Category Archives: Travel

Hermes and the Tyger

In the spring of 2001, my girlfriend took a trip to France. At the end of her visit, she called me from Paris and asked if there was anything I wanted. I told her I didn’t want anything, but she kept bugging me, so I told her to get me an Hermes scarf.

One thing you should probably know at this point. In French, Hermes is pronounced differently than in English. English speakers are more apt to say something like “her mees”; but in French, it is pronounced like “air mez” or “air may.” I explained to my girlfriend this difference, so if she asked someone, they would understand her. In my experience, not using the French accent on a word means that no one will understand you, even if the word is essentially the same, like “vegetarian” (true story). On the flip side, I couldn’t understand a French speaker saying Richard Chamberlin’s name to me, so I have complete sympathy for pronunciation.

Back to the scarf. I really didn’t want anything, and I told her to get an Hermes scarf because a) I knew they were super expensive and when she saw the price she would balk; and b) I find their scarves aren’t really to my taste.

It was J’s last day in Paris, and it was a hot day. She wore a tank top and shorts and carried a backpack. Nothing terribly glam. She and our friend went to Le Bon Marche, a department store. J searched the store, trying to find an Hermes scarf, but had no luck. She is fiercely independent and doesn’t like asking for help, but finally reached the point where she had to.

She found a saleswoman and asked her if she spoke English. The woman said she did a little. J stumbled through her request, her self-consciousness over the pronunciation adding more stress. J murmured to the saleswoman, “I’m looking for a scarf. We say ‘Her-meez’ but I think you say ‘Air-mez’.”

The saleswoman didn’t understand what she said, so she asked her to write it down. J did, and when the saleswoman turned the paper around to read it, her demeanor changed entirely. Where she had been brusque before, now she was solicitous and friendly. She said, “Oh no, we don’t carry those here. But let me go ask someone else and I’ll find out where you can get them.” It turned out that the Hermes store was closed by the time J got there. I was spared her spending any money on a scarf I probably wouldn’t like, and even better, we got this fantastic story!

Which brings me to March 2015. Last year my mom gave me money for my birthday to buy an Hermes scarf, in part motivated by this story. In the pit of my stomach I was sure I wasn’t going to find any scarves I actually liked. I looked at their website, but it was so awful and I couldn’t figure out what they might look like. I kept putting off going to a store. I really wanted to go with my mom, so we could share the experience, but our only chance to do that was last summer, and there ended up not being any time.

Last week I made plans to meet up with my friend Lauren, who lives on the Eastside, because I had something I wanted to give her. I decided to combine meeting her with a shopping trip, since there’s an Hermes store over there. Saturday was a cold and dreary day. I headed out in the rain and dodged the raindrops. Since I don’t have a car, I took the bus over.

Hermes store

Bellevue is very different from Seattle, even though it’s separated by a small body of water. The Hermes store is in a high-end/designer shopping center. Everything there is so foreign from my daily life. It’s hard for me not to be super judgmental about all of it. I arrived at the store around 3:30, expecting that it wouldn’t have many customers. How wrong I was. The small space at the entrance was filled with women who surrounded the scarf case. They were throwing scarves in the air, one after the other, gesturing and talking loudly. In retrospect there were probably about five women, but it felt like twenty! I stood in front of the case amidst the melee for a good five minutes, hoping that a salesperson would appear out of the fray, but none did. I finally went over to a young man standing to the side who wore a suit. He seemed to be a cross between a security person and concierge, and I asked him if he could help me find a salesperson. He welcome me to the store and then apologized profusely for me having to wait.

A salesperson was procured and began helping me. She started by asking me if I wanted a classic scarf, etc. etc. I asked her about the size, because I don’t understand centimeters. Then she took me back to the case and asked me about colors and what I was looking for, what colors I liked, etc. I told her pinks and reds, even though before I got to the store I was thinking I wanted something with blues and greens. I don’t know why I didn’t just say that. I was so overwhelmed by the frenzy! She pulled out one scarf and tied it around my neck. I looked in the mirror and didn’t feel anything. I pointed out another scarf that had a cheetah on it, with bright pink splashes. The saleswoman said, “Let me get that before it gets snatched out from under us,” but that also produced a meh reaction when I looked in the mirror. You can torture yourself by trying to figure it out on their site. I can’t even find the scarf I ended up buying.

While I was feeling meh and overwhelmed and starting to get a little fed up with the whole thing, the saleswoman came back with something totally different. No pink or red at all. It had a giant tiger with a green background and these bright, lush orange lilies.

Hermes scarf

Some people know I’m not a fan of green. I don’t really wear it that much. I don’t gravitate toward it. I will pass it over for pretty much any other color. But I have a thing for lilies, and so I decided why the hell not? She tied it on, and I looked at the mirror, and something in me sang out. I told her, “This is the one.” She showed me five different ways to wear it and was super willing to show me other scarves, but I just knew. This was it. No matter what else I saw, it wouldn’t please me.

Hermes scarf

She rang me up and I left the store, feeling completely triumphant. When I got home, I posted a few pictures of the details on the scarf, including the one above. And when I was taking the pictures, I saw that it has the line from William Blake’s poem: “Tyger tyger burning bright in the forest of the night” … which you can just make out here:

Hermes scarf: tyger tyger

That line also has a special resonance for me (and possibly for many people), and was such a delightful surprise. On top of that, a friend posted this lovely piece about the symbolism of the tiger:

The confidence of the tiger is contentment. Contentment comes from discernment, the virtue of touching our feet to the earth of every moment. As we slow down and consider our thoughts, words, and actions with the question, “Will this bring happiness or pain?”, we become like tigers who carefully observe the landscape before pouncing. In looking at what to cultivate and what to discard, we are remembering our precious human life and deciding to use it well.

And that perfectly sums up the theme of the work I did with my therapist, so now this scarf has become a talisman for me, too!

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Why I broke up with RadioLab

I posted last week about the podcasts I love. Many people responded that they loved RL. I used to be in that camp. I haven’t talked that much about why I broke up with them, but I did mention it. One of my friends asked me why, so here is my response.

Part I:

In the fall of 2012 I was walking to meet a friend for lunch and listening to the episode “The Fact of the Matter.” Then the segment Yellow Rain came on. I remember hearing Robert Krulwich interrogate Eng Yang and his niece, Kao Kalia Yang, and I was on the verge of tears at his questioning.

Shortly after the episode aired, Ms. Yang wrote a response, specifically about how she and her uncle had agreed to participate because they believed they would finally get to tell their story and be believed. Instead, they were badgered and not taken seriously, diminished. I urge you to listen to the episode and then read Ms. Yang’s response. She had a further follow-up.

Part II:

In March 2012, This American Life produced an entire episode retracting the Mike Daisy Foxconn story. At the time I thought it was overkill. Why was Ira bending over backwards? I didn’t understand.

Part III:

sunset behind the mekong

I’d spent the winter of 2011 in SE Asia. I visited Laos. I learned not only about the Hmong people, but how Laos got the worst of it during the Vietnam War era. Everyone was carpet bombing the fuck out of them. They have more unexploded ordinances than any other country in SE Asia and it would take centuries to clear all the bombs if anyone was doing any actual clearing. This was not something I’d learned in high school or college history classes.

Part IV:

So after having traveled to Laos and hearing TAL’s retraction, I expected a similar level of respect from Radioplab. Instead, their response disheartened me. They weren’t interested in facts, or the truth, as they said. They had destroyed my trust. Why couldn’t they believe the Yangs? I wrote an email to the show, telling them they had broken my trust. They never responded to my email. They dug in, got defensive, and didn’t see how they’d harmed the Yangs.

Epilogue:

I had learned some fantastic things from Radkoplab, but I’m still heartbroken about the treatment of the Yangs. On a piece about facts and truth, they couldn’t see their own errors or admit they had fucked up and done harm. I’ve tried to listen a few times since the fall of 2012, and each time I just get really sad and also don’t know what to believe from their story. I can learn about the things they cover in other places.

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The &^*#@ Spring Rolls

As many of you know, I spent the winter of 2011 traveling around SE Asia. I started in Thailand, where I spent 6 weeks. My mom met up with me at the end of that time in Chiang Rai, which is in the far north of Thailand and is part of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet.

I had learned from a friend that I could take the slow boat down the Mekong, starting in Thailand and ending in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site and city in Laos. My mom was up for the adventure, so once she landed in Thailand there was no time to get settled. We just picked up the next day and headed out for the boat.

My mother is an intrepid traveler. She doesn’t need all the creature comforts, and neither do I. My basic requirements are a room in a building, and indoor plumbing. I definitely had some adventures with discomfort while I was traveling through Thailand, mostly involving mosquitoes and other insects in my rooms. But my mom didn’t care about insects. She was worried about rats. She’d read stories about the town where we would be staying – Pak Beng – being infested with rats. She didn’t want to take any chances, so I made sure to book a room in advance that had high ratings and most importantly, NO RATS.

The only rat we saw in Pak Beng ended up being a stuffed toy belonging to a child in the hotel where we stayed.

Toy rat

But on to the meat of this particular story. In non-English speaking countries where they depend heavily on tourist dollars, I’ve encountered quite a range of facility with English, particularly in the service sectors. Most people stick to the few scripts that lubricate their business. Their English is far better than my ability to speak their languages, and for that I’m always always always grateful.

I give you this background so you will understand what happened next. Our boat pulled into Pak Beng late in the afternoon. Pak Beng exists for the sole reason of providing lodging and respite to the people riding the boats down the river. We checked in to our hotel, keeping an eye out for rats, and then went to find a place for dinner. Each spot looked the same, so I have no idea how we picked the place we did. It was filled with people, as they all were. We got a table and a young and exuberant fellow took our order. We were famished. There hadn’t been much to eat on the boat, so we were looking forward to a full dinner. After we placed our order we waited. And waited. AND WAITED …

I didn’t blame the waiter, there were large tables that were rowdy and needed more attention. But I finally got desperate and got the waiter’s attention to ask about our order. He was bopping around the restaurant amongst the tables and he glanced at me, his memory jogged. “Oh yes! Your fucking spring rolls!” he exclaimed, full of delight. My mom and I, despite our hunger, broke into laughter at the incongruity of his language with the situation and emotion.

To this day his response makes me laugh.

Here’s my mother the next morning, clutching her bag of bananas, before we boarded for the second day:

Pak Beng

The wooden benches on day 2:

wooden benches

You can see a few more pictures here.

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52 Photos: Luang Prabang

The prompt this week was somewhere you visited. As many of you know, I’ve been a lot of places. Picking one was hard.

I decided to go with Luang Prabang in Laos, because I’ve talked about visiting Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, but not Laos, which was the fourth country in my tour of SE Asia.

I visited temples:

Wat Xieng Thong

that had disco elephants as decoration …

mosaic elephant

I drank bale fruit tea:

bale fruit tea

and BeerLao, the champagne of beers (or so I was told).

Beerlao

I watched monks collect merit contributions:

monks collecting merit contributions

and the sun set behind the Mekong river.

sunset behind the mekong

If you ever have a chance to visit Luang Prabang, I highly recommend it. It’s a special place.

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Japan: Kyoto and Hiroshima

I have a friend who’s going to Japan in December. She asked me for my advice and recommendations on where to go and what to see. She’s planning on visiting Kyoto, Hiroshima and Miyajima. I encouraged her to spend a couple of days in Tokyo, too, if she could. I mentioned on Twitter I was writing an epic email, and a couple of people requested that I post it to my blog. So, for your delectation, I present it, edited slightly for clarity.

torii hall with lantern

Kyoto

Where to stay

We stayed two different places in Kyoto. The first place we stayed was a ryokan, which is the more traditional/family style inn. It was the Ryokan Shimizu.

We loved staying there. The people were so friendly and we were able to try a traditional Japanese breakfast there. It was very close to the train station, which made getting around rather easy (it’s a hub for the buses, too). We all stayed in one room (me with my parents) and slept on tatami/futons (not like futons in the US – really like pads). It was quite comfortable! They also did cultural programming every night. Calligraphy, Japanese gift wrapping with the cloth, origami … I think they had one night on kimonos!

calligraphy lesson

The other hotel was tiny and right down the street from the station. I have no idea what the name was. We had planned on going on to another town, but the typhoon stranded us, so we just walked around to various hotels until we found one that had a rate we liked :). It was commodious, but lacked any of the flavor of the ryokan.

What to see

As for what I would recommend in Kyoto, I would say go to these temples:
Northern Kyoto
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
There’s a Zen temple, Ryoanji with a stone garden next to Kinkakuji. We were underwhelmed by it, but maybe it would interest you?

Eastern Kyoto
Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)
Kiyomizudera – and when you go there, make sure to pay the 100 yen to go down in the thing. You walk down some stairs and hold on to a chain of wooden balls. It gets darker and darker as you go through. It’s supposed to represent the birthing process, and you can make a wish when you get to a stone in the center.

Also, we loved walking through the Nishiki Market (or at least, my mom and I did :P).

Nishiki market

Take the train 5 minutes to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is the place with all the red torii gates (shown in the image above). Fantastic place. I think they are lit at night in the winter, adding another magical element to an already otherworldly place.

I think we spent 5 nights in Kyoto. It was really great, because it gave us time to get adjusted to the time and rest every day (my parents napped and I wrote in my journal).

My friend Yossi has a delightful restaurant, Colori Caffe, outside the tourist areas. Please go visit her and say hi from me if you do! If you want the directions, please contact me and I will send them to you. It’s very easy to get to.

Hiroshima and Miyajima

I have no idea where we stayed in Hiroshima. We used the TripAdvisor site to find a place. We didn’t book it until we were in Japan. I couldn’t tell you AT ALL! It’s so funny. It was a very pleasant place, so my takeaway is, trust the reviews on TripAdvisor :).

Miyajima is the island. You could spend the night there, or just do it as a day trip (which is what we did). I would recommend going to Miyajima after the Peace Museum. Being in Hiroshima is intense, as you can imagine. The island is a beautiful respite.

egret in red reflection

General advice/tips

As for flying in to Kyoto or Tokyo, I don’t know if there are any direct flights to Kyoto anymore (from Seattle). I think one reason we went with Tokyo was that it was more direct and cost less (even including the hotel). We stayed here. It was right outside the Tokyo Station and was a fantastic oasis in the middle of the city. The staff were super friendly and helpful.

I would recommend talking to people and ask if they’ve been to Tokyo, and what they would recommend doing there. I think we had a kind of odd/different experience. I had some friends I’d worked with at Amazon, and we met them for lunch one day. We did some shopping. We did take a day trip to Kamakura to see the giant Buddha.

OH! Also, the department stores have restaurants on the top floors that are very reasonable for eating dinner. This is true in Kyoto and Tokyo. We also ate at izakayas (bars), but they can be VERY smoky. My mom and I loved eating at them, though.

The Japan Rail pass was fantastic. It works on any JR line – which means we were able to use it to get around Tokyo itself, as long as we stayed on the JR line. It can also be used on certain buses. If you are taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto and back, I think it pays for itself, but you should check the math on that. I bought mine from a place in downtown Seattle. I think I went to the office and placed my order. Came back an hour later and the vouchers were ready!

***

You can see the pictures I took, organized by location.

I think that’s everything I can think of for now! If you have ANY questions, or something doesn’t make sense, please feel free to ask me. Also, if you start making reservations and have difficulty, let me know. I seem to remember there were a few hiccups we had.

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52 Photos: Stairs

This week’s prompt: stairs. For you, a few staircases and a brief story. First the pictures:

The staircase in the shopping center at the JR Train Station in Kyoto:

lighting design on JR Kyoto stairs

Spiral staircase in Lisbon:

spiral stair

Dragon staircase in Chiang Mai:

dragon staircase

Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon:

self-published

Ayutthaya Staircase:

stairs to ferry

Before I start telling you this story, I have to show you a picture of something else. It’s a bicycle:

Good luck bike #2

In 2011 I spent 3 months in SE Asia. The first place I went after I got my head sorted in Bangkok was Ayutthaya. It was a great place for me to rest and sink into a new rhythm. The guesthouse where I was staying had bikes available to rent. This was my trusty steed as I ventured out from the safety of my idyllic quarters. What you can’t tell from looking at the picture is how heavy that bike was. I’d guess it weighed around 25 pounds. Nothing like my lightweight 15-pound aluminum frame bike at home.

And yes, I did carry that damn thing down those damn stairs. And back up on the other side. And then again in reverse. And I felt quite pleased with my accomplishment.

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Vive la France

vino

On Bastille Day (or Le quatorze juillet as the French say), I mentioned something about the day online. My French/German friend Ollie told me they say joyeux or vive la France, instead of the greeting I gave. That reminded me of a very short story.

In 2006 I went to Paris for my birthday. Now that I’m une femme d’un certain age, I won’t reveal which one, but those of you playing at home probably already know. My sweetie and I had a fabulous time. We traipsed about, eating cheese and chocolate and visiting the various tourist sites. I think that’s a separate post.

The morning we left, we knew there was going to be a strike (or greve). We left for the airport early, because we weren’t certain how often the trains would be running, etc. As an American, I found this strike quite … well .. striking. People showed up to work. But they didn’t do their work. In America, they would picket outside the workplace. By doing it this way, no one else could come in and do the work, either.

Needless to say, we got all the way through and on to our flight (sans the corkscrew I had to leave behind). As we taxied to the runway, the pilot came on and gave an announcement in English. He said there was going to be a delay before we could take off. We were tired and grumpy and ready to go home. RIGHT NOW.

Then the pilot made the same announcement, but in French. Except instead of being vague, he said, “a cause du greve.” My French is middling, but I understood that! I turned to my girlfriend and said, “It’s because of the strike! Vive la revolution!

We sat back in our seats, content. We could wait.

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Where I’ve Been

faces in stone

I asked on Twitter this morning if anyone had any questions. One pal wanted to know every place I’ve traveled. Oof da. I must admit, I’ve always felt reticent to talk about where I’ve been. But I’m taking steps to share more of myself, and travel is a big piece, so I’m going to attempt to compile a full list.

I did make a list of the places I chose to travel, but this list is every place I’ve been. I’m going to stay at the country level, unless I’ve only been to one city within that country, in which case I will list both. For the United States, I’m going to try to list all the states I’ve visited.

North America

United States:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawai’i
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusets
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wyoming

Other Countries

  • The Bahamas
  • Canada
  • Grand Cayman Island, Caymans
  • Oaxaca, Mexico
  • St. Lucia

South America

  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Ecuador

Europe

  • Budapest, Hungary
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Portugal 1
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Switzerland
  • UK (England, Scotland)

Middle East

  • Israel

Asia

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Notes:

  1. the hyperlinks will take you the sets of pictures I’ve taken from those trips

We are Vikings!

Three years ago I spent the winter in SE Asia. I started, timid as a mouse, in Bangkok. It was not auspicious. I got bolder and left and went to Ayutthaya, to adjust to the climate and the culture and recover from the jet lag.

Ayutthaya is one of the ancient capitals of Thailand. It’s a beautiful place, and there are many ruins of old temples. The old city is surrounded by a river, so technically it’s on an island. One afternoon I took a long tail boat ride around the island:

longtail boat and driver

We stopped at several sites along the way, visiting beheaded Buddhas,

beheaded buddhas

Buddha heads,

buddha head

and admiring the jackfruit trees.

jackfruit

There were two Norwegian couples on the boat ride with me, one that was middle-aged and the other quite young. We all went to the night market for dinner. We sat outside, in the dark, sweating our asses off at 7:30 at night. Apparently the only food I took a picture of was this fish, which was delicious:

garlic fish

There was also morning glory vines and frog legs. And beer. Which was the point of telling this story. For those of you who know me, you know I’m not a big drinker. I mean, it takes me at least an hour to drink a pint of beer. On a good day. At the night market, they had beer – but only the 22-ounce bottles. I tried to ask if they had the 12-ounce once ones and everyone laughed at me. I recall asking the people I was eating dinner with how they could drink so much.

The young woman turned to me, lifted her bottle and cheerily said, “We are Wikings!”

We all had a good laugh.

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52 Photos: Crooked Lines

I have to admit, I was having a little trouble with the prompt this week. And then I started looking at my pictures from Yellowstone that I took last summer.

I LOVE this one of the wavy orange bacterial mats in the Grand Prismatic Spring disappearing into the fog:

grand prismatic spring

Here’s the same spring from a higher (and clearer) vantage point:

grand prismatic from above

This pinecone, with its zigs and zags:

pinecone

And finally, these burnt snags, pointing into infinity, but not straight away:

snags point to the sky

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