Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of Asia

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

The countries are listed in the order in which I first visited them.

Hong Kong

Official Name: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China; Capital: Hong Kong; Language: Chinese (mostly Cantonese), English; Country Code: HK; Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)

My first visit there was in 1979, when it was still under British rule. I was travelling with my wife, and it was the first time we'd been outside our country of birth, Australia. We had a good look around Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and a bit of the New Territories. My second visit was more than 20 years later, after control had been transferred to the Chinese.

[Diary] United Airlines was offering a great fare to Hong Kong, and since I had nothing better to do, I booked a ticket to go and get some Chinese take-away food. Flight UA829, a Boeing 747-400 (Jumbo Jet, 2 aisles and 9 seats across), departed Chicago on time at 3:05 pm about one-third full, allowing people to take over up to three seats. I had exit seat 46A. Flying time was predicted to be 15:40 hours, possibly my longest ever non-stop flight. Distance, 7,787 miles. (My previous longest flights were Washington DC to Tokyo and LA/San Francisco to Sydney.) ETA was 7:15 pm the next day.

Five hours into the flight we were over the frozen Beaufort Sea just beyond the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Canada. Although on a map it might look like one would fly west and then south to get to Hong Kong from Chicago, we flew due north, over the Arctic. Whatever it takes to save money on the fuel bill, which, these days, is very high for one of these planes. As usual, in between movies, route maps at various magnifications were shown to let us know where we were. Seeing the earth from the North Pole perspective is quite different. Somewhere around there, we crossed the International Date Line, and moved from Friday to Saturday.

[Diary] I rode the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Tseun Wan line (red line) from Jordan station next to my hotel in Kowloon to Central on Hong Kong Island. I then walked to the Peak Tram terminal. It was quite hot and very humid. There was a long line for the tram, but the line moved quickly. The ride was very steep, and I shot video out the rear window. At the top, I walked around to some overlooks, strolled through a small shopping center, and had a milkshake at McDonalds. The views over the downtown area, across the harbor, and on the south side of the island were interesting, but somewhat clouded in a humid haze.

From there, I went back down the mountain to Hong Kong Park, a wonderful addition to the city. There is a huge aviary with many exotic parrots. One walks through it on platforms raised high in the trees. The whole thing is built into the side of a hill. The gardens are magnificent, and contain a large waterfall, some large ponds, wading birds, fish, and many turtles. Next door, there is a museum of tea ware, which I perused a while, as much to get into an air-conditioned place as for the exhibits.

[Diary] I strolled along the promenade on the south bank of Kowloon, and shot some video and stills of the harbor. I also chatted with a young English couple who had just arrived after four months in Australia. I consumed ice cream while watching the continuous harbor traffic.

From there, it was on to the Star Ferry terminal and surrounding shops. Then I went north through Kowloon Park back to my hotel, stopping off to buy some emergency rations. In my room, I snacked and read the daily English newspaper.

[Diary] Since my room came with a hot water kettle, I bought a packet of noodles and ate in. At 7:30 pm, I took the MTR south one stop and walked to the promenade to see the nightly 8-pm laser light show on the high-rise buildings across the harbor on Hong Kong Island. Then it was back home via the MTR. I walked 4–5 blocks along the famed Temple Street Night Market near my hotel. There were wall-to-wall stalls selling clothing, footwear, electronics, and bootleg CDs and DVDs.

[Diary] At the ferry terminal, I met a couple from Spain who were on the same tour as me. We rode first class on the ferry, which was called Xin Xing, departing at 10:30 for Mui Wo on Lantau Island. After a 15-minute wait, the three of us, seven Dutch tourists and their Flemish guide, two Chinese ladies and another few couples boarded the air-conditioned minibus and set off.

The first stop was a nice beach, where we spent 15 minutes. (Like most beaches there, it had a shark net around the swimming area.) The second stop was the Po Lin monastery and huge Tian Tan Buddha statue. We consumed an "interesting" vegetarian lunch, and spent two hours there. The final stop was the fishing village of Tai O, where houses are built on stilts over the water. It was rather rundown and much more like what I think of with respect to a Chinese village. Many stalls sold live and dried fish, drinks, and tourist junk. The ice cream and cream soda were definitely the best things in town. The hour there was more than enough.

[Diary] I went to the old Murray House building that has been pulled apart, stone by stone, transported down here from the city, and reassembled. Unfortunately, the instructions for how to do this were poorly recorded, and it took three years to figure out how to put it back together. And then they had six large columns spare, so they stuck them out front in a row.

Macao

Official Name: Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China; Capital: Macau; Language: Chinese (various dialects), Portuguese, Macanese; Country Code: MO; Currency: Macanese pataca (MOP)

I spent a day there in 1979 while visiting Hong Kong. At the time, Macao was still a Portuguese colony. (Since then, control has reverted to the Chinese.) About the only thing I remember from that underwhelming day was that such day trips were all about "casinos and shopping", neither of which interested me or my wife. Frankly, we went because "it was there" and this was the start of our first trip abroad. I definitely remember one, quite unsettling aspect, however. On arrival, we had to leave our passports with the immigration office, and then collect them when we caught the ferry back to Hong Kong that evening. Although I'd only recently gotten my first passport, being separated from it in an unknown place didn't seem like a good idea.

Singapore

Official Name: Republic of Singapore; Capital: Singapore; Language: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil; Country Code: SG; Currency: Singapore dollar (SGD)

My first visit there was in 1979, as a tourist. My second was a business trip more than 25 years later, by which time it was even more modernized; it had also lost some of its charm. Being right on the equator, the weather stays rather constant. (Can you say "Bloody HUMID"?)

My wife and I took several bus tours around parts of the island and over into southern Malaysia. One highlight was a delightful ride in a trishaw, a cart pulled by a wiry man on a bicycle. As he pointed out interesting places and things, he added emphasis by appending "No bullshit!" to each of his statements. He asked if we were on our honeymoon, and we replied that we'd been married three years. Then he asked how many children we had. When my wife replied, "None", he looked me up and down several times and then said to my wife, "He no good!" We told him we'd heard that a good place to eat was the Satay Club, and could he drop us there. Now the name had conjured up in our minds a fancy place possibly with a dress code, but when he dropped us at a public park, we learned it was an open-air place filled with grandfather-and-grandson pairs running BBQs. For a small amount of money, we feasted on satays with hot peanut sauce, salad and drinks. It was quite a fancy picnic.

[Diary] From my home in Northern Virginia to my hotel room in Singapore, it had taken 36½ hours, which, as best as I can recall, was the longest I'd taken to get anywhere in one trip. I don't recommend it. [I'd gone via Sydney, Australia.]

I unpacked and had a wonderfully hot shower. I thought that, perhaps, I'd have to burn the clothes I'd traveled in, but, instead, simply "stood them up in the corner". I connected to the outside world to find that my email had managed to follow me all the way to Singapore; surprise!

I got a map from the front desk, got some shopping and meal advice, and walked out into the very humid evening. Within 100 yards, I'd been propositioned at least 10 times by all kinds of young women wanting to "escort" me. I didn't stop to find out exactly what that meant, however.

In one building, I encountered more than a few exotic-looking "ladies" with very low necklines and very short hemlines. As I rode an elevator with several of them, I got a look up close—it was hard not to—and I decided that, in all probability, at least some of them were not of the female species.

Malaysia

Official Name: Malaysia; Capital: Kuala Lumpur; Language: Malaysian, English; Country Code: MY; Currency: Ringgit (MYR)

In 1979, I spent five days in and around the capital, in Malacca to the south, and on Penang Island to the north. Movies were very cheap and we saw one each day. For the premier of Superman, the shows were all sold out, so we bought tickets from a scalper. Even then the cost, at least by our standards, was still cheap. One interesting thing was that most people in attendance did not speak English; instead, they were reading one of the three sets of subtitles that covered the bottom half of the screen, while talking to each other. That made it hard for those few of us native-English speakers to hear the audio.

Thailand

Official Name: Kingdom of Thailand; Capital: Bangkok; Language: Thai; Country Code: TH; Currency: Baht (THB)

It was June 1979, and it was a surprise to find the Bangkok airport "occupied" by armed troops. However, over the years, there have been regular "forced" changes of government. In any event, it had no adverse impact on our visit.

A highlight of our visit was a boat tour around Bangkok's extensive canal system. At Pattaya Beach (a popular place for R&R for Allied soldiers during the Vietnam War), I tried my hand at parasailing. We spent an interesting day visiting Kanchanaburi, site of the infamous WWII prison camps and the Bridge over the River Kwai.

India

Official Name: Republic of India; Capital: New Delhi; Language: Hindi, English; Country Code: IN; Currency: Indian rupee (INR)

We arrived in Bombay in June 1979 with the romantic idea of getting a rail pass and spending some weeks traveling the countryside. Instead, we spent much of the one day there trying to find a flight out. We were ticketed next for Athens, Greece, but as we couldn't get a flight there for days, we opted to bypass that city and go to Rome, Italy, instead. [Thirty five years later, I still haven't been to Greece.]

Japan

See the separate essay from August 2014, Travel – Memories of Japan.

South Korea

Official Name: Republic of Korea; Capital: Seoul; Language: Korean; Country Code: KR; Currency: South Korean won (KRW)

I've had four trips there, three to the southern island of Jeju (sometimes written Cheju), and one to Busan.

[Diary] This trip, I was off on a 14-day trip around the world (take that, Phileas Fogg), taking in Milan, Italy, and then Jeju, Korea. Frankly, it would have been preferable to go west rather than east, but, unfortunately, that wasn't an option. There was one good bit of news, however; I was seated in Business Class all the way.

Now, for a trip like this one must prepare in advance. In my case, I had a 6-day "practice" trip, going west, to Yokohama, Japan, 13 hours non-stop each way. I got back from that little jaunt six days before this new trip started. So just when I'd nearly recovered from that big time change, I was heading off in the opposite direction for another.

… I arrived at my hotel as the sun started to set. Check in was smooth, and I made my way to my room. The new building had cavernous lobbies, lots of large paintings and sculptures, marble everywhere, and absolutely no-one in sight. It looked rather like a sanitarium for very wealthy people. You know, the sort of place one goes when one is a bit run down from too many dinner parties and polo events.

[Diary] If there is one thing I've learned from travel in Asia, is, "Never trust a toilet that plugs into an electrical outlet!" So, I disabled that (and its seat heater). However, to activate the room's lights, I needed to insert my room key into a slot on the wall. Yet each time I did that, my toilet's electronics re-booted! Can you say, "Over-engineered?" There was also an assortment of emergency gear, including a harness one could strap on and be lowered down the side of the building, but I never did figure out where one went to actually open a window large enough to climb out.

[Diary] Breakfast was included in the room rate and I was at the restaurant just before opening time, at 7 am. It was buffet style with the usual Asian and Western offerings along with a chef cooking custom eggs and omelets. While the Asians dug into their soups, fish, and salad, I looked at the cereal, sausage, and bacon. One thing that caught my eye as something to avoid, were the dark-black slices of preserved duck eggs. I'd have to be very hungry and eating in the dark before I'd put some of that in my mouth!

[Diary] At 6:30 pm, the social event started with a cocktail reception. At 7 o'clock, we moved into the banquet room, which was setup with circular tables each set for seven people. I sat with an American colleague of Chinese descent, and delegates from Ireland and Japan, among others. The meal involved 10 small courses of Korean food, which we ate with chopsticks. A spoon was also provided. So, just what does one get at a 10-course Korean banquet? 1. Abalone porridge; 2. Rice noodles and vegetables with sesame oil; 3. Poached baby abalone, green lettuce, soy vinaigrette; 4. Pan-fried fish and vegetable with egg batter; 5. Steamed king prawn; 6. Korean traditional buckwheat rolls with seafood and vegetables; 7. Grilled USA beef short ribs; 8. Sea weed and sea urchin roe soup; 9. Steamed rice and condiments; and 10. Rice punch and fresh fruit.

The entertainment part came in two stages, the first piece of which was a musical performance by a group in traditional dress playing traditional instruments plus a piano. Most of their music was modern, however. A woman "sang" a song that sounded pretty much to me like screeching, and at the end, I clapped because it was over!

China

Official Name: People's Republic of China; Capital: Beijing (formerly known as Peking); Language: Chinese (various dialects) and others; Country Code: CN; Currency: Renminbi (or yuan) (CNY)

I've had one visit to the mainland, in December; it was bloody freezing outdoors!

[Diary] I went outside the Beijing Airport (PEK) to the taxi line where it was below freezing. I drew a young guy who apparently wanted to drive in the Indianapolis 500, and he showed me his "skills" on the way to my hotel. Throughout the 30-minute ride, I doubt we stayed in the same lane more than 15 seconds (I kid you not), and he was tailgating cars at 120 kph! To make it interesting, I couldn't find the piece of my seatbelt to clip my harness in. I found it best not to look at the road ahead and to sit back and think happy thoughts, like, "Was my will up to date?"

[Diary] A local colleague and his wife arrived and we drove by the Olympic village, through Tiananmen Square, and then to a large shopping district where we walked through local markets, department stores, and the county's biggest bookstore. Along the way, we stopped off for lunch at—surprise—a Chinese restaurant. Then it was on to a large supermarket to lay in a few supplies for my kitchen.

[Diary] Our tour bus parked down a small mountain from the Great Wall. To get near the top we each sat in a sled-like device and were pulled up 20 people at a time, through a tunnel and then out in the vicious cold wind. At the end, we were right next to the base of a section of wall, where the really serious work began. The goal was to hike/climb to the top-most point, which didn't seem all that far away. And, horizontally speaking, it wasn't. But the vertical climb was a different matter, especially as we not only had to go up, but over each rise, we seemed to go way down again. I decided to concentrate on the walk rather than take pictures and video, and to do those on the way back. The wall is one heck of a structure and was built over a 2,000+-year period. Although it was supposed to keep out the Mongol hordes, I kept asking myself why the Mongols would want to attack over those mountains anyway even if no wall existed. (I think it was built simply as a way to keep unemployment down!) Although the whole walk was very steep, I did okay on the sections that had steps. At least they were level and I could rest occasionally. However, some parts were just flat stones at a steep angle, and coming down on those was difficult. The surrounding countryside was harsh, almost semi-desert. I had dressed warmly with a knitted cap and windproof hood over that, plus gloves. However, each time I took my gloves off to take pictures or video, my hands got cold very quickly.

[Diary] Another local friend and colleague arrived at my hotel with a car and driver. We drove to Tiananmen Square, the world largest square. It was built after the Chinese Revolution and occupies the space between the main South gate of the city and the main North gate, just on the edge of the Forbidden City. The driver dropped us in front of the People's Congress building. We crossed the street and went through a security checkpoint into the square where we went to Chairman Mao's mausoleum, but it was closed on Mondays. Don't you just hate that when that happens? We walked all around the square and looked at the elaborate gates and the buildings that housed them. On the north side, we went through three sets of city gates and their accompanying plazas. In one plaza, we watched groups of soldiers engaged in some marching drills.

After lunch, we drove to the Olympic Park where the driver dropped us near the main Bird's Nest stadium. We got admission tickets and went inside for a look around. The 80,000 seat stadium was functional as well as a piece of art. During the games, an athletic track went around the ground while the inside space served as a soccer field, among other things. However, now, it was covered in man-made snow, which was being produced by a number of machines. A large crew was setting up for a Snow Festival. After a short walk around the plaza, we headed to the Blue Cube, a large cube-like building that housed the water sports. It contains a large swimming area with wave pool, and many people were swimming there. The public can also use the practice pool, and a number of people were swimming laps. The main pool is only used for competitions and is next to the diving pool.

[Diary] First stop was the Summer Palace, a place where emperors "escaped" the Forbidden City from spring to late summer. It consisted of some 600 acres three quarters being a man-made lake the soil and mud from which had been used to build a very large hill. The lake was frozen over and the wind started to blow. I looked around a few buildings, but when I heard music and singing, I made my way up a hill to locate the source. I found a very enthusiastic group of pensioners and others singing from songbooks. A choir performed and a number of musicians played wind instruments and drums. I captured a whole song on video. An elderly man approached me and asked me where I was from, shook my hand vigorously, and welcomed me to China and Beijing.

After lunch, we drove to the Forbidden City where the extended families of 20+ royal dynasties lived for some hundreds of years, during which time it was off-limits to all others. A series of very large and elaborate gates lead to the inner sanctums. There are more than 8,000 rooms! I shot some video, but each gate or door led to an even bigger and fancier set of rooms and courtyards that it really was too much. Very quickly, I had overdosed. It certainly was impressive, however. It has only been open to the public for 20+ years.

Then, it was on to the Temple of Heaven, a place that was visited twice each year by the emperor who took part in major ceremonies to pray for a good harvest and on the winter solstice to pray for a good next season. Nearby was a teahouse, and we dropped in for a tea ceremony. The hostess explained the process and prepared five different teas for us to taste. I particularly liked the leeche and rose petal tea. The staff tried hard to sell us all kinds of tea and tea-related utensils, but the prices were quite high.

[Diary] I scanned through some articles in the China Daily, and came across the following text in relation to American diplomacy: "Historians know well that the US has never been half as idealistic as it likes to see itself; … The spirit invoked by the Statue of Liberty, embracing the poor and huddled masses, still shines brighter that all the lights in new York City, but somewhere during the transition from an ordinary nation to an overextended military power, the US lost touch with its better angels and set itself on the road to being the new Rome." Hmm, some food for thought. "Bloody Communist propaganda", you say? But no, it was written by one Phillip J. Cunningham, a visiting fellow at Cornell University, New York.

Conclusion

For the most part, I've enjoyed my time in Asia. I've found the people to be very industrious and friendly. One important lesson I learned there during my very first trip is that not all red sauces are ketchup!

Bucket List: A couple of destinations intrigue me: Ankor Wat, Cambodia and the tiny country of Bhutan.

A Little Bit of Royalty

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Having been born in the Antipodes, I was raised a subject of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. As Australia was so poor, we had to share her with quite a few other countries (which, apparently, couldn't afford their own queen either, given the manner in which she was accustomed to living!): Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and last, and certainly least (says the irreverent Aussie), the United Kingdom. Apparently, a little bit of queen goes a long way.

From my early school days I remember learning the following:

William the first was the first of our kings
Not counting the Ethelreds Egberts and things
He had himself crowned and anointed and blessed
In ten-sixty - I needn't tell you the rest.

An alternate—and seemingly more correct—fourth line is, "At Westminster Abbey in 1066". Twenty eight more lines follow, and you can find them all (including variations and related rhymes) by searching the internet for the first line.

In 2009, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Normandy, France. While touring Caen, my first stop was Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey) and the adjoining abbey church Saint-Etienne, which William the Conqueror started building in 1064. He was buried there in 1087 and at his graveside I paid my respects telling him that he wouldn't believe how the Brits had let things go since his day. And except for the Channel Islands, they didn't even own Normandy anymore! And as for their international cricket team, what can I say!

For the purposes of this essay, I consider royalty to be the monarchs, their spouses, and their issue (direct descendants). [A well-known saying goes something like this, "The primary duty of the wife of a king/prince/lord/etc. is to bear him an heir and a spare!] Of course, not all monarchs inherited their position; some simply took it, which in many cases is what they thought God had really intended!

Now if you want to know about all those second- and third-tier courtiers, see Burke's Peerage, "founded by John Burke in London in 1826, records the genealogy and heraldry of the Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Landed Gentry of the United Kingdom, the historical families of Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations, the Imperial, Royal and Mediatised families of Europe and Latin America, the Presidential and distinguished families of the United States, the ruling families of Africa and the Middle East and other prominent families worldwide."

Royalty Today

According to Wikipedia, "As of July 2013, there are 26 active sovereign monarchies in the world – kings, queens, sultans, emperors, emirs and others – who rule or reign over 43 countries in all."

Although I am most familiar with the British royal family, after 35 years of international travel I've experienced a bit of life under, read about, talked to subjects of, and gotten more than a little interested in, a number of other families. These include: Danish Royal Family (complete with an Aussie Crown Princess, Mary), Dutch Royal Family, Japanese Imperial Family, Jordanian Royal Family, and Thai Royal Family.

A few monarchies are absolute, in which case, a statement from the king of "Off with his head!" may well result in that happening, really! Most are constitutional. According to Wikipedia, "The most recent[update] country to transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy was Bhutan, in 2007-8."

Royalty's Function in Today's Society

There's no denying that despite the typically high cost of supporting a royal family — all the way down to the under-butlers, assistants to the assistant cooks, gardeners' apprentices, and the man whose puts the paste on Prince Charles' toothbrush — in many cases, there is a huge payback from related tourism. For example, required sites during one's first trip to London include the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Horse Guards on the Mall, Westminster Abbey, and The Tower of London, and if you go a little bit out of the city, Windsor Castle and, my favorite by far, Hampton Court Palace.

The head of a royal family is the country's Head of State, which in constitutional monarchies, is a non-political role. In times of crisis, this role can be most important. For example, it is impossible to think how Thailand might be today after all those military coups, if it hadn't been for the presence of the extremely popular and long-serving King Bhumibol. The Emperor of Japan has also played key roles over time especially in the ending of WWII in the Pacific. And during the bombing of London in WWII, the appearance in the streets of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth gave the people hope.

Many countries, including democracies, do not have what we Americans call—in fact demand—Separation of Church and State. The Head of State in a monarchy is often the head of that country's National Church. For example, in the UK it's the Church of England; in Denmark, the monarch is the supreme authority of the Church of Denmark, but not the head; in Norway, the monarch is High Protector of the Church of Norway; in Japan, the Emperor is the highest authority of the Shinto religion. Some constitutions prohibit a monarch or Crown Prince or Princess from marrying "outside the faith". (Count the number of Catholic Queens of England of late!)

A Head of State might also be the commander-in-chief of a country's military; Norway is one example. [For a tale of how a king should not design a naval ship, read about the King of Sweden's Vasa, a must-see if you get to Stockholm.]

If you've watched enough British TV series, you'll have seen examples of businesses that provide services to certain members of the royal family and their official residences. As such, they are entitled to announce things like, "Moat builders" or "Beheading axe makers", "By appointment to His Majesty …" Such approval requires a Royal warrants of appointment; click here to read about such for various royal families. Clearly, qualifying for such a right lends huge prestige to the supplier.

Who's the King of the Castle?

The title of a ruler varies; for example:

  • Kingdom: King and Queen. The king of Persia (and Iran) was a Shah, his wife a Shahbanu. Egypt had its Pharaoh and Great Royal Wife. However, Cleopatra, who ruled in her own right, is generally called Queen.
  • Empire: Emperor and Empress, although the head of the British Empire did not carry that title, per se. That said, Queen Victoria was the Empress of India. Russia has its Tsar (Czar) and Tsarina. Even though Japan is no longer an empire, it still has an emperor (sometimes referred to as a Mikado).
  • Duchy: Duke and Duchess, as in Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy, so has a Grand Duke.
  • Principality: Liechtenstein has a Prince, as does Monaco. The co-principality of Andorra has two co-Princes, one a Roman Catholic Bishop from Spain; the other the President of France. Arab emirates have their emir and emira. And sultanates have their sultan and sultana.

Royal Consorts

A King's wife is usually called a Queen, although the full title is sometimes Queen Consort.

A Queen who rules in her own right is a Queen Regnant. Her husband is typically called Prince Consort, although King Consort has existed. (Examples are Victoria and Elizabeth II, and their respective husbands, Albert and Phillip.)

If for whatever reason, the wife of a King isn't called Queen, she might be Princess Consort. (Since Prince Charles' marriage to Camilla, there has been lots of discussion about whether or not she could become Queen on his ascent to the British throne. As such, she might be a candidate for this title.)

Lines of Succession

Historically, and still the case in some royal families, when the head of the royal family dies or abdicates, the next in line is the oldest living son, and (typically) then down the line of daughters. This is called primogeniture. According to Wikipedia, "The United Kingdom passed legislation to establish gender-blind succession in 2013 but delayed implementation until the 15 other countries which share the same monarch effect similar changes in their succession laws."

Japan uses strict agnatic primogeniture. As the Japanese Crown Prince and Princess have only one child, a daughter, there are debates as to whether she will ever become Head of State.

Giving it All Up

Apparently, life at the top isn't all it's cracked up to be, and some rulers abdicate, either by choice or by force. In the past couple of years, a number of long-term monarchs have stepped down:

  • In the Netherlands, Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her son, Willem-Alexander, the first Dutch king in more than 120 years. Her mother, Juliana, did likewise for her, and her grandmother, Wilhelmina, abdicated in favor of Juliana. After her abdication, Beatrix reverted to being a mere Princess.
  • In Spain, King Juan Carlos abdicated in favor of his son, Felipe VI. It seems that the former king retains the title of King.
  • In Belgium, King Albert II stepped down in favor of his son Philippe. He too retains the title of King. (Albert's father, Leopold III, also abdicated.)

In the English-speaking world, probably the best known and talked about is the abdication of Edward VIII (whose names were Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David). According to Wikipedia, "In 1936, a constitutional crisis in the British Empire was caused by King-Emperor Edward VIII's proposal to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who was divorced from her first husband and was pursuing a divorce of her second." The crisis had much to do with Edward's being head of the Church of England, which, at that time, did not permit divorced people to remarry if their former spouses were still alive. On abdication, the once-King became His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor.

Norodom Sihanouk, the King of Cambodia, abdicated twice. He finally became His Majesty, The King Father.

Dowagers

When the head of the royal household dies or abdicates, what title does their spouse have? If the departed ruler is a woman, their spouse would not have had the title King or Emperor, for example, so they retain their existing title. In the case of departing men, their spouses need to be distinguished from the wife of any in-coming male ruler.

The best-known case in the English-speaking world is Queen Elizabeth II's mother, the former Queen Elizabeth. She simply became known as "Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother." Strictly speaking, she was a dowager Queen. The title empress dowager is equivalent. A living queen dowager is Noor, widow of Jordan's King Hussein, and an American born in Washington DC.

Lasting Legacies

More than a few royals are remembered—some fondly and others not so—long after their passing. In some cases, thousands of years after. Here's a list of those that immediately came to my mind, in no particular order (a few of them might be considered rulers who were not royals, in some sense):

And last, but certain not least, there's THE King, Elvis Presley.

These rulers are joined by some equally famous ones from fiction:

More on fictional monarchs can be found here.

Odds and Ends

For a very funny take on Queen Elizabeth I, see Black Adder II. Likewise for Black Adder the Third, which revolves around the butler to the Prince of Wales, the Crown Prince of England.

If you are interested in reading about a couple of "royal" oddities, take a look at the following:

  • The Channel Islands, and how the loyal toast there is to, "The Queen, our Duke"; and
  • Hutt River Province, where Prince Leonard claims to rule an independent sovereign state in Australia. For more about micro nations, click here.

Conclusion

Having dual citizenship, I carry two passports when I travel abroad. Being born into the British Commonwealth, I am still a subject of Her Majesty. However, I never did swear any oaths to her (at least none that I can repeat here). However, when I became a US Citizen (see my essay from April 2010), I swore the following: I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen. Furthermore, should She ever grant me my well-deserved knighthood, I won't be able to use the title Sir within the US.

A few humorous notes: My son once told me that Marie Antoinette was misunderstood when she spoke of the starving peasants. Apparently, what she meant to say was, "Let them eat cake, with ice cream!" And from various sources, when told that "The peasants are revolting!" the reply was, "They certainly are!"

And in my usual, irreverent Aussie style, I recall how we kids sang a variation on our national anthem, which started like this: "God save our gracious cat, feed it on bread and fat, God save our cat." (Interestingly, the US has a popular song, "My Country 'Tis of Thee", which uses the same tune.

By the way, William the Conqueror's name was actually Guillaume. But you know how those immigration officials are! No sooner had he landed at Hastings, and they asked him his name, they said, "Thank you very much for sharing that with us, but we'll call you Bill; OK?"

Whenever I visit my dear friend Günter in his native Germany, and we sit outside in nice weather, eating and drinking, he often says, "Oh it's good to be king!" Of course, since my name, Rex, is Latin for King, I know just what he means.

Travel: Memories of the Eastern Bloc

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I've visited a number of countries that were formerly part of the Soviet sphere of influence, but only after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Russia

Official Name: Russian Federation (Россия); Capital: Moscow; Language: Russian; Country Code: RU; Currency: Ruble (RUB)

In 1992, I spent two weeks in St. Petersburg delivering a series of lectures and running some workshops for a local university. My wife and 8-year-old son accompanied me (both traveling on business visas, but that's another story). We stayed in an unloved apartment building and had a translator and guide assigned to us. The Soviet Era was not long gone and the times were interesting. On the street, I bought a T-shirt that said in Russian, "I was an agent of the KGB". While there was a free-market system for most things, we had to line up at a government-controlled store to buy bread. We introduced our guide (who was to become a long-time friend) to the Decadent West via pizza and Black Forest cake eaten in restaurants that took only hard currency cash (English pounds, US dollars, or Deutsch marks) or credit cards.

Attendees to my series of lectures had to pay something like 25% of their monthly income, and due to extreme inefficiencies in paper production, we had a limited print run of thin handouts. The people were very eager for information about all kinds of software and hardware. For my efforts, I got paid in rubles, the total of which amounted to about US$10. I used that to buy chocolates for the support staff.

While there, I negotiated to have two professors do a Russian translation of one of my textbooks, and I bought them a PC on which to do the work.

Estonia

Official Name: Republic of Estonia (Eesti Vabariik); Capital: Tallinn; Language: Estonian; Country Code: EE; Currency: Euro (EUR), formerly kroon

After attending a conference in Lapland, Finland, my wife and I hopped over to Estonia for nine days, seven of which were spent with host families. It was a great experience.

[Diary] The high-speed ferry [from Helsinki] was booked out in Economy Class, so we bought Business Class tickets; however, quality food and drink were included, and the lounge was very comfortable. We ate heartily, and then the wind came, and it blew very hard making serious waves. Let's just say that I sat very still, eyes closed, dripping with perspiration, trying hard to hold on to my food, but to no avail. (Don't you just hate that when that happens?) I can say, however, that the Business Class toilets were very nice, and I spent quite some time there turning various shades of green.

… We drove to the large island of Saaremaa. During Soviet times, this island had some sort of special military status, but it remained different from a cultural point of view. Then we drove another 90 minutes, finally pulling off the main highway at an unmarked dirt track into the forest. The first half of it was quite rough from trucks hauling logs. Eventually, we arrived at the old farm our hosts had bought the previous year. It had electricity, but that's about it. The well water was not drinkable, and there was an outhouse. It had been abandoned for seven years, and without constant attention, had deteriorated quite a bit. We organized some bedding on the floor and went to sleep quite quickly.

[Diary] [It was a working holiday, so] We started work. Jenny and I began by cutting firewood, me with a small ax and she breaking kindling. Then host Heike and I hooked up an electric pump to the well to see how it worked. Then we had to clear some large downed trees from the edge of a field, so the tractor could cut the grass near the fence. Meanwhile, Jenny and host Kristel painted the outhouse and small shed, and did other jobs around the place. We worked until dusk, and then cleaned up to eat. Jenny and I cooked diced pork in an Asian rice-and-vegetable mix. It all disappeared rather quickly. Then we heated water in a bucket on the single hotplate, and took care of our communal cleaning, both cooking/eating things as well as ourselves. There was no bathroom or sink, just a table, four chairs, a woodstove, and buckets for fetching water from the well. We were camping indoors!

In the yard, there was an old, dead tree trunk, which housed a nest of large wasps. And, just for fun, another colony had a nest in the roof of the main house, so we had to pay attention when walking outside. Snakes were also mentioned, but we hadn't yet had the pleasure of meeting any.

[Diary] Tartu is the second largest city in Estonia, with 100,000 people. It has the largest university and is the home of the Supreme Court. Like Tallinn, it had also been a member of the Hanseatic League. We decided to splash out and treat ourselves to some luxury, so we headed for the Pallas hotel where we chose a 3-room suite. The suites were painted by art students from the university in the style of a famous Estonian artist. Ours had a lot of bright red, dark blue, yellow, black and white, splashed all over the walls and ceilings. My first reaction was "I'd died and gone to Hell!" It certainly was different. The carpet was dark blue, and the bathroom had grey floor tiles and black wall tiles all the way up to the ceiling. I think this would have made a great place for a rock band to stay.

[Diary] [At our host's place,] We breakfasted on toasted sandwiches and tea, all taken in a bright airy little kitchen, set amongst a menagerie of appliances: a French toaster, a Swedish fridge, a Japanese microwave oven, a Dutch coffee maker, and some Russian-made gadgets.

[Diary] We visited a forester who lived in a government apartment, but had bought land and was renovating a large log house on that property. That day, the family and friends were picking potatoes he cultivated near the house. We arrived around 11 am and got our work orders. The forester ran the tractor with digger up a row, and we followed along with buckets, picking up the potatoes on the surface as well as those buried a little below. We then put them into bags. After two hours, we took a tea break, then emptied the bags into a shed and went back to picking. Around 3 pm, food arrived and we settled down for a big meal of cabbage with minced meat and potatoes. The weather was glorious as was the wild strawberry tea.

Poland

Official Name: Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska); Capital: Warsaw; Language: Polish; Country Code: PL; Currency: Złoty (PLN)

[Diary] My friend Ewa (pronounced Eva) meet me at the Poznan train station. We drove to her country house, a 2-story cottage with a garden. We opened the doors and windows to let the fresh air in, and set up a table on the verandah where we ate bread and honey while drinking tea. It was all veddy sophisticated, wot! The cultural highlight of the day was a visit to a small village that had a very old wooden church, and that very night, it would be packed for a concert of "Musica Sacra and Musica Profana", Music, Sacred and Profane.

[Diary] I brought out the pages I'd photocopied from my Jaeschke family book in Australia that traced my ancestors back to Posen Province of Prussia. The city of Posen is now called Poznan, and it is Polish. Johann Georg Jaeschke and his first wife had eight children. Some years after his wife died, he married again, but produced no further children. In 1839, because of religious differences, he took his wife and children to Hamburg where they caught the ship Catherina and sailed to Adelaide, the capital of the new state of South Australia. [It had been created in 1836 as a free state; there were no convict settlers. Subsequently, many thousands of German-Speaking Prussians from this area emigrated there where they spoke German for 100 years, until WWII made it unfashionable. My mother's family emigrated from Silesia, now southern Poland/Czech Republic.] My host did know several Jaeschke families in the area and found quite a few more listed in the greater metro area. I had visions of finding an old Jaeschke castle and estate in need of a prince or king, but then I thought if there was one, I'd probably have to pay 170-odd years of back taxes. [Be careful what you wish for, right?]

[Diary] The 3-story houses around the square were very nicely restored after WWII to their former Baroque and Renaissance styles complete with ornately painted and carved facades. The sides of the square were filled with outdoor restaurants, many of which seemed to be serving desserts. [My Polish host had told me that Poles didn't have a word for "lunch"; they ate breakfast, then late afternoon had an early supper, followed later by a late supper.] Nearby was the Church of St. Stanislaus. The interior was very ornate with marble and gilt everywhere. It surely was impressive, but for me, bordered on being "over the top".

[Diary] I didn't have long to wait before my bus came and took me all the way into the city and out again. Along the way, a woman sitting next to me started asking me questions in Polish. I replied in my best Orstralian, "Sorry Love, no hablo Polski!" My first cultural stop for the day was the church of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, a brick structure that dated back 900 years, and which was the only Maltese church in Poland. I knocked on the door to see if some of the knights could come out to play, but there was no answer. So I walked around the grounds and headed off to my next stop.

[Diary] I managed to communicate my wishes to the rather stern-looking woman at the ticket counter, and she sold me a 2nd-Class ticket to Szczecin (pronounced "Stettin"). I sat facing forwards and saw mile after mile of forest, punctuated occasionally with some small villages and corn and cereal fields. Although I had been reliably informed that Poland did indeed have animals, during the whole 210-km trip, I saw only one horse, one cow, and a group of beehives; that was it!

[Diary] I worked on some travel planning and did some research on Wikipedia about Polish history and geography relating to the day's events. One particular search involved finding out why Australia's highest mountain, Mt. Kosciuszko, was named in honor of the Polish national hero, and hero of the American Revolutionary War, General Tadeusz Kościuszko.

The Czech Republic

Official Name: Czech Republic (Česká republika); Capital: Prague; Language: Czech; Country Code: CZ; Currency: Czech koruna (CZK)

[Diary] As we descended over the outskirts of Prague, my first impressions were that everything was very neat and tidy, from the farms to the housing developments. The airport was quite modern and very pleasant with lots of open space. … I walked to my hotel in the sunshine, although it was cold. All the streets were paved with cobblestones, which, while quaint to look at, are not much good when one is pulling luggage with wheels.

[Diary] We drove through the countryside to Karlštejn to visit its famous castle. ... Next was Wenceslas Square, an intersection of some major thoroughfares. There was no sign of the "Good King looking out", but then it wasn't "the Feast of Stephen" either. At the southern end of the long square sat a huge building that would have looked beautiful if the black pollution layer was removed. It was the Royal Bohemian Museum, and I walked up to its entrance for a great view down the long street. Directly to its front and right was another internationally famous cultural icon, McDonalds!

[Diary] I went downstairs to the fitness room. There, I met Luci, a tall, thin, and very strong, young Czech woman who asked me to get naked and to lie on a bench. As she looked like she wasn't about to take NO for an answer, I complied, and my 60-minute Swedish, full-body massage began. She rubbed so vigorously that I feared she might ignite the oil! It had been a long while since I'd had a massage, and it felt good. Despite the physical nature of it, I almost went to sleep.

[Diary] I crossed the famous Charles Bridge, which was filled with stalls selling paintings, jewelry, and various crafts. The tourists were out in force and I chatted with a woman from Bavaria. I came across a jazz quintet that included trumpet, double bass, clarinet, and banjo. The percussion section consisted of a metal washboard with two small cymbals attached, which the man played using metal thimbles on his fingers or with a pair of egg whisks. I stood there for 15 minutes tapping my toes as the lead singer, a white Czech guy, did a pretty good imitation of Lois Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" and "When the Saints go Marching In." Soon after, the band packed up for the day and I made a small donation.

A light breeze blew down the river and there were some tour boats and a group of kayakers moving up and down. I walked all the way across the long bridge and a little ways on the other side before turning around. On the way home, next to the famous astronomical clock that performs several times each day, I spied a gelato stand where I had a small cone of hazelnut ice cream. It was altogether satisfactory.

[Diary] At St. Michael monastery, I joined 25 other patrons for a musical concert. I sat in the front row several arms'-length from the performers. Promptly at 18:30, the concert began, alternating between a female singer and male clarinet/saxophone player. Both were accompanied by a pianist. The theme was Broadway musicals, and without a doubt, the highlight was the sax and piano rendition of Rhapsody in Blue. It was 60 minutes of non-stop professional music. After a 30-minute break, another 1-hour concert started, but this time it was classical with a good dose of Baroque. The singer from the first performance sang quite a few numbers and she did a great job, especially with "Ave Maria" and "Amazing Grace". Three musicians played violins while the fourth played cello.

Slovakia

Official Name: Slovak Republic (Slovenská republika); Capital: Bratislava; Language: Slovak; Country Code: SK; Currency: Euro (EUR), formerly koruna

I stayed four great days/nights with a host family whose daughter I'd hosted some years earlier.

[Diary] We drove into Bratislava along the Danube and then out the other side to Devin, the site of a castle ruin that is being restored. We parked by the river, which was flowing very fast. It was extremely windy. We walked some distance to get to the castle entrance, following the path of the former barbed-wire fence that separated Slovakia from the Danube across the other side of which was Austria. We came upon a large monument that was made of some of the old barbed wire wrapped into the shape of a heart. There was also a memorial to the 400-odd people who were shot trying to get across the river during the years of the Iron Curtain. To make it more realistic, the concrete walls of the memorial had what were supposed to look like bullet holes!

[Diary] [At the pool] There were quite a few women of more advanced years sporting bikinis. (Yes, some people should keep their clothes on!) One woman especially caught my attention. She arrived wearing rather high heels and what looked like a bikini, only it was much smaller. She had bright red hair-from-a-bottle and double gold earrings and chains. She had a serious upper-body containment problem, and I doubted her natural buoyancy vest would allow her to stay underwater very long.

Hungary

Official Name: Hungary (Magyarország); Capital: Budapest; Language: Hungarian; Country Code: HU; Currency: Forint (HUF)

I was hosted for four great days/nights by a Hungarian man and his Mexican wife.

[Diary] … Host Julieta offered to take me out. We walked through a very large park nearby. It had scaled-down versions of a number of famous buildings around Hungary, museums, a large ice rink, a permanent circus, and a zoo. Public baths/spas are big business here in Budapest, and we stopped in at Szechenyi Baths on the edge of the park just to look at the entrance hall and all its mosaics.

We walked down to Hero's Square to pay our respects to the statues there. From there, we walked down "Embassy Row", a main street where a number of embassies were located. In front of the Russian embassy, there was a large board with photos of Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet Union's first man in space. The next day, April 12, was the 50th anniversary of his flight.

We paid our respects to Franz (Hungarian name Ferenc) Liszt's statue and his music school. We also looked in the foyer of the famed Opera House. Quite a few buildings had been very nicely renovated. One of them contained a large book store at the back of which was a large ornately decorated hall that served as a coffee and cake restaurant. It was worth the climb up the steps to look inside. We started at the top end of the famous street Vaci Utca and walked down. It has business addresses and upscale shopping with a liberal dose of restaurants.

[Diary] I rode a tram down along the Danube to St. Stephen's Basilica, an impressive building. An organ concert was about to begin, so I laid down 2,500 HUF and went in to have a look around until the concert started. The organist played six pieces, by Albinoni, Pergolesi, Bach, Franck, and Schubert, and a mezzosoprano accompanied him on three, including "Ave Maria". It was 45 minutes well spent.

[Diary] Near the Parliament Building there was a large open-air photo exhibition. The theme was Hungarians living abroad as minorities, and minorities living in Hungary. Most photos were of modern-day peasant life in Romania with a few taken in Serbia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. Pretty much all of the subjects were poor and living in harsh conditions. I also stopped by to look at the eternal flame burning in memory of those killed during the 1956 uprising.

[Diary] After several days of cultural activities, it was time for some light entertainment. Yes, I was off to the circus. It was housed in a permanent building, and I got a seat in Row 4 just out of reach of any ringside action. However, this was no ordinary ring-of-dirt circus; no, this ring was 2/3 water with a stage at the back running into the center. I immediately noticed the plastic sheeting provided for patrons in the first row, which made my row choice ever better!

Croatia

Official Name: Republic of Croatia (Republika Hrvatska); Capital: Zagreb; Language: Croatian; Country Code: HR; Currency: Kuna (HRK)

I vacationed along the Dalmatian Coast.

[Diary] I landed in Split. I had no idea what to expect of the countryside, but it was not at all what I expected! It was quite hot and humid with desolate rocky hills up to the Bosnian border. I'd booked an apartment via the internet and it was a 15-minute walk around the waterfront. It was in a quiet neighborhood. Unfortunately, the 2-D map I'd seen online didn't indicate the 45-degree slope or the need for oxygen on the walk up!

[Diary] Split's most famous attraction is the retirement palace complex of the Roman emperor Diocletian. There, I climbed the church tower, walked the narrow alleys, and saw many dozens of restaurants and shops full of mostly touristy stuff. … I headed out for a very pleasant stroll around the waterfront. The outdoor restaurants and bars were doing a roaring trade. Wall-to-wall stalls sold diving trips and cruises, jewelry, religious artifacts, popcorn, grilled sweet corn, fried potatoes, and henna tattoos. A clown made balloon animals. Two men dressed in the full costume of Roman soldiers—complete with spears—were "on patrol". A group of local seniors sang traditional songs accompanied by a guitar.

[Diary] The trip to Hvar Town, on Hvar Island on the huge catamaran was very smooth and I was inside in air-conditioned comfort. As I disembarked, women were everywhere offering rooms for rent. I approached one and she was delighted to have me stay for two nights. Once she answered all my questions, we walked to her car and drove up to the steeper part of town to her place. She was Bosnian, married to a Croat.

[Diary] I decided to rent a scooter, and 15 minutes later was racing away on my 50 cc charger to the pretty little town of Jelsa. Next stop was the neighboring town of Vrboska, a delightful place on a long, narrow inlet, which made a perfect home for the yacht club and marina. Some 200 sleek craft were tied up and bore flags or signs from Gibraltar, France, Germany, Norway, UK, and USA. The large town of Stari Grad was up next, but it hardly compared with the two places I'd visited earlier, so I didn't stay long. I decided to take the old road back home. Instead of having a tunnel, this one went up and over the mountain. My scooter's little rubber-band engine gallantly hauled me all the way up. The views from the top were impressive: down into steep valleys, over to the mainland, and out over numerous small islands. The weather was exactly right for riding.

[Diary] The 6:10-pm catamaran from Split pulled in right on time and people started disembarking. A rather drunk Brit staggered off and stopped to ask me, "Where am I?" I asked him where he wanted to be. He said he'd gotten off because everyone seemed be doing that. I told him that this stop or the next was all the same; both places had plenty of beer! Exactly five minutes after the ferry arrived, we were off to the island of Korčula, to the town of the same name.

[Diary] My bus headed out for Dubrovnik in light rain. The skies were heavy and quite dark. The road was narrow and followed the coast before climbing high into the mountains. The only agriculture was small patches of vineyards near towns. Winemaking seemed to be the only industry. The driver played some nice local, easy listening music.

[Diary] [In Dubrovnik] I walked through one of the entrances to the massive city walls. Boy were they impressive! At up to 70 feet high and 20 feet thick, my guess is they were built with nonunion labor. After a short walk I found a seat in a sunny place and settled into a long read of my novel, occasionally watching the tourists walk by and the tour boat traffic at the waterfront. When it was too dark to read, I had a small excursion around some plazas and alleyways. I came across a young man playing classical guitar, so I stopped to listen. It was a glorious evening outdoors.

[Diary] As I worked on my diary in my room overlooking the city walls, a sax player played some mournful tunes down on the gate bridge. However, he was interrupted by drums when a procession of soldiers dressed in ceremonial costume, complete with pikes, marched across the bridge and into the city.

[Diary] Inside the old city walls, it was wall-to-wall tourists (pun intended). I set out to make a complete trip around the inside of the wall, which I estimated was 1–2 miles around. As I was too cheap to pay to go out on top of the walls, I looked for back alleys that got me as close to the wall as possible. No sooner had I started that I was faced with 100+ steep steps, and I was perspiring before I was halfway up. I was going to need a vacation from this vacation! However, it got me to a great vantage point from which I could take some photos out over the orange-tile rooftops. Behind me was the small mountain from which the Serbs rained down artillery shells back in the 1990's. One can clearly see where they hit given the new, replacement roof tiles scattered among the old. Several thousand steep steps later, I'd gone full circle and was back at the bottom on the main street.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Official Name: Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosna i Hercegovina or Босна и Херцеговина); Capital: Sarajevo; Language: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian; Country Code: BM; Currency: Convertible mark (Bam)

I visited with a one-day bus-tour out of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

[Diary] Bosnia and Herzegovina has a 12 km-wide stretch of land that runs down to the sea, separating the Dubrovnik province from the rest of Croatia. We crossed the border and then after a pit stop, we crossed back into Croatia. At the River Neretva we turned north passing through a former mosquito-infested swamp that the Austro-Hungarians had drained 100 years ago. Now, the area was a 1,000-acre agricultural basin where citrus (primarily mandarins), stone fruits, melons, and salad vegetables are grown. We followed the river to the Bosnian border where our passports were scanned and a border policeman came on board to look us over.

… In Mostar a local guide lead us on a walking tour. The first stop was the Turkish House, an authentic residence of a wealthy family from the Ottoman period. After that, we stopped by one of many parks that were turned into cemeteries to bury the 5,000 dead from the 1990's war. (A main street divided the warring factions and there was heavy house-to-house fighting.) Next, we walked down steep cobblestone steps through the bazaar and there before us was the famous bridge whose destruction in the war made headlines around the world. I browsed around a few shops and galleries before crossing the bridge and sitting in the shade on a cool stonewall to write these notes. A PA system on one of the mosques sounded the call to prayers. I found a path down to the river and took some photos of the bridge from below.

East Germany

Official Name: German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik); Capital: East Berlin; Language: German; Country Code: DD; Currency: DDR mark (DDM)

My first visit to this area was in September 1999, after German Reunification, so I never had the dubious pleasure of seeing the DDR in action. I'll make mention of some of my visits to the six former-East German states in the future essay, "Memories of the Germanic States".

Conclusion

I found the people in all these countries to be friendly, hard-working, and very happy to be rid of the Soviet yoke. However, for the younger people, they had no first-hand experience of the old system.

Bucket List: High on my list are Slovenia (with a side-trip to Trieste and Venice), the Roman ruins in the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia, as well as Zagreb, and the Plitvice Lakes National Park. And I can easily imagine renting an apartment in Dubrovnik for a month, and spending the days reading, writing, walking, talking, and eating.

Sockets, Plugs, and Cables

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Until I finished high school in December 1969 in rural Australia, to me, cables, sockets, and plugs meant electricity. My first foray into having to learn something more about cables came when I bought my first stereo system. To be sure, it was rather simple, just a set of red and white cables to connect the various components, and some insulated wire for the speakers. Fast forward 40 years, and when I look in the boxes of cables and connectors I've accumulated since—which I'm saving for that (probably non-existent) time when I just might need them—I see a lot of things verging on obsolescence. Someone is always inventing a better/faster/simpler approach.

Telephone

My first memory of a home phone was a large wooden box mounted on the wall of the hallway. It was powered by an enormous dry-cell battery. The mouthpiece was fixed to the box and the earpiece hung on the side. To make a call, one cranked the rotary handle and spoke to an operator; there was no dialer. (Unlike some areas, we did not share a party line.) Service was available during daylight hours Monday–Friday, and possibly longer if an operator was on duty and one agreed to pay "an after-hours opening fee". Like many Commonwealth countries, in Australia, the Federal Post Office had the monopoly on phone equipment and service. No competition, so no incentive for innovation.

In the early 1970's in Australia, the idea of having multiple phone outlets in a house, and moving a phone from one outlet to another, came of age. In my house, during the day, the phone was in my study; at night, it was moved to the bedroom. There was an Australia-wide standard plug and socket. And I had progressed to a handset with a rotary dialer. [It wasn't until I moved to the US that I found letters on a phone dialer, as well as digits.]

In 1979, I moved to Chicago in the US. Not only did those decadent Americans have multiple phone jacks in each residence, they had one in just about every room! Back then, the jack had four pins arranged in a square. However, the phone cable ended in an RJ11 plug, so an adaptor was needed from one to the other. (The humble RJ11 plug became widely used, not just in the US, but in many other countries as well.)

I bought my first PC in December 1982. A few years later, I bought my first modem, a "speedy" 300 baud model. Eventually, I bought a portable PC, and ultimately, a laptop. I also started to take them abroad, which led to the problem of connecting to foreign phone systems. As someone once said, "Standards are great; everyone should have them." And so they do, but of course, many countries each had their own, different standard. For $100, I purchased a kit of adaptors that purported to support all the main phone systems in the modern world.

Nowadays, for those of us still having a so-called landline, we have wireless handsets connected to a base station, which is connected to an RJ11 jack or to a broadband system. An increasing number of us have only a mobile phone, which operates entirely without a cable.

Power

The first house I remember living in had no electricity. We used a pressurized kerosene lantern to light the main room, a wood stove for cooking, a fireplace for heating, and a wood-chip heater for heating water on bath days. The next house had a 32-volt DC generating plant, but that drove only the lighting system; we had no electrical appliances to speak of. The house after that was connected to the mains, which, in Australia, is 240 volts, 60 HZ, with a 3-pin plug/socket where the top two blades are flat and slanted, and the third flat blade serves as the earth/ground.

In the 1970's I recall buying a stereo amplifier made in Asia. Although it had an Aussie plug, the auxiliary power outlets on its back used the US 2-pin socket.

When I left Australia in 1979, I started shaving with a hand razor, as I knew that taking electric appliances to different countries would be a challenge. However, fast forward to traveling with a video camera, laptop computers, mobile phones, and such, and we have a situation similar to that of connecting to the internet on various phone systems. The adaptor kit I mentioned earlier for phones also came with a number of power adaptors. I've found that there really are only three needed these days: US, UK, and European. (Although the Aussie socket is different to that of the US, I have an adaptor that allows the top blades to be swiveled to satisfy both. A few years ago, when spending time with a new colleague from South Africa, I discovered that country also had its own plug/socket style.) I used to have to carry a frequency converter, but newer equipment can detect differences in frequency as well as voltage, so only a pin adaptor is needed.

On the battery front, it seems that we really do have some international standards for the mainstream ones; however, there are still plenty of proprietary ones. A nice feature involves having a power-to-USB adaptor, so one can charge devices from any USB port (such as on laptops and now in more and more car models).

Audio

Once upon a time, it was all quite simple; there was the 6.3 mm (1/4") phone connector, which I knew as a phono jack, and that was it! This was the way in which one hooked up to an amplifier, a microphone, headphones, and electric pickups for guitars and other musical instruments. With the advent of personal audio devices, smaller versions of the phone connector were introduced, primarily to connect headphones and earbuds.

In the world of stereo, it was all quite simple: you could choose between RCA connectors, and, well, RCA connectors! The left-channel plug was white, and the right-channel plug was red. [I am happy to say that my stereo equipment still uses these, and they work just fine.]

A popular alternate audio mechanism was the DIN connector. [It got its name from the German Standard's organization Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN).]

Nowadays, audio support has pretty much merged with video and computers, both of which are covered below.

TV/Video

Regarding connecting to a TV antenna, I've only ever run across two approaches: a flat ribbon cable and a coaxial cable.

When it came time to connect output from a TV to other components, the established RCA cable set was extended by adding a third line with yellow plug for composite video.

Another approach to video was S-Video.

An alternate approach involved component video, with red, blue, and green plugs.

Several years ago, when I made the plunge into High-Definition TV, I discovered that the lingua franca for connecting video was now HDMI.

Computers

As with many technologies, in the early days, most connectors and cables were proprietary. However, two standards emerged early. For serial cables used to connect terminals, printers, and modems, there was the serial RS232. For faster transmission to printers, the Centronics parallel format was used.

A high-speed protocol called SCSI was developed for large-capacity storage devices; however, this was expensive and never took hold except on high-end systems.

Connections for displays have seen a number of standards, including VGA, EGA, DVI, and DisplayPort. Although VGA is a very old technology, from my experience it's the most commonly used on projectors available in conference rooms. As such, in order to project from newer laptops one needs a cable that converts to VGA.

For connecting devices in general, the most common approaches have been USB and FireWire.

One of the early ways of networking computers used 10BaseT coaxial cable with BNC connectors. Eventually, Ethernet/RJ45 became ubiquitous.

Conclusion

In the late 1970's, I worked at a State Government department in Australia, which was housed in a large high-rise building. Like many such buildings, the ceiling of each floor was made of light-weight tiles that were suspended from the concrete floor above. Above this false ceiling ran all the water and sewer pipes, and the power and phone cables. From time to time, a man would show up to move or add new phone extensions. He was ably assisted by his trusty companion, a fox terrier. The dog wore a harness to which the man attached a light cord. He then put the dog up in the ceiling and then opened a hole above where he wanted the cord pulled, stuck his head up there, and called the dog toward him. Once the cord was through, the man attached the phone cable to it and pulled that through. It was a decidedly low-tech solution, but one that worked well. Of course, everyone loved the dog, which, by the way, was legally registered for the work, so his expenses were a business deduction.

I'm reminded of a story about some futuristic archaeologists who were digging at various sites. They came across an old broadband cable and discussed how advanced that civilization was. Then when they found some buried copper wires, they remarked how that was rather primitive. At one site they found no cables at all, leading one person to proclaim this to be quite a backward society. "On the contrary", responded another person, "This is evidence that they had wireless!"

I'm sure we'll see more new kinds of cables for video and PCs in the near future as new technologies evolve.

Regarding buying cables, do shop around as prices can vary widely. Often, one can buy generic cables on-line or in hardware stores that are good enough and much cheaper than those available in specialized computer/electronics stores. And when you buy a device (such as a printer), be sure to ask if a power and/or data cable is included; it often is not. Getting a "good" price turns out not to be so good if you have to spend another $20–30 for cables.

Travel: Oh the Places I have Stayed

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Earlier this year, I was sitting in the lounge of a very nice hotel in Prague, Czech Republic, waiting for my room to be readied. I'd arrived three hours before check-in time. I'd flown overnight from the US, and despite being in Business Class, I'd had no sleep, so jetlag was taking hold. In order to keep myself awake "just one more hour", I started thinking about all the different kinds of places I'd stayed in 35 years of domestic and international travel. My notes from that led to this essay.

I've limited the places to those for which I have paid. The categories are in no particular order. FYI, my top priorities are a clean, non-smoking room, a comfortable bed, seriously hot water, heavy curtains to keep out the light, and quiet. The rest of the so-called amenities are generally wasted on me. And for the most part, when moving around on personal travel, I like to make it up as I go along.

Hotel Chains

I've stayed at more than a few of them, from the low end to the high. The higher the number of stars, the more I am repulsed, I kid you not! Give me a 1- or 2-star place any day.

When on personal travel, I've often been seen at a Motel 6, a U.S. national chain that when it was started, charged $6/night. Now I am also a fan of the Denny's restaurant chain, so when I found a Motel 6 with a Denny's in its parking lot, in Anaheim, California, not far from Disneyland, I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven! And a Red Roof Inn suits me fine as well.

Throughout this year, I've made a number of trips to Silicon Valley where I've paid $200–250/night at a national chain, and that is far less than many charge in that neighborhood. As I work very long hours, often leaving and getting back in the dark, the facilities for which I'm paying are totally wasted. Basically, I'm only there to sleep and bathe.

Rented Rooms

Although I first learned about Airbnb some years ago, I didn't use it until late 2013. This site allows people to rent out spare bedrooms in their apartments, houses, castles, and so forth. I've used it in Amsterdam, Netherlands; Salzburg, Austria; and Madrid, Spain; and all were good experiences. After years of staying with host families, this is my new form of accommodation when on personal travel.

A few years ago, I walked the paths between the famed five towns of Cinque Terre, in northwest Italy. Throughout, I was based in a private house in the village of Vernazza. The landlady spoke no English and I spoke no Italian, but we got along just fine.

A fine way to experience the countryside in Bavaria and surrounds is to rent a room in a zimmer frei (spare room in German), which people advertise on handmade signs outside their houses and farmhouses.

I arrived in the sleepy town of Viejo on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica to find the place I'd planned to stay to be booked out. However, the staff directed me to a house nearby that was built on stilts. If the owner, Ms. Mary, liked the look of you, you might be able to convince her to rent you the room under the house. She did and I paid about $7/night for three nights. The next morning, as I was waiting for the daily 1–2 inches of rain to stop, she came out and started calling, "Rex". Now how did she know my name? It turns out that was the name of her Jack Russell dog, and when I told her that was my name, she refused to believe it. "That's a dog's name", she said. To which I replied, "Woof!"

Motor homes

I've had three experiences: a small unit for two adults and a child in Alaska, a medium-sized unit for four adults and a child in South Dakota, and a large unit for three adults and two pre-teens in Montana and Wyoming.

Having a motor home solves three main problems: where to sleep, how to get around, and where to eat. Of course, you need to find a place to pull up for the night that isn't illegal or dangerous. [When we were in Alaska, the law was that one could stay overnight at any place there was a state trash bin. My thought was that if we took one of those bins with us, we could put it out wherever we liked and stay there, but apparently that was not the intention.]

After a week or two in a motor home, you realize just how little you really need to live, and all the stuff you have is almost within arm's reach of the dining table.

There are several downsides, however. First, if a van is advertised to sleep X people, two of those would be sleeping in the bed that goes over the dining table, so using that requires you to fold and unfold that bed every day. Second, the beds can be short and/or narrow. For example, I took up the whole of a so-called "double bed". Third, the water and waste water storage is limited and the shower cubicle is small, especially for someone as tall as I am. During my trips, every three days or so, I've made sure to stay at a campground with a shower block.

Japanese Inns

These are called Ryokan, and I've used them quite a few times. A room can accommodate as many people as they can fit futons on the floor. None of those US-like rules of "The Fire Marshall limits this room to two [or three] people!" The downside is that the cost is based on a price per person, with kids paying the same as adults. None of this "A couple is a little bit more than a single, and kids under 18 in the same room stay for free!"

What's the downside? As I get older and my body slows down, getting down on the floor and back up again requires some serious effort. Most rooms do not have chairs or writing tables, which makes it hard to use a laptop computer. Any table provided is probably about 12 inches high and is used to serve tea. While some tables come with cushions to sit on the floor, others come with chairs with no legs, just bases and a back. When sitting on one of these, I can find no good place to put my very long legs! All that said, I like such places and the tradition that goes along them, especially wearing (and sleeping in) the yukata robe and obi sash, and wearing the slippers.

Hazardous Places

As I write this, I'm just wrapping up a 2-week trip in Japan. Many accommodations include a flashlight by the bed. At first glance, it seems like an unusual accessory to have in a room, but once you think about having an earthquake, you'll be happy to be able to find your way out of your room when the power goes out in the middle of the night. (I've experienced two earthquakes in Japan, both at night. For one of them, I was in a hotel, but there was no evacuation. After all, it only measured 2.5!)

Several times, I've stayed on the Korean island of Jeju (sometimes called Cheju), and that area can be subject to a variety of natural disasters. My room had a balcony on which was an emergency escape kit that included a rope ladder with hooks. If one could not leave one's room via the door, one hung the ladder over the edge of the balcony and climbed down to the floor below, and then repeated the process using the next floor's ladder.

Sleeping on the Move

I've slept four nights on a cruise ship off the coast of Florida. I've also slept a couple of nights on a train. I'd like to say I've slept on a plane in Economy class, but that would be a very rare case. I have, however, had some decent sleeps in International Business and First Classes. However, only the latter beds are long and wide enough for my frame to completely fit.

My First International Experience

My first trip outside Australia just happened to be when my wife and I left Australia to live, work, and travel abroad. Our first port of call was in Hong Kong (which was still a British territory). Our Cathay Pacific flight included two nights at an up-scale hotel, complete with Colonial-style uniformed staff. After that, we were on our own, and we located a cheap, Chinese-run place. Although there might have been a front desk, all I recall was that each floor had an attendant who sat on a rickety chair at an old wooden desk, and it was his job to "watch" that floor. Each time we came back to our room, he'd welcome us and then open the adjacent fire-hose cabinet in which there were a row of hooks with keys for each room. And we'd hand him our key each time we went out. The contrast between the two places was huge, and I remember the doorman at the first hotel looking strangely at us when he put us in a taxi to go to the second place and asked us where he should direct the driver.

Roughing It

At short notice, I booked a 10-day trip to the wilds of the Amazon Jungle in northeast Peru. The first night, we stayed at a Holiday Inn; the power went out during the night. The next two nights were at a base camp where the jetsetters could stay and claim to be in the jungle, but still have ice with their drinks, kitchen staff, and electricity. After that, we each slept in the middle of a clearing under an open-sided thatched roof with a mosquito net over us on very old and soiled mattresses. All the food was cooked by the local Indians and was rather nondescript. Ablutions consisted of a bucket of cold water and a towel.

Of course, many people consider having a room without an en-suite bathroom to be "camping". I've stayed in many places with share baths and toilets, and lived to tell about it. (The most recent was last week in a ryokan in Tokyo.)

Speaking of camping, at one place we pitched our tent in rural US, we saw electrical outlets at tent sites, and wondered what they were for. The answer was obvious that evening when we saw one family with a TV and microwave oven in their tent.

Sleeping outside can be interesting, although I've never woken up to find a wild animal sniffing at my face, like some people I know. However, the night I slept outdoors at Kakadu National Park in Australia, no more than 100 yards from the creek where there were crocodiles, I confess to sleeping with one eye open. I figured that if I slept in the middle of the group, I'd probably be woken by their screams if the crocs came for a snack. On another occasion, we arrived in town quite late at night on a big holiday weekend. There was no accommodation available, so we slept in sleeping bags on the dunes by the beach. I woke to find I'd made camp over the entrance to an ant hill, and they'd all come to join me in my bag. Don't you hate that when that happens? I also spent a rough night in the Aussie Outback on a camel safari.

For my second adventure trip, I joined a group on a hiker's trip across Patagonia in Chile and Argentina. Although we slept in two-person tents (with me sharing with a retired New York City policeman), porters brought bowls of hot water to our tents each morning, and we had a chef/cook who put together some impressive meals, along with wine and cheese in the early evening. When there was luggage to be carried, that was done by cowboys with packhorses.

The Small

Almost certainly the smallest space in which I've stayed is what I call a "shoebox" hotel in Tokyo (in which I'm sitting as I write this). The total living space was about twice the size of the single bed. There was also an en-suite bathroom. It had everything I needed, and I could just about reach everything from the center. It was compact, but practical. I have no wish to stay in a Japanese capsule hotel, however!

The Large

Two places come to mind, both of them suites. The first was in Tartu, the university, and second largest, city of Estonia. After staying with hosts for six nights, we decided to splurge, and we stayed in one of two top-tier places, the Pallas Hotel. This suite had four separate rooms, and the bedroom walls and ceiling had been painted by university art students in the style of a famous Estonian painter from the 1920's. The colors on the walls seem to drip down to the blood-red carpet, and I could imagine waking up in the night thinking that the nightmare was real! That said, it was a very nice room and hotel with very friendly staff.

The second was in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The room rate posted on the wall said US$2,200/night, which I expect was actually charged on/near New Year's Eve. However, as part of a conference-group booking, I paid just 10% of that, $220. There was a big-screen TV at the foot of the bed and another in the lounge. A full-size fax machine sat on a table next to the Queen Ann furniture. Of course, there was a phone on the wall of the separate toilet room.

The Low End

Prior to joining a hiking trip in San Diego, Chile, I spent some days on the Pacific coast in Valparaiso, the home of the Chilean Navy. There, I stayed at the Reina Victoria (Queen Victoria) Hotel on the waterfront. The price of the rooms went up by $2 with each level, and I think I paid about $6–8/night. As I checked in, the clerk asked me what time I'd like coffee brought to my room each morning. Using my very basic Spanish, I requested hot tea instead, at 8 am. The clerk said that he understood, yet coffee was delivered at 7 am the next day.

I also remember a rather dingy place in the Red-Light district of Amsterdam near the main railway station. And yes, you could rent it for the whole night, not just by the hour! The "lobby" was very dark and somewhere hidden there was a large bird in a cage that screeched when someone entered. And the rough bathroom area smelled heavily of bleach. (Perhaps someone had been removing bloodstains!)

I did, however, have a perfectly decent room in Montevideo, Uruguay for $12/night.

The High End

I've mentioned the suites earlier, and I've stayed in a number of other 4- and 5-star joints. One I actually like is the K+K in old-town Prague (whose lobby I was sitting in when I got the idea for this essay). Its breakfast area is largely made of glass and it seems to be suspended in air. Another fine property was the Priory in Bath, England. There was none of this crass numbering of rooms; instead, all were named for flowers, and I was in the Marigold room, don't you know!

The Very High End

It used to be that five stars was the top of the rating system, but seven-odd years ago, I stayed in a so-called 6-star Kempinski Hotel in Geneva. Now that city is already expensive without going looking to spend more, but I was part of a very large business group staying there, and I wasn't paying! On arrival, I found a large box of chocolates on my bed, and then a small packet again each other day. The terry-toweling bath robe was so luxurious I felt a bit like a polar bear. Around the walls of the large lobby, a few feet up from the floor, was a panel of smoky grey glass behind which a gas fire burned. Every time I saw it I immediately thought of one of my high school novels, The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh, which was set in a funeral home with crematorium. I doubt that was the image the management had in mind. Breakfast was a grand buffet that cost US$45. I just wanted a croissant, a cup of coffee, and a small pastry, so I was directed to the ala-cart menu. I ordered from that, and that cost only $42! Despite that fact it wasn't my money I was spending, each morning after that, I walked to the main train station nearby where I ate with the locals without having to take out a second mortgage.

Although I didn't stay there, while I was in Hong Kong in 1979, I did walk through the afternoon-tea room of the fabled Peninsular Hotel (which has a fleet of Rolls Royces to ferry around its VIP customers). Let's just say that it was "over the top", but in a veddy dignified British way!

There are now 7-star properties, one of which I drove by recently in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Locked In!

We spent several nights in Singapore in a non-descript place. It was early evening, and we planned to go out after midnight to the famous "Boogie Street" where cross-dressers, transsexuals, and others paraded around in their finery. As we were a little tired, we decided to sleep for a few hours and to set the alarm for some time after midnight. We slept, our alarm went off, we dressed, but once we got downstairs, we found a huge metal grate across the entrance, and it was locked. And although we could hear someone snoring back in the office area, we couldn't get anyone to come and let us out. Fortunately, we also had no need to make an emergency evacuation that night.

Hostels

My first stay in a Youth Hostel was in Anchorage, Alaska, where I was traveling with my wife and small son. We had our own family room and had to do chores as part of our stay. It was a good, first experience. As part of a trip to Chile, I stayed in a hostel in the up-scale coastal town of Viña del Mar. One day as I lay on my bed reading, two guys starting pulling apart the old bunk beds, taking them outside, and replacing them with new ones. As the men were quite short, I offered to help them with the upper sections, especially pushing bolts through as they assembled the new sets. As I wrote in my diary that day, it gave a whole new meaning to "having to make my own bed".

My son and I were in a huge men's dormitory in the Netherlands, while my wife was with the women. The problem with this kind of place is that there are always loud and inconsiderate people coming in very late and/or leaving very early. One person insisted on packing and repacking their gear several times using plastic bags that made a lot of noise when handled. In Milan, Italy, I actually stayed in a hostel while attending a 5-day conference. Unfortunately, it had restricted hours in that one had to be out after 9:30 am and could not get back in until around 5 pm. Many of the people staying there was itinerant workers from Peru, of all places!

The hostel in upper Manhattan, New York City, was a 400-room hotel that had been renovated. We had a family room that slept four, and a key-card lock. It really was a decent place and not at all like a typical hostel.

My first two nights in San Jose, Costa Rica, were in a room sharing with three other guys, from three different countries. We exchanged stories and travel tips and then each headed out to different parts of the country. To our surprise, without any coordination, three days later we were all back, sharing the same room. The Norwegian guy had recently been in intensive-Spanish training in the old Guatemalan city of Antigua, and he passed on the address of his accommodation and details of his language course. Although I had no interest in that at the time, a year later, I was knocking on that house door and I stayed two weeks at $5/night, room only, and had private Spanish lessons each day for $2/hour.

Our first week in Chicago in 1979 (after moving to the US from Australia) was spent in the YMCA. We were waiting for funds to be transferred to us, so we could rent an apartment, and as we ran out of money, we found that we couldn't afford to stay, yet we couldn't afford to leave either!

B&Bs and Pubs

I've experienced quite a few of these, especially over the 21 days I hiked the Thames Path. (See my essay from July 2011: A Walk along the River.) One regular place I stay in London has bathrooms so small that once one is inside the shower stall and starts the water, the shower curtain clings tightly to one's body in the initial seconds. In Wales, we started our visit with a B&B and later stayed one night as the only guests in a country pub whose proprietor was very happy to have us as guests. In a B&B in Dublin, on the wall was the quote from George Bernard Shaw that went something like, "Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire!" I spent two nights in a nice B&B near the beach in Bray, just south of Dublin, which came complete with a very friendly dog. I had a series of decent B&Bs during my week in Cornwall and Devon.

Odds and Ends

I had an around-the-world plane ticket that required me to stay in at least three cities, but I only needed to stop in two. As such, I stayed a little more than 24 hours in the bridal suite of a small hotel in the town of Incheon, near Korea's international airport. The way in which the room was decorated reminded me of movies showing bordellos. It was most amusing. I was traveling solo, and the hotel didn't even provide me with a bride! Another time in Korea, on Jeju Island, I stayed in a new hotel that catered for honeymooners. I soon discovered that no matter what I asked any staff member, they always answered, "Yes".

On our first stop during a 10-day winter-time tour of County Kent in England, we arrived at the Gatehouse Hotel that is literally built into the wall at the front of the Canterbury Cathedral. When they quoted us their prices, we said we wanted something cheaper, to which they replied that they had a quaint double room up in the attic. It was more than adequate, but the entrance door was no more than four feet high. And the floor was on quite a lean with one end of each bed's legs having extensions to keep the beds level.

We stayed one night in Bombay, India, and the tourist literature said not to drink water from taps, but rather from the bottles in the hotel room. We dutifully followed this advice, but when we came back to the hotel, we saw a staff member filling those bottles from a tap!

When we landed at Heathrow in London in 1979, we visited the tourist office and asked for some place cheap. The woman looked down her nose and said, "Then it will have to be in South Kensington". It was quite a nice place, actually. At least it wasn't Earls Bloody Court!

I flew to Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico for a two-week trip without any accommodation reservations. By the time I got to Tulum, it was dark, and I had a taxi driver help me find a cheap place to stay down near the beach. I refer to the place I settled on as the House of Sticks (from the "Three Little Pigs"). The walls literally were made of one-inch diameter rough, crooked sticks between which all kinds of critters could squeeze. The roof was thatched palm fronds, and from the rafters hung a new queen-size bed on thick ropes. The room was not much bigger than that bed, and came with a large fan on a tall pole. A mosquito net covered the bed. At $30/night, it wasn't cheap, but it was an interesting experience. Oh, there was no traditional door key; instead, a padlock was used to secure a large metal bolt.

At the end of a two-week trip backpacking from Mexico City and back via Vera Cruz and the Pacific Coast, I stayed in a gothic-style, mini-castle built by a wealthy, eccentric Brit named Edward James, which was being renovated by a young American couple. They were not yet open for business, but were happy to take my money as my room had been completed.

One Christmas, we spent several days on the quaint Dutch island of Saba, just off the south coast of Saint Martin. When sailors arrived there to settle they found no timber for construction, so they dismantled their ships and made houses from them. We stayed in one such Saba Cottage.

One place I've stayed at numerous times is on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, way off the tourist track. Each room had its own kitchen, and no phone or TV. The waves crashed on the beach under the coconut trees ten yards from the window. It even came with a very nice dog, Babe. (She has since passed away, and is buried behind the building in which I stay.) Every afternoon, she'd come to visit me and lie on the cool tile floor of my room. A room by the beach and with a great dog is hard to beat!

Conclusion

My pet peeve about accommodations is the all-in-one bedcovers that are common throughout Europe and other countries. I generate a lot of body heat, and without any way to remove a layer or two of bedding, it's either too hot or too cold, never the Goldilocks "just right". Over the years, I've developed some inventive workarounds.

Despite all those stories about traveling salesmen who have broken down in a rural area and need a place to stay overnight, I've never been invited to spend the night sharing with a farmer's daughter!

English – Part 5: Adjectives

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In Part 4, we looked at pronouns. This time, we'll look at adjectives. An adjective (abbrev. adj.) is a word that describes a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun.

An attributive adjective precedes the noun or noun phrase; for example, White in "White House". [Interestingly, in the romance languages, adjectives follow the nouns; for example, "casa blanca" (white house in Spanish, but literally house, white), "monte verde" (mountain, green in Spanish), and "Baton Rouge" (stick, red in French.]

A predicative adjective takes the place of a predicate. For example, a predicate version of "He is a happy man." is "He is happy."

An adjective becomes nominal when its noun is implied, as in "I preferred the old version, but he preferred the new [version]"

Some adjectives can go before or after a noun, as in "proper house" and "house proper", which have different meanings.

Compound Adjectives

When an adjective is made up of multiple words, it is a compound adjective. Ordinarily, these words are hyphenated, as in "easy-going man", "sky-high prices", "10-year-old boy", and "hard-to-get toy". Of course, like all good rules, there are exceptions: hyphenate a two-word compound except when the first word ends in -ly, as in "hotly debated topic", "hastily drawn conclusion", and "mostly unfounded claim". Of course, when used in another context, such as a predicate, the same words do not have that hyphen. For example, in "He is easy going."

Possessive Adjectives

As their name suggests, possessive adjectives indicate possession. These adjectives are:

 

Possessive Adjectives

 

Singular

Plural

1st Person

my

our

2st Person

your

your

3st Person

his, hers, its

their

However, don't confuse these with their possessive-pronoun counterparts mine, yours, his/hers/its, ours, and theirs.

The word whose is a possessive adjective.

For example:

  • "My car is blue."
  • "Which are your containers?" "Her bins have her name on them."
  • I believe this is their chair."
  • "Whose turn is it?"
  • "She's a person whose imagination knows no bounds."

The archaic version is thy, as in the Biblical quote, "Thy will be done", from the Lord's Prayer.

See also "generic you" and "determiners" below.

The Generic "you"

If one speaks with a plum in one's mouth, or one attended a proper boarding school, one might use the words one, oneself, and one's when referring to an unspecified person. For example, while in everyday speech we might say, "You must do your best", the more formal version would be "One must do one's best". As one can clearly see, one's is a possessive adjective.

Determiners

Question: "When is an adjective not an adjective?" Answer: "When it is a determiner." Just when I was convinced there were only eight parts of speech in English, I found that someone (probably a lonely bloke called Ronald who as a child never had a pet) sitting in his ivory, linguistic tower, decided that, "No, some words simply can no longer be consider adjectives! Let's invent a new category and call it determiner, but only on Wednesdays, after 3 pm!"

In a previous installment, I raised the question as to what part of speech is an article (the, a, and and)? All of my dictionaries say these words are articles whereas for all other words, they actually tell me the part of speech. (Just like them to avoid the issue completely!)

To set the record straight, here's a direct quote from Wikipedia: "A determiner is a word, phrase or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase and serves to express the reference of that noun or noun phrase in the context. That is, a determiner may indicate whether the noun is referring to a definite or indefinite element of a class, to a closer or more distant element, to an element belonging to a specified person or thing, to a particular number or quantity, etc. Common kinds of determiners include definite and indefinite articles (like the English the and a or an), demonstratives (this and that), possessive determiners (my and their), and quantifiers (many, few and several)."

As suggested above, another group of words that fall into this category is cardinal numbers. For example, "those 10 books", "the three little pigs", and "the seven wonders of the world". On the other hand, the ordinal numbers—first, second, third, and so on—are adjectives.

Adjective Order

It is quite common to apply multiple adjectives to the same noun. For example, "a little old lady" and "the big red shiny ball". In such cases, is there a suggested or required order for them? The hyperlink for this section leads to a detailed explanation, but here's the gist of what Wikipedia says in this regard. ' … the adjective order in English is Determiners, Observation, Size and shape, Age, Color, Origin, Material, Qualifier … adjectives pertaining to size precede adjectives pertaining to age ("little old", not "old little"), which in turn generally precede adjectives pertaining to color ("old white", not "white old"). So, we would say "One (quantity) nice (opinion) little (size) round (shape) old (age) white (color) brick (material) house."' To borrow from Winston Churchill, the complexity of that previous sentence "is something up with which I will not put".

Comparison to Adverbs

We'll cover adverbs in a future installment, but a few comments regarding them are useful here. While an adjective qualifies a noun (or pronoun), an adverb qualifies a verb. For example, in the adjectival example, "the slow boat", the noun boat is slow. In the adverbial example, "the boat goes slowly", the verb go is modified. There are many such pairs of words, with the adverbial member ending in -ly. Occasionally, the exact same word can be an adjective or an adverb, depending on the usage. For example, "the tall man" vs. "the man stood tall".

The "fewer" vs. "less" Debate

For a long time now, these two words have been used as synonyms. However, there are those who argue that there is an important difference between the two. The issue has to do with whether the noun being modified is countable. For example, "There is less ice", but "There are fewer ice cubes". The noun ice is not countable while ice cubes is.

What about "The interest rate is less than 1%." Should that be less be fewer? No. While one could count whole percentage points, interest rates are often quoted with one, two, or even three decimal places, the values of which are not, in any whole-number sense, countable.

By the way, fewer is classified as a determiner while less is an adjective.

For more details, click here.

Conclusion

I do have one pet peeve regarding the use of adjectives: despite its extensive use by speakers of American English and claims by various (apparently inferior) dictionaries, fun is not an adjective. We did not have a fun time at the beach. Rather, we had a good/great time. Now, don't let me catch you misusing this again!

Travel: Memories of the Benelux Countries

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

According to Wikipedia, Benelux "is a union of states comprising three neighboring countries in Midwestern Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The union's name is a portmanteau formed from joining the first syllable of each country's name – Belgium Netherlands Luxembourg – and was first used to name the customs agreement that initiated the union (signed in 1944). It is now used in a more general way to refer to the geographic, economic and cultural grouping of the three countries."

I've been to The Netherlands quite a few times, but only once to Luxembourg, and twice to Belgium. On one trip, with my wife and young son, we visited all three. On that trip, we flew with Icelandair to Luxembourg, via Reykjavik (where we stayed three days), then went by train to Paris where I attended a conference. From there, our Benelux Rail Pass took us to Brussels, Amsterdam, and, finally, back to Luxembourg. We flew back home via Iceland, but with no stop-over. Compared to most rail passes, this one allowed considerable flexibility. One could use it for any five days over a 15-day period.

Belgium

Official Name: Kingdom of Belgium; Capital: Brussels; Language: Dutch, French, and German; Country Code: BE; Currency: Euro (€ or EUR), formerly the Belgian franc.

Belgium is made up of two distinct regions, each with its own language and culture. The people of Flanders speak Flemish, a language closely related to Dutch, while the Walloons Speak French. Belgium is rather a new country, having only gained independence in 1830.

My first visit was a family vacation, and we arrived by train from Paris. We had no hotel reservation, but soon found a place to stay. As I was reading some tourist information, I discovered the famous Waterloo battlefield was on the outskirts of Brussels, so we rode a local bus to have a look. While having a picnic lunch there we met a Canadian family, attached to their country's embassy, and they had a daughter the same age as our son. They offered us a ride back to the city and invited us to spend the rest of the day with them at their house for supper, after which they took us back to our hotel. (Such random acts of kindness are what make traveling great!)

We discovered that our hotel was on the edge of the Arab Quarter, which gave us some interesting shops to explore. One morning we woke up and when we looked out the window, the previously deserted square was filled with stalls. A huge market was in progress. We also visited the famous bird market where people bought and sold caged birds.

We took a day trip to Bruges, the lace capital, and another to Oostende on the English Channel coast.

Nearly 20 years later, I was back in Brussels for a 2-day business meeting. Although I didn't spend any extra time there, I did walk the streets each evening to look at the old part of the city.

Luxembourg

Official Name: Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; Capital: Luxembourg City; Language: French, German, and Luxembourgish; Country Code: LU; Currency: Euro (€ or EUR), formerly the Luxembourg franc.

We rode a bus to the city of Luxembourg from the airport. From some tourist brochures I got some hotel phone numbers, and I proceeded to call around to try and find a place to stay. Eventually, we finished up at one where the staff spoke only French, which we did not speak. After we settled in, I went out to find a shop to buy juice, milk, and some snacks; however, by the time I got back, it was dark, and nothing looked familiar. Eventually, I found what looked like our hotel, and on the ground level was a bar and in its window sat a "Lady of the Evening" exhibiting her wares to passersby. Yes, Dear Reader, our hotel was in the heart of the Red Light District!

The hotel room did not have a bathroom; that was out in the hall. Imagine if you will a very large storage closet into which a prefabricated shower cubicle had been placed. The interesting problem was that you opened the closet door then opened the shower cubicle, but once you got inside that, you couldn't close the outer door. You needed a second person to help you get in/out of the shower/closet. It really was so ridiculous it was funny.

We spent half a day at the American War Graves Cemetery where we visited the grave of US Army General George Patton. Ordinarily, the policy is to bury all ranks together, but as Patton was so popular, it was presumed there would be heavy traffic to his grave, so it was set away from the other soldiers.

We rented a car for several days and drove out in to the countryside. We spent time in Wiltz where an American tank from WWII was sitting in the middle of a plaza. Luxembourg is a small country, and we saw most of it over a few days.

At the time, my son was only two years old, so we mostly ate at kid-friendly places that we knew would serve us quickly. That included Pizza Hut! The first time we did that, I struggled with the French menu and my little English-French dictionary, and after I'd placed our order, I noticed a small English version of the menu on the back page. C'est la vie!

The Netherlands

Official Name: the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Capital: Amsterdam; Language: Dutch, West Frisian (in the province [and former independent kingdom] of Friesland), Limburgish (in the province of Limburg), and Dutch Low Saxon (in the northeast); Country Code: NL; Currency: Euro (€ or EUR), formerly the Dutch Guilder.

From a 2008 visit to Amsterdam, Haren, and Delft:

[Diary from Amsterdam] At the Schiphol International Airport (AMS), the luggage was quite late in arriving. In the meantime, I asked a cash machine for 200 Euros, which it happily dispensed. The customs folks sat around talking, paying little attention to passengers, but as I approached the exit, one of them decided he needed to appear to be working, and, since I looked rather suspicious, he pulled me over and inspected my case. I was coming in from Oslo, Norway, and he was interested primarily in whether I was carrying any fish. Once he was satisfied I wasn't hiding anything, he thanked me for my cooperation and wished me a good day.

[Diary] From Amsterdam I rode a train to Groningen, the capital of the province of the same name. My stop was the last one before the end. One interesting challenge is that mid-trip, the train splits into two, with one part going off to Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland. Over the years, I have found it best to be in the right half of the train when this happens. Once again, I had a whole carriage to myself, so I checked to see if I'd remembered to put on deodorant that morning.

[Diary from Haren] Dessert consisted of fresh fruit with vla (pronounced "fla"), which is Dutch custard; it comes in many flavors. I love vla, and when asked why I'm going to the Netherlands, I always respond, "For the vla, of course!"

[Diary] After a breakfast of tea, bread and cheese, my friend Wietske and I set out on bikes for a ride into the countryside. After an hour, we pulled into a village restaurant for morning tea. I was definitely ready for a rest, as I probably hadn't ridden a bike in the year since I was last here. I had my usual, koffie verkeerd (literally "wrong coffee", as they put a little coffee into hot milk rather than the other way around). We also had a nice large slice of appelgebak mit slagroom (apple pie with whipped cream). After a 45-minute break, my upper legs were rather weak when I stood up. It was right about then I remembered Nietzsche's famous quote, "Was mich nicht umbrinkt macht mich sterker." ("That which does not kill me can only make me stronger.")

From a 2009 visit to Delft, Utrecht, and Haren:

[Diary from Delft] I met some colleagues, and we walked around the city in the sunshine. We took a 50-minute canal tour during which a young Dutch man gave us an overview of the city's architecture and history, and told us all about the East and West Indies Companies and merchants' houses on the canals. Delft was the home of the famous painter Vermeer, and a favorite place for William of Orange to stay. He did so because he thought it the safest place to be, yet he was assassinated there. After our boat tour, we stopped in at a small restaurant for coffee and apple pie. We sat in an indoor garden complete with several large macaws, although they didn't seem to speak any Dutch. As we came out of the restaurant, it drizzled lightly. One colleague and I went off to tour a museum and gallery where I got my cultural fix for the trip. By the time we came outside again, the sun was streaming down, so we strolled in the adjacent gardens.

[Diary from Utrecht] I arrived in the new town of Vleuten right on time, and there on the platform was my friend Elsa. We drove to her house nearby where her husband, Eduard, was working. We'd all met some 15 years earlier when they'd stayed with me during a 3-month driving trip around the US. I'd last seen them in 2001 when I stayed overnight on my way to the Schiphol airport. We sat outdoors sipping tea and catching up with each other's news. We ate supper outdoors. Then, after the kids went to bed, we drank coffee and port while we talked some more.

[Diary] Friend Jochem arrived to take me to his house in Houten, a suburb to the southeast of Utrecht. There, his wife, Floor, met us with their three girls, Bente, Jade, and Liane. (I met Jochem and Floor in 2002 in Puerto Rico when they were on their honeymoon.) We talked over tea, and then walked around their development, stopping to feed carrots to some pet rabbits, and bread to some ducks. It was overcast out with occasional sun, and a lot of wind. Back home, we drank more tea and ate a variety of snacks. The oldest daughter, Bente, decided she liked me, and took up a position on my lap. She had recently started to learn to read Dutch, and she showed me several of her favorite books. Her younger sister, Jade was not at all too sure about the foreign-speaking giant, so she kept her distance.

[Diary] Jochem, Bente, and I drove through the countryside through sheep farms and apple and plums orchards. In downtown Utrecht, we parked in a garage, and walked to the big church in the old town. There, we bought tickets for the 12-o'clock tour of the church tower. We had some time to kill, so went into the church and neighboring gardens. At noon, a large group of us gathered for a 50-minute guided tour in Dutch and English. In total, we climbed more than 400 steep steps for a 360-degree view over the city. The largest bell in the tower weighed 8,000 kg, and it had a 250 kg clapper, which was the weight of the smallest bell. In the street, we stopped to listen to a man playing Spanish guitar, and then to two men playing Baroque music on button accordions.

[Diary from Haren] I arrived at Haren station and walked on several familiar paths until I came to the house of my good friends, Gerard and Wietske, and their teenage girls, Marly and Suze. I'd last seen them in April 2008. As soon as we met, we picked up from where we left off last time. After supper, we drank tea and talked of many things. Gerard's latest book, about a German SS officer, had been published, and he was hard at work on another one, about a US marine during the Pacific campaign in WWII. And he had a day job besides.

[Diary] I was up at 08:30, and I had a cup of tea with Gerard. After that, he did some warm-up exercises in preparation for a 12-km run. We left the house with Gerard stretching out, and me on a bike, which was just about an even match given the difference in our respective fitness levels. We wound around the edge of Haren and out through several other villages and long dark paths through the forest. The Netherlands probably has the best support for bike riding of any country.

[Diary] Early afternoon, Wietske suggested a ride to a village having a 2-day festival. Soon after, she, Suze, and I set out on the 7-km trip through forests. The main feature of the festival was a series of floats decorated with flowers, foliage, and vegetables. Each one had a theme, and most had people in costume for their theme. Given the perishable nature of the decorations, they had been completed only the day before. The floats were impressive. There was live music, and we listened for some time to a choir of over-60s singing old tunes in English. They were having a great time. There were numerous stalls selling clothing, food, and toys. Mid-afternoon, we peddled back home.

From a 2013 visit to Amsterdam, Haren, Utrecht, and Delft:

[Diary] Now I didn't actually want to be in Germany; it's just that my preferred airline group, Star Alliance, didn't fly directly from London to Amsterdam. The best they could do was to route me through Frankfurt, which was probably more than four times the direct distance. C'est la vie! Well, I followed the Connecting Flights signs, but I still had to go through passport control and security even though I was only in-country about an hour. The alarm went off when I walked through security, and I was subjected to a rigorous hand-check. The security officer gave me a series of instructions in German, to which I replied, "Auf English, bitte." (In English please.) And his reply, in English, was, "I speak only German!"

To say that I walked a half-marathon to my gate would be exaggerating a bit, but it sure was a long way. At least I didn't have to change terminals! No sooner had I arrived at Gate A34, that I found a woman from Mexico who spoke only Spanish, and she needed help finding her gate. So I took her to the flight display, looked at her boarding pass, and directed her to a gate nearby. I found that my basic Spanish was a bit rusty as I struggled to remember my numbers.

In the waiting area I sat next to a very interesting young Dutch woman who was returning home to Utrecht from 12 days holiday on the island of Malta. She was a PhD student doing research on various aspects of cancer. We talked of many things and I discovered that in the Netherlands graduate students get paid a stipend. She would graduate in a year and planned to do post-grad work in London.

Boarding was called and being an elite flyer, I got to board Flight LH1002 early. At the entrance I asked the young flight attendant if the plane was going somewhere near Amsterdam. She replied with a smile, "No, we're going to Brussels, but you can get a taxi from there." We both laughed and agreed that, it's the journey, not the destination!

[Diary from Amsterdam] The Amsterdam International Airport (AMS) is called Schiphol and is up to 11 feet below sea level, so I hope that little Dutch boy keeps his finger in the dijk (dike). The name comes from "Ship Grave", a reference to the fact that numerous ships sank in the area before it was reclaimed.

[Diary] I had decided to do one significant activity that day, and that was to visit the Dutch Resistance Museum dealing with WWII. I spent more than 2½ hours looking at videos, reading information, and listening to an English-language headset. It was very well done and most informative. Of course, the theme suggests the problems the Dutch had with the occupation by the Germans, but one section of exhibits dealt with the impact of Japan's entering the war. Japan attacked and overran the Dutch East Indies. After the war, the Dutch expected to go back to the way things were there, but Sukarno and others pushed for independence, which eventually came in 1949. One theme I came away with was, during such an occupation, should the people "adapt, collaborate, or resist"? I guess we really won't know which we'd do until we're placed in that position.

I took the tram back into the downtown getting off at Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square). There, right in the middle of the square was a large statue of the great painter, surrounded by many bronze, armed men. There were many tourists and locals lazing in the sun, and as I watched, a half a dozen policemen and women walked among the groups of people inspecting their bags, presumably for drugs.

I decided to enjoy the sunshine and I walked along a canal to the square in front of the palace. Along the way, I stopped to take photos of bikes, bridges, tour boats, canals, and interesting signs. I jumped aboard a Number 14 tram and headed back to my neighborhood. There, I dropped by a supermarket to rescue two liters of volle melk (whole milk), a liter of sinaasapplesap (orange juice), and a carton of vanillavla (vanilla custard). (As a growing boy, I have to keep up my strength!)

[Diary] In the lift going down I met an American woman living in Berlin. Together, we walked to catch the tram. Having mastered the public transport system the previous day, I was ready for bigger moves, such as changing from one tram to another! After two very fast trips, I was standing at the end of a long line waiting to get into the van Gogh Museum. I wondered why it was so popular. Perhaps word had gotten around that Vinnie had cut off his other ear! The line moved quickly and I paid for €20-worth of culture, which included an audio/video guide. Two hours and four floors later I still didn't understand art, sigh. [This was my second visit to that museum. My first was 32 years earlier during my first visit to Amsterdam.] A number of his works looked familiar. These included two of his sunflower series, several self-portraits (but not my favorite one done with dots), and The Potato Eaters. When I saw Still life with cabbage and clogs, I almost wanted to cut off my own ear! He certainly lived the life of a tortured artist, and died by his own hand at age 37. To be sure, the highlight of my visit was the restaurant, where I had a bowl of tomato and parsley soep (soup) and a saucijzen broodje (sausage roll). It was more food than I needed, but it sure was good.

The large, open space behind the museum was full of tents and people with what appeared to be a festival to promote all the museums and galleries around the city. The public was out in force with entertainment, food, and drink all around. An impressive, huge building dominated the end of the park, and I walked over to take a look at it. It was the Rijksmuseum. I wondered around its gardens and main hall, but declined to go into the exhibits.

There was a tram stop nearby, and after I stood there waiting for while I noticed that stalls were built over the tram tracks in that area. Perhaps the tram to this point wasn't running today, thought I, and I was right. So I had to walk a bit to get outside the temporary pedestrian zone. I rode a tram toward the city station and got off to walk down some back streets. Then once I got back on the tram, it was stopped soon after by a police incident up ahead, so I got off and walked to the main station. From there, I headed towards De Oude Kirk (The Old Church) that had been recommended in one of my guidebooks. I saw the spires and headed down a side alley towards them. Just then, there was a loud knocking of metal on glass off to my right, and when I turned to see what it was, I saw a scantily-clad, buxom, dark-skinned woman sitting in a window rapping on the glass with her rings. She was tempting me like a Siren, but it had nothing to do with any rocks! So I raced off to the safety of the church, passing several more such ladies-of-the-night as I went. However, once I got there, I found the interior of the church quite underwhelming, and the €5 admission wasted. I might have gotten more value from one of the ladies! It was getting cold and a stiff breeze was blowing. Besides, my feet were telling me to go home. So I did, but I had to go through the Red Light District to get there.

[Diary from Haren] My friend, Gerard, came home around 13:00 and we ate lunch together and talked of many things. Around 14:30, we set out for his daily exercise (which doesn't include his 2x6 km bike ride to work each day). He was training for extreme races (those longer than a marathon; that is, more than 43 km) and he has a coach who sets him a monthly training schedule. This day it involved 1:15 hours of running, in five lots of 15 minutes with one minute walking between. I followed along on a bicycle. For the most part we were on paved surfaces, brick paths, or hard crushed gravel, but in a few places it was soft sand, and I had to put in some serious effort. We did it all, trains, boats, planes, and automobiles. During our 15-km jaunt, we followed along the main inter-city train line, we crossed a major canal along which a German was taking his big motor yacht, we crossed the flight path of the local airport, and we followed the regional freeway and crossed under it. We wound through villages and forests and between fields on farms, seeing sheep, horses, sweat corn, and lots of thick green grass.

Back home, Gerard prepared supper and we sat down to eat. Consider a family of four adults all of whom ride bikes and walk all the time and you can imagine they have hearty appetites, especially Gerard who completes in triathlons (swimming, running, and biking, with ice skating instead of swimming in winter).

After we finished eating and I did the dishes, Wietske and I went for a long walk on the edge of town where I patted and fed grass to some horses. It was very pleasant out and we talked of many things. Back home, we all sat quietly in the lounge reading with the sound of the clock ticking. I started in on Bryon Farwell's biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton, an amazing man from the Victorian Age.

[Diary from Utrecht] Around 11:00, we drove to a small river where we rented a rowboat and a 2-person kayak. We worked hard against the strong current for two hours with friend Floor and me rowing two girls in the boat and her husband, Jochem, with the third girl in the kayak. It was hard work and the seat was also very hard! However, the rain held off. We ate a nice lunch at a restaurant and then took only one hour to get back downstream. As we finished, a few drops of rain fell.

Next, we drove Bente to a riding lesson at a local stable. The class rode in a large in-door area and we watched them through windows in an attached waiting room. We played cards, looked around the stables, and I worked on this diary. Back home, Bente (age 10) cooked salmon in puff pastry, which we ate with salad.

[Diary] The next day, we all crammed in the car and headed out for our next adventure. The country road was just wide enough for a car and had marked bike lanes on each side. Despite the overcast day, many people were out riding. We also encountered a group of older motorcycle riders, including several with the ladies in sidecars. For some distance, we drove on a road atop an earthen dike. Finally, we reached a nature park where we walked a path along a river and among a herd of curious calves. Jade and I stopped to pick wildflowers. From there, they dropped me at a local station train; however, as soon as I reached the platform, the waiting train left without me. Don't you just hate that when that happens? So the whole family came onto the platform and waited with me for 15 minutes.

I bought a ticket to Utrecht Central, where I bought another one to Delft, supposedly via Den Haag (The Hague). The screen showed Spoor (Track) 8, and by the time I got there it was one minute to departure. I jumped on and just as the train started to pull out, I asked a woman if this was the train to Den Haag. She shook her head and said that we were going to Rotterdam. Apparently, I was on Platform 8a, and should have been a bit further along it at 8b. Oh well, Rotterdam is on the way to Delft, so I could change there. There was only one stop, in the famous cheese-market town of Gouda.

[Diary from Delft] At the Delft station, nothing looked like I remembered it. No, I wasn't having a senior moment and I hadn't gotten off at the wrong station; the station was in a complete state of turmoil with major construction going on. Light rain fell and just as I spied a fietstaxi (a small bike-like taxi driven by pedals) with a young woman driver, someone engaged her, and I was left to walk to my hotel in the rain. Once there I dumped my luggage, freshened up a bit, and then headed back to the center of town for a dinner meeting with some colleagues. Back in my room, I prepared for several meetings the next day.

My very nice room turned out to have a toaster oven for a bed cover, but due to some ingenious thinking, I managed to sleep most of the night without cooking. However, when my 07:00 alarm sounded, I was not ready to get up. A very hot shower rectified that and, by 07:30 I was in the dining room perusing the breakfast buffet, which was included in the room rate. I had a bowl of fruit with cornflakes, some dense, black bread with cheese and ham, and some juice. And to my pleasant surprise one of the three options on the coffee machine was café verkeerd, so I ordered up one of those and filled the tall glass mug with hot milk. It was all quite civilized. There was quite a crowd, eating quietly and talking in various languages.

[Diary] I shared a taxi to my meeting place with a committee secretary, a very pleasant Japanese woman I've come to know over the years. As we arrived early, I worked on my own for an hour until the plenary started at 10:00. Delegates attended from seven countries; however, the US delegation had gotten on an inter-city train by mistake, which took them to Rotterdam. Their train went through, but didn't stop at, the station they wanted! Don't you just hate that when that happens?

We broke for lunch at noon, and enjoyed some chicken satays with hot peanut sauce and rice with salad. At 1 o'clock, I joined an ad-hoc meeting that lasted for 90 minutes. Afterwards, I joined another committee, which met for two more hours. Meetings, bloody meetings!

[Diary] As I got to the train platform my train was standing there, but the doors were shut. I pushed the "open door" button and the train's electronics ignored me and the train pulled out of the station. A bit rude I thought! Anyway, there was another one in 15 minutes. As I waited, I noticed what looked like police activity listed on a few Inter-City train schedules. There were also some announcements on the PA system. When I asked a local to translate, he told me a dead body had been found at a station a few stops away, and that police were re-directing trains or not letting them stop at that station. Fortunately, that had no effect on my trip.

I caught a train that was direct to Schiphol Airport (AMS) via The Hague and the university city of Leiden. At Priority Check-In, I was processed in no time and the friendly Lufthansa agent got me a better seat on my second leg. After security, I located a business lounge that was happy to have me sit and rest a bit and to use its Wi-Fi system. I noted with interest how many people were drinking beer and spirits/liquor at 8:30 in the morning. AMS is at the crossroads of an international travel network, and it was interesting to see where everyone was going. My gate was one of many just on one concourse, and flights from there were scheduled to the following: Alicante, Basel, Berlin, Bilbao, Billund, Bologna, Bordeaux, Brussels, Canary Islands, La Coruna, Dusseldorf, Geneva, Hanover, Linkoping, Lisbon, Luxembourg, Lyon, Malta, Munich, Oslo, Nice, Prague, Stavanger, Stuttgart, Toulouse, Trondheim, and Vienna, all relatively short-haul destinations within Europe.

Conclusion

Bucket List: I've been to 11 of the Netherland's 12 provinces, with only Zeeland left to go. [Zeeland is the namesake of New Zealand.] I've gone wadlopen (walking out in the sea on the mudflats), so no need to do that again. In the back of my mind, I do have an idea about staying at a B&B in winter on one of the East Frisian Islands with a friendly dog to walk on the beach.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

The world is full of shorthand names, and given the explosion in writing via a limited keyboard (such as those on most mobile phones) for text messages, email, and such, many more shortcuts to typing have been invented.

In this essay, we'll look at some abbreviations and acronyms in common use, but whose long-form is not necessarily so well known or for which there is something of note to mention. A few are included because of a personal interest. [The idea for this essay and most of the entries came to me while I was awake with jetlag during a 2014 visit to Salzburg, Austria, between 04:00 and 06:30 one morning.]

Some references you might find useful are Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.abbreviations.com/, http://dictionary.reference.com/abbreviations/, and http://www.acronymfinder.com/.

Abbreviations

According to Wikipedia, an abbreviation "is a shortened form of a word or phrase". An abbreviation is never read like a word; it is spelled out letter by letter.

AD or A.D. – Taken from the Latin Anno Domini meaning, "In the Year of the Lord", and representing the year after the supposed birth of Jesus. The AD is written before the year, as is AD 1066. The politically correct equivalent is CE or C.E. (Common Era). See BC below.

A.M. or a.m. – from the Latin ante meridiem, meaning before midday: Of course, much of the world uses a 24-hour clock, thereby avoiding the silliness of having 12 pm be earlier than 1 pm! See P.M. below.

BC or B.C.Before Christ: This seems odd, as English really didn't exist as such when the AD naming convention was invented in AD 525. Why not Latin like AD? The BC is written after the year, as is 345 BC. The politically correct equivalent is BCE or B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). See AD above.

BS or BSc – A Bachelor of Science degree, from the Latin Scientiæ Baccalaureus: Just to show that my time in university was not entirely wasted, there I learned that BS had something to do with "bullsh*t", MS meant "more of the same", and Ph.D. meant, "piled higher and deeper".

DIYDo it Yourself: Mostly used in the context of home maintenance.

DNADeoxyribonucleic acid: Its buddy is RNA, Ribonucleic acid.

e.g. – from the Latin exempli gratia: Means "for example".

ETAEstimated Time of Arrival: Commonly heard from the cockpit when flying.

GMTGreenwich Mean Time: Named because the internationally accepted prime meridian runs through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. (Refer also to Coordinated Universal Time [UTC].) On one visit to said observatory, I watched as tourists stood with one foot either side of the meridian, inserted a £1-coin in a machine, and received an official "I straddled the Prime Meridian" certificate!

i.e. – from the Latin id est: Means "that is".

IRSInternal Revenue Service: The US Federal tax-collection agency. In the UK, this used to be known as Inland Revenue, and I remember well in a sketch English comedian Benny Hill questioning why he should pay taxes to them when "he lived on the coast"!

LSDlysergic acid diethylamide: A psychedelic drug commonly referred to as acid.

M&M – A brand of candy/sweets: Not to be confused with S&M.

m.o. – from the Latin modus operandi: Means "method of operation"; commonly used by police detectives when discussing a possible suspect's motives.

NB – from the Latin nota bene: Means "note well".

OK – okay: Although no one knows the origins of the use of this, click here for some interesting theories.

P.M. or p.m. – from the Latin post meridiem, meaning after midday: Of course, much of the world uses a 24-hour clock, thereby avoiding the silliness of having 12 am be earlier than 1 am! See A.M. above.

PS – from the Latin post scriptum: Means "writing that follows after the main body". If there is more than one thing to say, PSS, PPS, and PPPS can be used as well.

Q.E.D. – from the Latin quod erat demonstrandum: If you took a mathematics class in university, you may well have seen this written after a mathematical proof. Basically, it means, "As you can clearly see", when in reality it requires someone with several advanced degrees to figure out!

R&DResearch and Development: Not to be confused with B&D.

RSVP – from the French répondez s'il vous plaît, (reply, if you please): When seen on a written invitation along with a date, means "please respond by that date".

SOS – the international Morse code distress signal: The "continuous sequence of [easy to press] three dits, three dahs, and three dits" just happens to spell "SOS". Of course, someone just had to retrofit this abbreviation with matching words, with Save our Souls being one such attempt.

UKUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The purveyors of fine convicts, especially those sent first to the American colony of Georgia and later to Australia!

US/USAUnited Sates of America: As I wrote in the May 2014 essay, "What is Normal - Part 7: What's in a Name?" the US is known as VS to the Germans (Die Vereinigten Staaten) and the Dutch (Verenigde Staten), as EU to the French (Les États-Unis), and as EE.UU. to Spanish speakers (Los Estados Unidos).

USSRUnion of Soviet Socialist Republics: However, when written in the Cyrillic alphabet, it's CCCP (Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик, that is, Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), as you've no doubt seen in photos painted on Soviet military and space vehicles).

VIPVery Important Person: For some people, it means, "they are legend in their own mind" rather than "in their own time".

Acronyms

According to Wikipedia, an acronym is "formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word. These components may be individual letters or parts of words." An acronym is read like a word; it is never spelled out letter by letter.

ANZACAustralian and New Zealand Army Corps: Most noted for its WWI campaign at Gallipoli, Turkey. To this day, Australia's national day for remembering its war dead is Anzac Day, April 25th. (For a portrayal of that campaign see the movie Gallipoli, co-starring Mel Gibson.)

ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations: This political and economic group meets to discuss concerns for its region. Australia is an observing member.

BASICBeginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code: This high-level, computer-programming language was made popular by early mini- and personal computers. [It was my first programming language, on a DEC PDP-11 in 1974.]

COBOLCommon Business-Oriented Language: This high-level, computer-programming language has been used for many years for commercial business processing on mainframe computers. [It was my first production programming language when I started work as a programmer for a state highways authority in Australia.]

FortranFormula Translating System: This high-level, computer-programming language is suited to numerical and scientific programming. [I used it for programming mapping and graphics applications, as well as monitoring and controlling hydro and steam power generation.]

IKEA – According to Wikipedia, this well-known Swedish company's name was formed from the initials of its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, the name of the farm on which he was raised, Elmtaryd, and his hometown, Agunnaryd.

laserlight amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

NASA – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: A US government agency that would have us believe it landed several spacecraft on the moon and Mars. Yeah, right! [See the movie Capricorn 1.]

NATONorth Atlantic Treaty Organization: Pretty much everyone knows about this political and military organization, but did you know that it once had a southern counterpart, SEATO? This was the South East Asia Treaty Organization. Separately, there is ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty). By the way, the Soviet-backed, cold-war archrival of NATO was the Warsaw Pact.

Nazi – A National Socialist, from the German Nationalsozialismus.

OPECOrganization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

POTUSPresident of the United States of America. Not to be outdone, the First Lady of the United States is FLOTUS, and the Supreme Court of the United States is SCOTUS. [Now, although you might see some similarities, POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS are not to be confused with Donald Duck's nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie!]

QantasQueensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services. Australia's national airline is one of the oldest, continuing air services in the world, and one of only a few that has never suffered a fatal crash.

radarradio detection and ranging.

scubaself-contained underwater breathing apparatus.

snafu – Military slang for "situation normal: all f**ked up". Generally used to mean a bad situation.

sonarsound navigation and ranging.

Stasi – Ministry for State Security, from the German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit: [These East German secret police had a compound on a hill overlooking the peaceful village of Tiefengruben (near Weimar in Thuringia), where my friends now live. When the East German government fell, the villagers went as a group to see what was in this off-limits area. To their surprise, they found a group of holiday cabins that were used by Stasi members and their families.]

ZIP (Code)Zone Improvement Plan: According to Wikipedia, this US postal code, "was chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly (zipping along), when senders use the code in the postal address".

Written Abbreviations, Spoken Words

Some words are typically written only as abbreviations yet spoken as the full words. Here are some common ones:

etc. – from the Latin et cetera: Means "and so forth". This was a favorite word of the King of Siam in the musical and movie The King and I. The German equivalent is usw. (und so weiter); it's a favorite of mine when I enumerate a list of things and I have no idea whatsoever what comes after the first two!

Mr.mister, from master: The plural, Misters, is sometimes written as Messrs., from French.

Mrs.missus, from mistress: The plural, Mesdames, from French.

I've always found the French connection interesting, especially as the French words were used regularly in photo captions in my hometown and regional newspapers in rural Australia in the 1970s.

Conclusion

Of course there are many other sets of abbreviations and acronyms, ranks and titles, weights and measures, and month names, just to name a few.

Now you've waited patiently to get to this really exciting bit of information, the longest known acronym, ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC. This United States Navy term stands for Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command, but you'll have to figure out for yourself just how the letters were chosen. It certainly isn't obvious to me.

Travel: Memories of Japan

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Official Name: Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku ([the] State of Japan); Capital: Tokyo; Language: Japanese (nihongo); Country Code: JP; Currency: Yen (¥ or JPY)

I've had at least a dozen trips to Japan, with more on the horizon. Apart from the fact that I'm allergic to shellfish, pretty much everything else in that country agrees with me.

General

[Diary] For those with a yen (pun intended) for Japanese food, the in-flight Business-Class menu had the Washoku Zen selection: appetizers of crabmeat in layered eggs, salmon temari, and burdock wrapped in glazed beef, shrimp with fish eggs, seared tuna with wasabi dressing, somen noodles and simmered shiitake mushrooms. The main course consisted of broiled sea bass saikyo yaki, shimeji mushroom, ginkgo nut, simmered bamboo shoot, carrot flower served with steamed rice and Japanese pickled vegetables. Naturally, green tea was served and hashi (chopsticks) were provided. Like most Japanese meals, it looked very attractive.

[Diary] It was at least 10 years since I last spent any real time learning basic Japanese, so I pulled out my introductory book, and refreshed my memory on some of the basics. Over the years, I have found that one of the most useful nihongo no tango (Japanese words) is wakarimasu (I understand) and its opposite wakarimasen (I don't understand). After dabbling in European languages, I must say I found Japanese quite attractive as it has no articles, no plurals, no verb conjugation, the verb comes at the end, and the addition of one suffix to the verb negates the statement while another makes it a question. Of course, as easy as the grammar and pronunciation are, the language is made very complicated with regards to writing and reading.

From a separate trip:

[Diary] I boarded the giant Airbus A380 through the front door of the main level. It was my first time on this behemoth, so I wanted to see how it was configured. It has 2 full levels with the upper deck having a handful of First-Class suites and 120-odd Business-Class suites, with ramps from the main deck at the front and rear. A separate boarding ramp served the upstairs only, to streamline the boarding process. The main deck has 425 Economy seats configured 3+4+3 across, starting at Row 50 at the front. Two ramps were used to board this level. I was in Seat 50C, first row, bulkhead with room to put at least one leg out in the aisle into the galley space in front. The cockpit is midway between the main and upper levels and is reached by 4 steps just in front of me. As far as I could see, the cockpit could accommodate up to 4 people. As you might imagine, it takes quite a while to load something that big, but finally we taxied way out from the terminal, and Flight LH710 was on its way, non-stop Frankfurt to Tokyo, 7 time zones and 11:30-hours flying time to the east. We headed up over Poland, Lithuania, across Russia, Mongolia, a bit of China, and South Korea, before landing at Tokyo International Narita (NRT).

A few words about life in a ryokan (inn): Each time on arrival, one is handed a pair of slippers, which one puts on right then and there while one's street shoes are placed in rows against a wall, on a shelf, or in some sort of unsecured storage space. While some inns have slippers of different sizes, others don't, in which case, very tall/big people like me (size 13 or metric 44 shoes) look a little odd in Asian feet-size footwear. These house slippers can only be worn in the inn's common areas. They are not to be worn in one's room or in a toilet. Each toilet has its own pair of slippers, which all users share. One does not wear any footwear in one's room, as one is walking on tatami (rice-stalk) mats. (This situation is replicated in some Japanese restaurants. That is, one leaves one's street shoes in the entrance area and wears slippers in the restaurant itself.)

My room had a narrow, short passage with hardwood floors, so one could wear slippers there. To the left was a western-style toilet and vanity cabinet; however, the sink was at the height for people no taller than five feet! Toiletries and a hair dryer were provided. Although the commode looked quite familiar, one side had an armrest containing quite a number of buttons to control various options. The best I can say is never trust a toilet that plugs into an electric outlet! To the right of the passage was the bathroom. The tub was very deep and nowhere near full-person length. In fact, it was a tub for soaking after one has soaped and washed oneself thoroughly while sitting on the very small, short stool on the floor. A hand-held shower is provided for that purpose. Putting soap or shampoo in the bath is a definite NO-NO, as soaking water is intended to be shared by others. However, as mine was a single room with private bathroom, no other guests or staff were policing my actions!

My room was 3 meters by 6 meters, and as a tatami mat is 1x3 meters in size, the room was six mats in size. In an alcove, there was a small fridge, a tea/coffee maker, and TV. On the floor sat a low table with chair, a lacquered tray set with teacup and a pastry, plus a thermos of boiling water to make green or black tea, which was provided in teabags. As I had arrived in the evening, the bedding had been taken out of the storage behind some rice paper screen doors along one wall, and placed on the floor. It consisted of a thick pad with a thinner one on top, and a bottom sheet. A soft, fluffy one-piece cover lay on top. In a small floor-to-ceiling closet hung a yukata, and in a wicker basket at the bottom lay a western-size bath towel and the obi (sash) for the yukata.

Now, regarding tying the obi, it is important to remember that the left side of the yukata must be wrapped over top of the right side. The only time the sides are wrapped right-over-left is when preparing a body for a funeral. So unless one wants to be seen as a "dead man walking", left goes over right!

Tokyo

It's a big and busy city, and I've seen and done at lot of the things on offer. Here are just a few, small extracts from my diaries, both involving food:

[Diary] I found a curry house and sat at a counter. The gaijin's (foreigner's) "Menu Book" was in English, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, and Chinese. Interestingly, a separate sheet written only in Japanese had some sort of Dutch specials and had numerous pictures of windmills and tulips. The menu had this "Order by the numbers" approach. Choose pork or beef; 200, 300, or 400 grams of boiled rice; and choose the spice level from -1 to 10, with 0 being normal. I chose level 2 "For a little extra stimulation", the menu said. Level 5 was "Not for the faint-hearted. Consider the consequences." The food came quite quickly and perspiration soon appeared on my brow. I managed to neutralize the heat with some Coke.

[Diary] We sat at 2 long tables each of which had several gas-fired hotplates built in. I sat in front of one, so became a designated cook. Each group was given a large platter of meat and vegetables, and another with shredded cabbage and noodles. We started off with pieces of steak, spicy sausage, lobster, and scallops with red peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant, over which we poured a variety of sauces. Towards the end, we added the cabbage and noodles. Copious quantities of beer were consumed, and a great time was had by all. I sat with delegates from Japan and Korea, and I was very pleased to sit opposite the former Head-of-Delegation from Japan, who'd stepped down several years earlier. His English was decidedly British.

Kyoto

Yes, it's a city full of wooden temples, and what magnificent structures they are. Just go visit!

Nara

I've visited this old capital twice, both times for conferences. And, yes, the deer really do wander around the open park among the tourists.

[Diary] A Finnish conference delegate and I set off on a walking tour of the area and its temples, shrines and gardens. Early afternoon, we stopped in at a small restaurant run by a tiny grandmother, to get some lunch. She was ever so happy to have us as guests. I had a large bowl of soba noodles with vegetables. She was fascinated by my height and the size of my boots, especially when she and I put our feet alongside each other. We chose our meal from the plastic models in the window.

Outside the park, we walked down the long, main street shopping area. I was looking to buy a woolen cap to replace the one I'd accidentally left on the train. I finally found one at a most unexpected place, a convenience store. Then, as I was quite low on yen, I went in search of a cash machine. I tried at least six without luck. One was closed for servicing, three accepted cards only issued in Japan, and the rest had only Japanese instructions, and I couldn't figure out how to work them. Finally, I found a Post Office, and its machine was ever so happy to be of service, so I withdrew twice as much as I'd initially planned just in case I had trouble finding another one later in the week. Armed with ¥40,000 (US$400), I was ready to go again.

[Diary] At the station, I got my ticket for the 4:16 pm shinkansen (Bullet Train). To my right sat a middle-aged woman who read much of the way. To my left was an older man, a professor of Economics in Kyoto. He spoke very good English and had obtained his Ph. D in the U.S. many years ago. He had just bought two English-language magazines to read en-route. Both had President-elect Obama on the cover, and when I told him I'd volunteered for Obama during the recent [2008] elections, he stood up, bowed, grabbed my hand, shook it vigorously, and smiled. We had some great conversation and exchanged business cards.

Osaka

Late in 2000, I stayed with Harusa, a woman I'd hosted the year before when she was in the US for three months of English, American culture, and customer-service training. She lived with her family in the mountains of Hyogo Prefecture. She and her husband commuted to Osaka each day to work.

I spent three nights with them over a weekend during which time I offered to cook a meal. Harusa's mother, a widow who lived with her, ran the house. When Harusa translated for her my offer, the mother couldn't stop smiling. A man in the kitchen! Helping with domestic work! Whatever next! Anyway, she was gracious enough to let me in her kitchen, where I made Mexican food for the family and friends who lived nearby. It took a while for us to find all the ingredients and it wasn't until I found a large, international supermarket that I spied "Old El Paso" Mexican food kits containing all the ingredients. When it came time to cook, the three women appeared in their aprons, headscarves, and pads and pencils eager and ready to write down the recipe, so they might reproduce it. However, each time they asked me "How much?", "How long?", and so forth, I told them I just made it up as I went, and I never used recipes. They didn't understand that at all, so put away their pads and just watched.

Hiroshima

The visit to the Atomic Bomb museum and dome was very sobering, especially when at the entrance the ticket sign said that survivors of the blast were admitted free!

A highlight of being in that general area was a day-trip to the famous shrine at Miyajima.

Kamakura

After Tokyo, this is my second-most visited place in Japan.

We first met the Fukushima family when they hosted us in 1994. Since then, my family has hosted them numerous times, and vice versa. Most times I'm in Tokyo, I manage to make a day trip to see them or to stay for several days.

Misa teaches private English classes to children of various ages, and we help. My specialty is to teach them to play the card game Uno where we work on basic vocabulary regarding colors and numbers. Her husband, Kaz, and I like to go hiking.

[Diary] We drove to a nice summer house and grounds formerly used by Emperor Hirohito. The grounds ran down to the sea at Sagami Bay, which was a great place for collecting marine specimens. The emperor was an avid marine biologist, and we visited an interesting marine museum there.

[Diary] … We walked to a large shrine complex nearby. The streets were crowded with cars and people. In a small building near the shrine, a wedding was taking place, so we stopped to watch. The bride had a large white headdress and a young female assistant to the Shinto priest was performing some sort of ceremony. It was the day to celebrate 3-, 5- and 7-year-old boys and girls, so many young girls were dressed in kimonos and the boys in fancy clothes. I got some great photos.

[Diary] … Around noon, we all left to go out for lunch at a sushi restaurant. We sat in a large booth and a narrow conveyor belt delivered plates of food. Each plate cost ¥105. Each booth had a touch-sensitive flat-panel screen through which one could place custom orders; these were then delivered by a computer-controlled tray that ran above the belt. We ordered a number of plates and they came directly to our booth. Once we had taken the plates, we pressed a button and the tray returned empty to the kitchen. Each booth had a standard set of things: a box of chopsticks, toothpicks, wet towels, soy sauce, packets of wasabi, a large box containing slices of fresh ginger, and sweet and sour sauce (to be eaten with eel). We each placed a small spoon of powdered green tea in our cups and filled them from a boiling water spigot mounted on our table. We ate miso soup with seaweed, a variety of fish and seafood sushi, and rice with soy sauce. Once we were done, we summoned the waitress by pressing a button on our screen, she counted the empty plates, multiplied that number by 105, and, voila, we had the final bill.

[Diary] … Misa and I drove into Kamakura and visited 2 temples. The first was one of my favorites, and hers too, as it had a forest of dark green 50'-tall bamboos, along with my other favorites, moss, running water, and ferns. From there, we walked to another temple that had an English garden. We walked around that and then visited a teahouse. It had just opened and we were the first customers of the day. We took off our shoes and sat on the tatami mats looking out over a rock garden. There was no table, just a large expanse of mats. Misa ordered cold green tea with ice while I ordered hot green tea. Our server was a young woman who arrived soon after with a tray. She put it on the floor in front of Misa, bowed, and said some words. Misa also bowed and was served her tea along with a paper napkin and a sweet cookie. The process was repeated for me and my bowl of hot tea. When we were finished, the server came and went through another little ceremony before taking our empty bowls and cookie wrappers.

Fuji-san (Mount Fuji)

Although a picture is worth a 1,000 words, seeing the snow-capped Mt. Fuji in person without its ever-present weather system is a sight to behold! And I've had that pleasure a number of times.

[Diary] We headed for Hakone and the lakes district near the base of Mount Fuji. I asked my friend, Kaz, to stop, so I could take a photo of the many fishermen on the lake. I did so, and then when I turned around, there was a clear view of Mount Fuji in the distance, complete with snow cap. It was magnificent. The place where we stopped also just happened to be the site of a festival the following day, and people were setting up for it. The main event was to be archery while riding on horses, just like in the old Samurai warrior days.

We drove up Mount Fuji to the 5th Stage, which was as far as the road went. From there, one could only go on foot, and plenty of people do. This was where the snow currently ended, but we did get to walk in it some distance on one path. It was rather touristy there as you might imagine, and we bought postcards and had lunch. Apparently, at the mountain top there is a public telephone and a mailbox, so one can gets cards stamped on Mount Fuji. (Apparently, tourists climb to the top and post their letters and cards. Then some enterprising person climbs to the top, retrieves all the mail from the mailbox, and brings it back down to the Post Office.) The mountain is 3,700 meters tall, is a dormant volcano, whose crater is 800 meters across and which takes an hour to walk around. For centuries it was a sacred site (and is still considered to be by some), and women were not allowed there. The oldest recorded person to reach the summit was 102 and had climbed it many times.

The clouds rolled in soon after we arrived, and as is often the case, the mountain was hidden in its own weather system. On the drive back down we stopped off for a hike into some old and steep lava fields.

We drove back to Kamakura through the countryside. There was a lot of traffic and it took many hours, but it was well worth it. (The reason for the traffic was that this was a long weekend, after which Golden Week was to start. During this week many business are closed as are the schools, so it was a national holiday week.)

During a separate trip to the area:

[Diary] Kaz had booked a cabin in the woods near Hakone. We checked in, unloaded our gear, and went for a good long walk down by the lake before the sun set. There were plenty of trees with lots of colorful foliage, especially Japanese maples. It was a good physical workout, so on our return, we went to the hot baths. It was my first time at such a place, so I had to learn the rules. The lady at the counter spoke fluent English with an American accent. (She'd lived in California and New York City.) She gave me a key in a rubber pouch that strapped to my wrist. At the entrance to the change room, I took off my boots and placed them in small shoe locker, taking the key with me. That key I stored in a clothes locker along with all my clothes. I was issued a heavy-duty face washer and a mid-size towel. So naked I got, locked the locker with my first key, and off we went. Although there was a small indoor pool, Kaz said he was going to the outside one. So along I went. The pool was in the shape of a circle with a diameter of 15 feet. Down the middle was a tall wall that divided the men's' and women's' sections. The water was reasonably warm but not too hot and about 2–3 feet deep. A very big wooden roof covered us but the sides were open to the cold evening. Steam rose from the water as we lay back and soaked with hot towels on our heads.

Hokkaido

I've had one trip to Japan's northern-most island. I knew almost nothing about that island before I arrived, but soon learned that it was only occupied by the Japanese in the late 1800's. It was the first land the Japanese had that was suitable for broad-acre farming. The US provided help with that, and influenced things in other areas, such as the use of a grid system with numbered and lettered streets, and New England-style red-brick buildings.

[Diary] As I walked outside from the Sapporo main train station, it was a pleasant evening. However, soon it started to drizzle, then rain, then pour. And, for good measure, the wind blew hard, so I had to hold onto my straw hat as well as my luggage. I headed in the general direction of my ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). I asked directions of a young couple along the way, and although their English was minimal, with my very basic Japanese and their street map, we figured out I was off by a block, so I backtracked, arriving at the inn around 10 pm, local time.

The ryokan staff was very happy to see me, dripping wet as I was. I registered and the front desk clerk took my luggage, while a hostess, dressed in full kimono and those wonderful socks with toes, escorted me to my room on the second floor. Inside the main door of my room was the area to leave one's shoes and to change into house slippers. The main room measured 8 tatami (straw) mats in size. There was the usual low tea table, a TV, phone, refrigerator, and the traditional rice paper sliding screens for inner doors and on storage closets. A small, but adequate en-suite bathroom was included, but, of course, that had its own bathroom slippers—one must not wear house slippers in the toilet! The hostess gave me a towel to dry myself. She then took one look at my size, and took the yukata from my closet and replaced it with a much larger one. (A yukata is a light-weight kimono that one wears to bed. It can also be worn around the inn.) An insulated jug of iced water and another of boiling water were provided, along with a delicate piece of cake on a plate. Not being a green tea fan, and needing sugar with my tea, I did make tea, but used the black tea bags and sugar I'd brought from home.

I had a nice hot shower, then changed into my yukata, and got into my futon bed on the floor. Although I travel with my own feather pillow, I did use several Japanese pillows as extra support. They are small and stuffed full of dried rice kernels, which, although hard, can be quite comfortable. Lights out at 10:30 pm local time, more than 24 hours after I'd left my house.

[Diary] … When I went down to breakfast, the hostess welcomed me dressed in her beautiful kimono. After our bowing and pleasantries, she seated me and brought me a traditional Japanese breakfast. That included a tray with a bowl of hot miso soup, a piece of cold cooked fish, a variety of cold, pickled vegetables, the ever-present bowl of warm sticky white rice, and, of course, o-hashi (honorable chopsticks). As usual with food in Japan, it was all arranged like a piece of art, making it a shame to have to eat it.

[Diary] … My friend Yoshiyuki, whom I'd hosted several years earlier, met me at the ryokan. The sun was shining and the weather looked very promising. We drove to the Hokkaido Shinto shrine where we were very fortunate to watch a special ceremony. From there, we headed out on the main highway to Otaru, the port city an hour away. There were quite a few tour buses around, and young men were negotiating both hand- and bike-drawn rickshaw rides. The canal and warehouse district has been very nicely restored, and many flowers and art/craft stalls were along the canal. We ate lunch in a very small ramen noodle house. Mine was soy-based with pork, and mini-size, as the big ones were too big for me. Then on the street, we bought some wonderful melon-flavored ice cream. We drove along the coast a bit then up a small mountain, Mt. Tengu, which has a ski slope. At the famous glass factory, we saw many nice pieces and watched master craftsmen and their apprentices at work. Although we weren't that far up, it was pleasantly cool. We drove back along the coast.

[Diary] … It was a nice day, so I set out for the Hokkaido University, a sprawling campus started as an agricultural college in 1876. A co-founder was Dr. William Smith Clark, who founded the Massachusetts Agricultural College 10 years earlier. (Massachusetts and Hokkaido are sister states.) There were a number of gardens and museums. The current student population was about 20,000.

Okinawa

I've been there once, for a 3-day conference. It's quite some distance from the mainland.

[Diary] At 7 pm, I went down to a reception hosted by the Japan Standards organization. Delegates and partners sat at a number of tables socializing, and eating and drinking. There was an eclectic selection of eastern and western foods, and some divine desserts. Mid-way through, a young woman in traditional dress arrived and began playing a local stringed instrument while singing. She was accompanied on drums by another young woman dressed in a dance costume. After several songs, they were joined by a troupe of dancers in bright costumes. Each had a large drum hanging at their waist, and they sure belted out some noise. They were volunteers from the Okinawa prefecture (local government). I sat with a delegate from China, and his wife, an editor at a Chinese art institute. This was her first time traveling outside China.

[Diary] … First stop on our tour was the castle occupied by the leader of the old Kingdom of Ryukyu, which comprised Okinawa and the surrounding islands. Although quite a few of the wooden buildings had been destroyed by fire over its 500-year history, most of them had been beautifully restored. After an hour there, we moved on to the famous tunnel network dug by hand by Japanese naval forces in preparation for the Allied invasion in 1945. Many military members committed suicide there rather than be taken prisoner.

Yokohama

Although I'd passed through this city numerous times on the train going to Kamakura, I've only stayed in the area once, and visited it briefly two other times. It's quite close to the old international airport, Haneda (HND).

I stayed in, and attended a conference at, a hotel right near the harbor. I believe that it was the tallest building in Japan. Now at some 70 floors, it didn't seem that tall, but considering Japan is in an earthquake zone, this is the upper limit allowed for construction. As a hotel, what made it interesting was that the reception was on the fourth floor and the rooms were on the top floors, with a restaurant at the very top providing a great view over the city and harbor. From there, I got a bird's eye view of the helipads on the surrounding buildings.

During my free time, I took a local bus out to a large garden where traditional buildings from all over the country had been reconstructed as a living museum.

Conclusion

Each time I plan a trip to Japan, I look forward to it very much, and I've never been disappointed. One of the highlights is when I see a woman in traditional dress, complete with white-powdered face, and wooden clogs. I've found the people to be very gracious, and, initially, was pleasantly surprised to find that many people from the time of the US Occupation spoke passable English and were eager to practice it. I get the impression that interfering with someone else's stuff is just not done. Time and again, I've seen stores and private houses with valuable things left standing out in or near the street, yet no one seems to take them.

Bucket List: I have this romantic idea of spending a month staying and working on a farm where the host family has little or no English. I'm also interested in hiking with a small pack, probably around Hokkaido. And although I have never flown into the famous Kansai Airport (KIX), I'll get there eventually. It's built on an island created from earth cut from the top of a mountain, and as the soil settles, the island keeps moving. To that end, some 10,000 microprocessors are continually monitoring and using equipment to keep the terminal buildings level. The good news is that during a big earthquake in nearby Kobe, the island wobbled, but only a little bit.

Technology, Revisited

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Back in November 2010 [1], I wrote about the telephone, television, the internet, and recorded music. Then in December of that year [2], I covered automobiles, still and video cameras, the written word, a digital data preservation strategy, and my right-hand gadget. Three and a half years on, I'm back to update my thoughts on most of these topics.

Telephone

In mid-2012, I moved, and after 29 years with the same home/office telephone number, I was forced to change it. At first, I thought that would be a big loss, but as it happened, it stopped all those annoying sales and marketing callers from reaching me. And after a year of renting, I moved again, and had to change my number a second time. I've had my new number for a year now, but I still don't know any part of it except the area code. When asked my number, I open my wallet and take out a business card from which I read it. People often ask, "Have you just moved?" to which I reply, "No, I got this new number more than a year ago, but as I don't call myself, I haven't yet found a need to memorize it!"

Being an old-fashioned guy, I still have a landline. In any event, I work from home, so a landline is convenient for both work and play. When I moved the second time, I replaced my phone system for the first time in about 15 years. While the base unit is connected to a wall jack, the two extensions are wireless, so I can place them anywhere in the house and even outside.

Sometime after I moved the second time, my phone company ran a fiber-optic cable down my street, and they were very eager to have me move to that system from the old copper wire. After they answered a long list of questions, I agreed to the changeover, especially as it was at no cost to me. The big change was that the phone would no longer get power from the phone line. Instead, the technician installed a large box on the inside wall of my garage that contained a battery pack. The battery is kept charged by a connection to the electricity. In theory, if I lose my electricity supply, the backup pack provides some eight hours of phone use. Not having had a blackout since, this feature has not yet been put to the test.

In [1], I wrote, "I do not have a mobile phone and I have no plan to get one anytime soon. If I had one, I expect I would find uses for it, but I'm pretty sure I'd have it primarily for outgoing/emergency calls and would keep it switched off most of the time. And I'm certain its ring tone would not be a 100-decibel version of Beethoven's 5th, and that I'd have some manners when using it among other people."

I now own not one, but two mobile phones! Aggh; the Devil made me do it! Once I sold my house, I rented for a year while I decided "what next?" In order to interact with renting agents as I was driving around the countryside reading their advertising signs, I bought a basic Samsung phone for $10 that was compatible with the TracPhone pay-as-you-go service. It came with 20 free minutes and 60 days of service, and every minute/number-of-days I bought, would double. Exactly one day after I started looking, I found my dream house, and I made only one call on my new mobile. Later, I added a 240-minute/3-month card. Finally, I bought a 1,000-minute/2-year card. In the two years I've owned it, I've made no more than 25 calls on it. As I predicted in [1], I use it for my convenience only; it's switched off most of the time with no message-recording facility! I simply do not give out its number.

A year ago, I had a houseguest coming from Australia for six weeks. It would be convenient for us to communicate when we were apart, especially for the two weeks we travelled in the northwest. What to do but buy another Samsung—this time for only $7!—and three months of service. When that expired, I put the phone in a drawer. When the need arises, I will charge it up, both with power and minutes, and get a new phone number.

I've been a user of Skype for some years, and use it for international calls, but only to landline numbers as the calling rate is much cheaper. (As some friends abroad have found, when they've moved to mobile-phone service only, they no longer hear from me!) I used to use it for domestic, long-distance calls too, but my new home-phone service has unlimited time at no charge.

Once, I rode the high-speed Acela train from Washington DC to New York, and deliberately chose to sit in the "Quiet Car" where mobile phone usage is forbidden. Of course, that didn't stop some riders from taking calls, but after I glared at them and/or chastised them verbally, they got the message.

With all this hands-free stuff, I can no longer tell if a person is talking on a phone, to themselves, or their imaginary friend. Whichever, they seem to get pretty animated even when no one can see all their hand gestures. (Perhaps the NSA is capturing their actions by satellite as well as their call!)

As for texting, I just don't get it. It sure looks like a solution looking for a problem. Once, I used my mobile to order a taxi, so the taxi company had my (otherwise secret) number. Twice, I received text messages—at my expense—telling me the taxi was so-many miles or minutes away. Wow! I simply don't know how I survived this long without having that kind of information. In any event, my fingers are way too big for me to be able to select an individual key on a smartphone's soft keyboard. (Believe me; I've tried repeatedly.)

Earlier this year, I started a consulting contract with a well-known high-tech company based in Silicon Valley. Not only was I issued a laptop, I also got a smart phone. At first, I actually used the phone to have security codes texted to me each time I made a VPN connection to their site, but the need for that went away once I got a USB-based security card. Then after several months of that phone simply sitting quietly on a shelf in my office, it started buzzing so hard, it nearly jumped of the shelf! What could be so important after all this time? Perhaps WWIII had started. No, it wasn't anything earth shattering. Instead, I was being notified that a car with license plate xxx had been left in the parking lot with its lights on, and could the owner switch them off. I was sure it wasn't my car as I was on the US east coast and the parking lot was on the west!

Television

In [1], I wrote how I'd moved to antenna-only TV. However, when I moved to my botanic garden-with-a-house-in-it rental place, I was almost surrounded by forest. As such, my antenna was able to find one channel only. (And that broadcast mostly in French; sacrebleu!) Thirty seconds after discovering that, I viewed that as a positive thing, and I rediscovered my library of books and videos. And things stayed that way for 18 months, until I moved, and fiber-optic service came down my street.

I now have 100-odd TV channels, but not because I wanted them. What happened was that the combined package of phone, internet, and TV from one supplier was $50/month cheaper than my previous phone and internet service from two suppliers, so I paid less and got TV as well. And while I wasn't planning to have a Digital Video Recording (DVR) service, I did get one, and I must say that is very convenient. I never ever watch anything live; it all is recorded for viewing when I'm ready, and I never ever watch anything on Network TV.

For the 18 months I was disconnected from TV service, I made great use of my local library system by borrowing from its extensive video collections of movies, TV programs, and documentaries.

The Internet

My primary use of this is still for business, and even more so now that I use VPN access to run programs on remote computers. Email remains my biggest use, followed closely by access to webpages for documentation. I don't often look at newspapers online now, and I very rarely watch video online. For that, my aging eyes much prefer my 40-inch TV to my 27-inch computer screen, and my couch is much more comfortable than my office chair.

Recorded Music

Several years ago, as a prize in a raffle, I won an iPod Nano, a stripped-down iPod. Eventually, I loaded it up with the songs from a dozen CDs. However, the only use I made of it was when I was a dog-walker at an animal rescue facility. There, I walked dogs for two hours each week, and as most of them weren't very interesting, I simply walked them around a farm while listening to music tracks played in random order. Since I stopped that activity, I stopped having buds in my ears. However, I have 10–15 CDs ripped to my laptop for when I travel.

What I have discovered is free internet radio via iTunes. I have three favorite channels depending on my mood: Golden Oldies of Rock 'n Roll, Bavarian, and Mariachi.

Automobiles

I'm still driving my low-tech, stick shift, subcompact, used car, and it still gets me from A to B safely and in good time. However, from time to time, I rent a car, and occasionally I have difficultly mastering some simple chore, like resetting the trip mileage meter. With all these auto solutions looking for problems to solve, and the complexities of software design, I'm not at all surprised with the kinds of electronic failures that have been occurring in the auto industry.

Last year, I had houseguests from Australia, and they had been driving in various parts of the US and Canada. Soon after they arrived, they bought a navigation system with Global Positioning System (GPS). When they left to go home, they gave it to me. Now I carry it in the glove compartment of my car, but never remember I have it, so except for some playing around soon after I got it, I haven't used it. I do recall, however, a couple of times when it gave me rather strange directions. All that said if I did a lot of driving to locations with which I was not familiar, I'm sure I'd use it on a regular basis.

I can report one very welcome addition to my auto experience. For two years now, I have had a 2-car garage, and, unlike almost all of the garages that I've seen in my travels around the US, mine actually has room for two cars!

Oh, and I'm driving a lot more miles now that I used to, but that's because of volunteer work.

Cameras and Video

I've never been much interested in photography, and I still don't take many photos, although it's nice to be able to look at the results immediately and to erase/retake shots. And as for video, I've shot little in recent years, partly because upgrades to my editing software don't work properly, and partly because I don't watch the DVD's I've created.

One major task I did perform was to digitize 76 hours of home movies recorded onto VHS tape, and to edit them down to 34 1-hour DVDs.

On the photo front, my ex-wife and I are in the middle of scanning to digital 3,000-odd paper photos we took starting in the late 1960's. The time it takes to name and catalog each image is far more than it takes to scan in.

Books and Reading

I still like my books in paper form. Eighteen months ago, I became a volunteer for a local library where twice a year, we solicit donations from the public of used books, books and music on CD, and DVDs, and we hold a sale to raise money. As a sorter, I get to look over all those treasures before the public sees them.

I still maintain my steady diet of novels interspersed with non-fiction and reference material. Most mornings I read in bed, and then again the last thing at night. There's nothing quite like trying to hold a 1,000-page tome on US History on one's chest!

Backup

When it comes to backing up my personal and business computer files, I'm still quite anal! If it's worth doing, it's worth protecting.

Several years ago, as I was preparing my house for sale, we had an earthquake that measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale. After the second tremor, I calmly took the backup memory stick from my desktop computer, grabbed my wallet (with money and ID), picked up my key ring, and walked out to the parking lot. That stick, along with one of the master backup disks by my computer, in my fire safe, or in my bank's safe-deposit box, would get me operational again. And if all those had been destroyed, it is unlikely I would have been left standing myself!

One new habit I have developed is the use of offsite backup through DropBox. The price is right (as in free), and it is very convenient. I use it to share digital photos, and to backup and share work-related files for some business projects, as they require. However, I remain adamant that I will not backup any critical business or personal data of my own in the so-called Cloud. When cloud security gets broken—and it will, and in a major way—the affected users will be very sorry. As for me, you have to come to my place or bank and physically steal the data! And that's a big obstacle for a teenager in Russia, China, or Timbuktu who is hacking into a network.

My Beloved Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)

As I reported in [2], I've had a PDA for many years, and I never leave the house without it. Until a year ago, when I was at my desk, this little pocket computer was linked to my desktop computer, so their calendar and contacts databases were synchronized. The PDA had a removable 4MB SD memory card to which I backed up all my new and changed work and personal computer files.

I was running Windows Vista on my desktop computer, but decided to upgrade to Windows 7. And while that went well, Win7 no longer supported the synchronization program on my PDA. As a result, my automatic synchronization was no longer possible. Instead, I only update my PDA once each week, and then I have to do it via my netbook, which still runs Windows XP. It is inconvenient, but the process works. However, one day, disaster struck! The metal connector on my PDA where I inserted the synchronization cable broke. As such, not only couldn't I update the PDA, I couldn't even charge it; bugger!

The solution was obvious, buy a new PDA. However, that was easier said than done as no one makes PDAs anymore; the mobile phone industry had taken over that market space. I had a mobile phone, but it wasn't by any means smart, and I had absolutely no interest in buying a new phone and its attendant costs just to have a calendar and contact list. I was actually without a PDA for 6–8 weeks, and I can assure you it was quite traumatic, I kid you not. It turns out that I relied on it much more than I knew. I had all my passwords and PINs for credit and debit cards, on-line accounts, details of business contacts and friends, and much more. The final crisis came when I was admitted to the emergency room of a hospital and I was asked for the contact information of my next-of-kin, my son. His phone number, email address, and street address were all locked away in my PDA, whose battery was flat!

I set out in earnest to find a website from which I could buy a refurbished PDA, and eventually I found one. The PDA I selected was from the same family as the one I was replacing and although it was a bit smaller it had comparable capabilities. After a few weeks of using it, I called the company and bought a second unit as a backup.

Although I solved the immediate problem, I've deferred the long-term one. I've just bought a new laptop, which runs Windows 8, and thus far, I haven't found a way to make that synchronize with the old-technology PDA. So the only way I have of keeping the PDA up-to-date is to do it via my old netbook, and there is no reason to believe that strategy won't work for some time yet. However, my calendar and contacts are stored in Microsoft Office, and the 2013 version I run on my desktop won't run on WinXP. Fortunately, the data files for both versions are the same, so I can exchange them. But that might not be the case for the next edition. I guess I'll find out in 2016. Don't you just love built-in obsolescence?

Laptop

After all my years of travelling with electric gadgetry, it finally happened. The AC-power adaptor for my laptop computer died while I was in Tokyo on business. Fortunately, that happened near the end of the trip, but, nonetheless, it still made an impact. I had no access to Skype and had to use other people's systems to look at my mail, to do banking, and so forth. Since then, I have bought a new laptop, which is much lighter, less power-hungry, and its adaptor is small and light. However, it runs Windows 8, of which I'm not a fan.

Unfortunately, I now have a loaner laptop from a client, and I often have to take both machines with me when I travel. However, I've solved the problem by buying a nice, comfortable backpack to hold both and associated gear. It's much better for my stature than having a very heavy bag on a shoulder strap, and it leaves both my hands and arms free.

Conclusion

As I watch people preoccupied with thumbing their mini-keypads while waiting, walking, cycling, and even driving, I really do wonder how Civilization got this far without all that.

I still think there are way too many solutions looking for problems, and my mantra remains, for the most part, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I'm not the least bit interested in the Social Media frenzy. If you want to by my friend, it's quite easy: phone me, send me a personal email or instant message, or even an old-fashioned letter. But don't think you can post something in a public, virtual place, and expect me and your 1,000 other so-called "friends" to believe you are actually communicating with us, personally.