected since my last visit. It’s my three-in-one good deed: (1) I reduce the clutter in his house; (2) I put coinage back into circulation, which reduces the need to mint coinage; and (3) I get some local spending money without having to deal with the mordida of foreign exchange commissions.

Last year, when I visited him in HK, I accumulated enough to pay for a very nice shabu-shabu dinner for five adults with all the spare change. I had to lug the coins to HSBC first though, where they charged him a percentage fee for coin counting and converting it to banknotes. (I really need to educate my dad on using Octopus card to pay for the small purchases, and avoiding the whole spare change problem.)

This visit being so recent on the heels of my last visit, Dad hadn’t squirreled away as many coins. I couldn’t take them to HSBS, so I sorted the $1, $2, $5 and $10s into piles of $100, and then took them to the customer service booth at different MTR stations on different days to load them onto our Octopus cards.

The 10-cent, 20-cent and 50-cent pieces were more of a problem. I can’t take those to MTR and no one else really wants them. I finally hit on the idea of using to buy drinks from vending machines. Machines can’t protest. Joe got Schweppes ginger beer, which is really not as good as Bundaberg. I got a Schweppes grapefruit soda in honor of my colleague Lauren, who had told me she missed those from her time as an exchange student in Hong Kong. I did the obnoxious thing and had Joe snap a photo of me guzzling it on his smartphone and then emailed the photo to her!

BIKESHARE

We tried out Capital Bikeshare in Washington DC: our first time ever using a bikeshare service. It worked pretty well for us as tourists. $7 for a 24-hour membership, and you can sign up for an account right at any kiosk with a credit card. Rides of 30 minutes or less are ‘free’, so we just biked between pods and parked.

Even the glitches and trouble-shooting worked well. You get issued a new code each time you check out a bike to unlock it. The code can either be read on screen or be printed out on a slip of paper. If the kiosk has run out of paper, and you didn’t memorize the code from the screen, all you have to do is wait 5 minutes, when the code expires, and then log in and get another code issued.

Another glitch we encountered was when we wanted to return a bike, but couldn’t because all the pod parking spaces were taken by existing bikes. You could look up the next nearest pod with available space to park your bike.

The equipment was OK. Many had bells where the clicker was broken. Some had seats which were impossible to adjust. But for short rides, those nuisances are tolerable.

I got Joe to take a photo of me on my bikeshare bike in front on the White House, which may be ironic. I understand that few people ride their bikes past Tiananmen Square anymore, it may even be illegal?

There’s lots of pods, close to most of the tourist attractions. I hope the Bay Area version will eventually be as dense/good/critically massed. I have to admit I was a bit of a doubter on bikesharing before, but now I’m sold on it. But I wonder how I would use it as a local, as opposed to a tourist. Why wouldn’t I simply buy myself a beater-bike?

SHUTTLES

We also rode the DC circulator shuttle quite a bit, to get to and from Georgetown, since Metro is not close by. It works pretty well at $1 a ride.  Although the maps are slightly confusing (some show outdated routes.) While underground Metros are usually faster, surface buses have windows on the streets, allowing to you discover things you otherwise wouldn’t know about.

TRANSLINK

We got to ride Translink for the first-time ever in Vancouver! It may sound silly to consider this a major accomplishment, until you consider how many times I’ve been to Vancouver in the past couple of years, and still not manage to check it out. I was impressed with the frequency of the trains, almost as good as MTR, even during mid-day.

CLIPPER

A shout-out to VTA; for having upgraded their Ticket Vending Machines to enable Clipper card financial transactions. I had given up on doing any web-based transactions with my Clipper card (definitely no auto-load!) because their user-interface and customer service is so crappy. I was buying my monthly Caltrain pass in person at the customer service window in my office. Sometimes there would be a queue – I get irritated with having to wait in line. Now I can use my credit card to add cash, or buy fare products (not just VTAs, but other transit agencies’ as well) or just to see my account balances simply by walking to my neighbourhood light rail station.

Hey, did Clipper card change its name from Translink because Vancouver copyrighted the name?