“Human Family” by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan

September 11th – September 18th 2016

Took a trip to Japan with my parents, sisters, bro-in-law, nephew after our visit to Malaysia. It’s not often I get to travel abroad with my entire family and I had such a blast with them.

I don’t think Japan is a stranger to anyone. We all know visitors go there for the food, culture, history, and to see “weird” stuff. No, I did not see any panty vending machines but I saw more drink vending machines on a single street in Shinjuku than I did my entire year in USA. I loved Japan and would like to go back another day.

Several highlights of my trip:

  • Cramming into a tiny sushi restaurant in Tsukiji and enjoying fresh sushi
  • Eating “tsukemen” (dipping ramen) on “ramen street”
  • Seeing many ppl on the streets all done up and wearing kimonos
  • Walking around on the “food floors” of malls
  • Seeing a Maricar procession at night
  • Eating “unadon
  • Walking the streets of Tokyo
Tsukemen (dipping ramen)
Tsukemen (dipping ramen)
Unadon
Unadon

Click here for more pics of Tokyo and Kyoto

Science saved my soul

As I sit here on the Hikari 462 shinkansen screaming past rural Japanese towns between Kyoto and Tokyo, I rewatch Phil Hellenes’s “Science saved my soul”. At the end of the video, Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” comes on. I gaze into the never ending sky and contemplate how small I am. How small we all are in relation to the universe. How we all came from the universe, the product of supernovas.

I want to savor every moment in this short life I have.

The boxer in the mirror

Life is a grind.

I often envision myself as a professional boxer, jumping rope in front of a mirror, body pouring sweat. I am staring into my own eyes, determined. I remind myself that preparation is hard work but I need to do it if I want to win the battles ahead of me.

This vision of myself lends me strength when the grind has worn my soul down.

The Spoils of Travel

I had previously volunteered at this retirement home teaching the residents how to use Facebook, Skype, YouTube etc. You know, trying to make them “hip” and “cool” except I was only making them as “hip” and as “cool” as myself, a tech-dinosaur in comparison to the current generation. After these lessons, I gave out an email address asking the residents to email me anytime they had technology-related questions, or if they needed help setting up their computers or phones.

A few months after my last official lesson, my cobweb-filled inbox receives an email asking for computer help. I pop over to the lady’s place and proceed to fumble my way through the process. As I chatted with her, I learned she was a well-traveled person. This was evident by all the Spoils of Travel I saw adorning her apartment. There were tiny statues of Buddha and Ganesh. Paintings from Cuba and Peru. Walking sticks from various countries in Asia. A variety of smaller knick-knacks and collectibles which looked foreign.

I started thinking about all the spoils I’ve collected throughout my travels, or lack thereof. There are the Nepali prayer flags. The unframed canvas painting from Malawi of a woman balancing a jug on her head, something I purchased because I gave in to the persistence of someone I wasn’t even sure was the actual artist. The…the… that’s all I got. My apartment is minimalistic in decor and charm. It is basic (read: boring). Anyone who visits will think I’m plain vanilla Ken and maybe I am. They’ll never see (and then ask) about the hand-drawn self-portrait created for me by a 7 year old orphan girl in the mountains in McLeod Ganj, or the rare thousand-year-old smuggled Egyptian papyrus art showing Horus and Seti embracing, or the rare gold medallion I won from a battle with a Shaolin priest in Henan province. They’ll never see any of it because I never obtained any of them. OK, so they are all fictionalized but you get the point.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve done my fair share of travel but through it all, I did not have room or money to buy many souvenirs. My backpack had finite space and mailing souvenirs home was not exactly economical nor convenient. If you think the US Postal Service is horribly inefficient, wait until you are in Tiny Village, India. All I have are my pictures (why did I not learn proper photography skills my first RTW trip? I’m too embarrassed to print and hang them up), my gradually-fading memories, and this blog.

Finding Equilibrium

With so many negative events happening in the world each day, and me spending most of the day taking in that negativity, I find myself spending more nights finding equilibrium by watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and reading books by Robert Fulghum. I was starting to forget that there is so much beauty in humanity; my travels have taught me that. Watching Parts Unknown (a form of travel that will make do for now while I plan for the real thing) and reading the wise, insightful words of old man Fulghum, helps me to end my days with a warm, hopeful smile.

Today, I “went” to Iran. 🙂

Keep Portland Weird

If you took Austin, shrunk it, surrounded it with lush greenery, put a snow-capped mountain in the backdrop, added convenient public transportation, added light rain, and threw in a beautiful beach just outside the city which required a scenic drive to get to, you’d get Portland. It had that laid-back weird eccentric vibe, much like Austin, but with more liberals and fewer gun-nuts.

Cannon Beach

The brunch scene is thriving there, as my Yelp search results can demonstrate. I did not get to try many spots (I am sure this would’ve been my daily Saturday morning routine if I lived there) but I did go to Pine State Biscuits, twice. Reggie Deluxe each time. Large, moist biscuits? Check. Lightly breaded fried chicken breast? Check. Fried egg? Check. Gravy? CHECK.

The Reggie Deluxe

I didn’t get many pictures of downtown Portland. I did find their chrome animal statues on drinking fountains and benches to be charming. The downtown area is small and one could easily walk across town in 30 minutes. The food trucks in Portland surround parking lots instead of being in a parking lot. The trucks served mainly foreign foods from Asia, with the odd German wurst and Greek gyro truck. However, after making a few rounds, I didn’t find anything especially interesting or unique. I will stipulate that I did not visit all the food truck areas in and around Portland, just the one downtown.

Other sites visited: Japanese Garden, Lan Su Chinese Garden, The Grotto (“Catholic garden”), Powell Books (“book garden”). Gardens. Zen. Knowledge. Peace.

I’d say Portland is one of my top 5 favorite North American cities, joining New York City, Montreal, Austin, and San Francisco. I’d love to go back again for another visit. Now, if only the flights weren’t so long.

And who else has watched Portlandia? It’s a brilliant show that pokes (friendly) fun at some of the eccentric personalities that gravitate to Portland; feminists, hipsters, LGBT, environmentalists etc.

Check out the rest of my pictures here:

http://whereisken.com/photos/Portland

Swimming in cenotes

Underground pools of fresh, clear, cold water. Stalactites and stalagmites. Fish.

It’s quite another experience swimming in a cenote. It’s recommended during the hottest and sunniest hours of the day though, because the sunlight that penetrates the holes in the roof is the only element warming up the waters.

Cenotes come in all varieties. The famous Cenote Dos Ojos required us to strap on some life vests and waterproof torchlights and follow a guide deep into a cavern. Cenote Zaci (in the center of Valladolid) was like any other outdoor public pool. (Try not to have a vivid imagination of sea monsters as it’s wide and very deep in the center and you can’t see the bottom.) Cenote Samula and Xkeken are at the ends of steps that lead deep into the underground.

Overall, a very new experience for me, one that is truly unique to Mexico.

Cenote Zaci
Cenote Samula (or was it Xkeken?)