Thursday, December 28, 2017

Returning to America 5 - Out of Death Valley

I know I said the previous video blog was a "last look" at Death Valley, but there's still more. I went for a walk and we had to get out of the place!

Where next? One night at my parents' "home base". As I've mentioned several times, they're full-time RVers, but they maintain a semi-permanent site at a lovely RV park in Southern California. In this video, Mom takes us on a tour. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Death Valley - The last and best look

I'm on vacation in the USA! Back in my home country, surrounded by family, traveling in their RV. Here's some pics and a video from visiting Death Valley. 
Your humble blogger

This is what they call an alluvial fan



19th century charcoal kilns, preserved very well in the extremely arid and remote hills above Death Valley

In the distance, the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Amongst them is My Whitney, the highest point in the continental USA, a stone's throw away from Death Valley, the lowest point in North America

Enjoy the video. I liked how this one turned out. 


Monday, December 18, 2017

Return to America 3 - Death Valley

While on holiday, it’s quite natural to refer back to being at home, thinking to yourself, “I’ll do or get this or that when I’m home.” These thoughts come even if it’s just a temporary home like staying with your parents on holiday. When you live fulltime in an RV, as my parents do, there is no getting back home after a holiday. You carry your home with you! A few times during my time staying with my parents, I was confused by this basic fact.

That said, not every excursion requires driving your home around.
You may have noticed in a previous video that my folks tow a jeep behind their rig, and this comes in handy for getting around. Once parked and settled there at Furnace Creek Campgrounds, we began exploring Death Valley itself. My parents had been there several times. I’d only been once. It was May 2007, and I just passed through the place at night on my way from Yosemite to Las Vegas. Even at night, I remember the heat being terrible. The oppressive atmosphere and haze seemed unwelcoming, and I understood why the place was called what it was. Well, that was in May. In December, the place is quite different. Pleasantly cool in the morning, nowhere near hot in the daytime, we'd definitely picked the best time of year to visit. 

Come with us as we check out the sights by watching the video below.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Return to America 2 - Into the Valley of Death

Your humble blogger
It was an odd flight from Hangzhou to Los Angeles. I’d never heard of the airline I was flying: Sichuan Air, and I didn’t know what to expect. I suppose the first expectation anyone has have an airline is that it gets you from point A to point B, and Sichuan Air did that. As for some of the tangential stuff, it was a memorable flight. 

First off, you couldn’t hear the English announcements on the PA, which was fine, I suppose; they’re rarely of any consequence. Next, the food was weird. After a strange combination of breads, fruits and Chinese entrees I’ve never tasted before, the flight crew came down the aisle carrying a big steaming bamboo basket of something. I thought for sure it would be steaming hot towels for clean up. Instead, the flight attendant held out his tongs which clamped a whitish-brown lump and asked, “potato?”. Now, I like steamed potatoes as much as anyone, especially in a nice peanut sauce or the like. Eating an un-seasoned tuber with my hands at the end of a meal like some starchy dessert, I dunno. Maybe it’s a Sichuan thing.
Out of focus picture of the California coast - on fire!
I accepted, but didn’t finish my potato. For the morning meal, the same ritual was repeated, but the steamed vegetable was a carrot. Lastly, I was shocked as to how empty the flight was. An Airbus 330 carries 277 passengers maximum. There were maybe 50 on our flight. That left many opportunities for bold passengers to claim entire rows of the 4-across middle seats of this 2-aisle plane. I shoulda claimed one. Whereas I did have a 2-seat section at the window all to my own, trying to sleep on the plane achieved mixed results. 

Getting through immigration at LAX was like no other place I’ve arrived at. First step was an automated kiosk where it took your picture and scanned your passport. Then, you went through a secondary screening. During the interim, I’m assuming the computer system processed you for various risk factors and so when you got to talk to an agent at secondary, they already knew all about you. I’m assuming. 

One thing I noticed during the selection process of which secondary screening station you were sent to, there was definitely profiling going on. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Coming towards the point where an officer points you in one direction or another, every Chinese passenger got pointed off to the tables to have their bags opened and belongings inspected.
Every non-Chinese got pointed towards the counters where they just asked you a few simple questions and you were on your way.

My parents were at the gate to meet me when I emerged into the public areas, and we drove off to the Chino Hills, having an authentic Mexican feast along the way, to an RV park which made a good way-station to the next day’s travel to Death Valley. 

Some of the differences I noticed between the USA and SE Asia were expected. Yes, it’s a lot cleaner here. People drive more predictably and also a lot faster (LA traffic excepted). Others were unexpected. One of the things that struck me as noticeable on my immediate return was being able to fully understand everything that people around me were saying. What I mean is that it was kinda cool listening to the banter of the clerks at the 7/11. They were joking around, not talking to me, and I understood every bit of their communication. It’s not a thing that I thought of as something I’ve missed, and as simple as it is, it’s an enjoyable difference.

Waking up the freezing cold dawn of the Chino Hills,
my off-time internal clock got me out of bed before the sun was up. I think many people consider the topography of Southern California boring. With its brown hills, lack of greenery and desert appearance, some might call it barren. Me, I like it and I enjoyed recording it on the way up to Death Valley. 

Happy birthday, Dad!

Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Returning to America 1 - Yangon to Hangzhou

        The only part of my holiday travel that was I was not looking forward to was the long flight plan I had for the first day. There’s very little that’s fun about air travel these days, particularly international travel which requires not only long lines through security, but also immigration. Plane seats are comfortable enough I suppose, but in economy class, they’re not that conducive to getting a night’s sleep.
I always give my plane a good-luck pat before getting on.
Departing from Yangon on a Monday morning, it was a short flight over to Bangkok’s Don Meuang Airport. Then, however, I needed to get to the other airport in Bangkok, the newer one, which is so far away I’m surprised there aren’t flights connecting. A free shuttle made it a lot easier.

From Suvarnaboon (sp?) Airport, after a 5 hour layover (just enough to make the transit and get through all those lines), I flew via Air China to Hangchow, China’s fifth largest city, but when I’d never heard of before this trip.

I was looking forward to China. I’d never been there.
I was hoping that in my 4 and a half hour layover there, I’d get a bit of a feel for the place, even though I thought I would be stuck in the international terminal as I was only making a transit – I had a ticket for a connecting flight out of the country.

I’ve noticed that when you fly budget airlines as I do, it seems that more often than not, the plane doesn’t pull up to the terminal. Instead, it parks on the tarmac, you walk down some stairs and get on a bus to the terminal. It’s kinda annoying. Well, first think I noticed when I stepped off the plane was the cold! I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, and here in semi-tropical Hangchow, it was the middle of winter and the temperature was in the mid 40’s F! Brrr…

Shuffling through the airport’s small international terminal (I was
Air China's air safety Panda admonishes you not to smoke
in the toilet.
unimpressed), I immediately found myself at the lines for immigration. Wait a minute. Where’s the international transfer desk? See, unlike every other place I’ve ever been to, China doesn’t allow visas-on-arrival for Americans nor is there any exempt status. I get to the desk and explain to the lady what was going on.

She asks, “You don’t have a visa?”


“And you want to enter China?”

“No, not really, I just want to catch my plane to LAX at midnight.”

“And you have no paperwork showing you have a booking?”

“It’s on my phone” (I had foolishly left my paper itinerary on the shuttle bus in Bangkok).

She makes a gesture and another immigration officer comes and escorts me back to an office. It was ominous feeling. Being taken into a back room by a burly man in uniform in a notoriously oppressive communist country? I wasn’t THAT nervous, but still… He invited me to sit and then we went through the process of connecting my phone to the airport’s wifi. In the end I got my 72-hour transit stamp and left the airport… only to have to step right back into it again to wait for the plane to LA.

As I write this, I’m back in America.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Four Days Until America

This time next week, I'll be roaming around the wildfires of SoCal, being back in my home country for the first time in nearly five years. It's going to be the 3rd time in my life wherein I've returned back home after a long time overseas.

In 1986, I came back to America at the age of 17 having just spent about 5% of my entire life in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was weird. In my 11 months in Jakarta, my mind had gotten used to the pace, the sights and the manners of Southeast Asia's largest city. I felt weird being back in my home country. It took me a while to acculture myself to my own culture.

Ah, I was so young.

Next time I came back, I was 21 years old. Much more mature and having come off a year overseas where I had the most outrageous adventure of my life.. and I ended up selling shoes at Sears.

Now I'm coming back on holiday. When I was 17, I was amazed by the traffic patterns in the USA. American drivers drove in a discipline way. Lanes meant something.

One thing I've repeated over and over in my commentary on living overseas as an English teacher is that you have to maintain your sense of wonder. If you want to be happy, you'll need to recognize the novelty of every situation. OH WOW! A dead rat on the road! Cool! People without bathrooms bathing on the street! Someone selling something you never thought anyone would sell!

When I go back to Amerika, I think I'd be best served by maintaining a receptive mindset. While not as intense as it was when I was a returnee at the age of 17, there's gonna be things about my return that're going to be really weird. 

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