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Upon Reading Jose Saramago

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Upon receiving his Nobel prize for literature, Jose Saramago said:

“As I could not and did not aspire to venture beyond my little plot of cultivated land, all I had left was the possibility of digging down, underneath, towards the roots. My own but also the world’s, if I can be allowed such an immoderate ambition.”

For me, however, I travel to discover what it reveals about the human heart and what we have become in this world. To look beneath the surface of things (dig down) to the heart of each day. Is God alive? Does hope exist? Are people still falling in love? Is everyone buying death as if it were cheap socks at a smoke sale?” To look for clarity. To look for signs of courage…of strength of conviction rooted in heart…in an authentic identity, in myself as well as in others.

You don’t have to travel a lot to get fodder for this kind of introspection. I am still “peeling the onion” of that trip to Europe in 1965…only 20 years after the war where houses still had dirt floors in the French country-side. I couldn’t believe how much young people in the pubs knew about [lived and modern] history in Germany. I discovered I was ignorant. I went home disillusioned with the ostentatiousness and new material successes of Americans after the war and am still dealing with it today even as I benefit from it.

Europe was full of Amerian hitchhikers in those years…many of the guys avoiding the draft. Other young people went on through Iran to Nepal…the Hippie Trail. We all went home to help give birth to a new set of values…for all the good it did.

I think you have to go to a country where the culture and values are entirely different than your own…at least once. Tours will insulate you…protect you…from the very thing you need to experience. And go alone so you are forced to confront and adapt to that culture and discover there is another very valid way to live. That…to me…is exciting.

I needed to go to Viet Nam where we fought the American War and see the abandoned air fields and the acres and acres of headstones in the cemetaries. And to China that Nixon opened up to the world. And S Africa where I saw the 8×8 foot room where Mandela lived for 30 years and where I roamed the hostels where the Apartheid War was fought in the township of Soweto. And Egypt where I later saw the birth of the Arab Spring. Go to Burma and Cuba before they too change.

That is just me. Others may have other reasons for choosing where to travel…or not. Where does your heart tell you you need to go? If there is no strong desire maybe, like Saramago, you can just do all this in your corner of the world. Another valid way to live.

Trouble In Egypt

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

An explosion has taken place in the ancient area of Al Hussein-Cairo, Egypt, the number of killed and wounded is still unsettled.  How the bomb was exploded is not exactly specified.   It’s the most glorified and valued area for Egyptian and every Muslim; for both Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim this place is highly sacred. It’s the place where prayer is practiced every day, and it’s the place where Al Hussein (Prophet grand son) is believed to be buried.  It is also the place of an important market and center of business where hundreds of Egyptians make a living on selling goods and offering services to visitors.   It is well known that the place is a preferred spot for Egyptians and foreigners to spend an evening, says one Egyptian.

The news agencies are saying it was a militant Islamic group.

“Muslims usually comes to this place seeking spiritual calmness and peace of soul, not it’s ridiculous to claim that a cowered act like this would be made by a Muslim or some one who understand and believe what Islam is,” says this Muslim. He believes it was Mossad, the intelligence arm of the Israeli government.

But consider this.  If it was done by an Islamic group why would an Islamic do such a thing?  Here is one answer.

I know next to nothing about Islam but it just so happens that I just finished reading Bernard Lewis’ 2002 book “What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity In the Middle East.”  He takes 105 pages to itemize, often from journals and diaries, the gradual contacts of Islamics with the West, from the beginning of Islam, and the resulting modernizing influences of the West over the centuries on the Middle East. (This book was written for the Western reader so my apologies for copying much of what may already be known.) Then he goes on to say: [read on]

The Unseen During The Olympics

Monday, August 18th, 2008
Watching the Olympics in Beijing has got me to thinking about China again.  I'd like to make a point about the legacy of the damage done in the last 50 years. You might like to read "The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, ... [Continue reading this entry]

“The River of Lost Footsteps”

Friday, May 16th, 2008
The Bangkok Post review says that this timely book by Thant Myint-U, published by Faber and Faber London, rewrites 3,500 years of Burmese history "in order to enrich today's debate on Burma and establish a strong base for future analysis ... [Continue reading this entry]

Speaking Of Hope

Friday, March 28th, 2008
Mexican journalist and author, Gustavo Esteva, in writing recently about the wrenching repression and resistance in Mexico and the world, draws an analogy:
    The Pot and the Vapor
In the midst of the daily struggle, an image attempting to express what ... [Continue reading this entry]


Wednesday, March 19th, 2008
I must be getting old. Came across this shocking article in Newsweek describing teen sex taking place openly in public parks in Santiago Chile. Actually I remember being agape at the couples in public parks in Guadalajara Mexico ... [Continue reading this entry]

Writing From The Ground

Monday, May 14th, 2007
New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof (incidentally from my home state of Oregon) has written an excellent review of William T. Vollman's book entitled "Poor People" that reflects a deep understanding of the issues underlying poverty. From my 30 years ... [Continue reading this entry]

Comics…A New Way Of Thinking?

Sunday, May 13th, 2007
Have been thinking that I need a new way of thinking. Like comics. Not Donald Duck or the Road Runner although those have their virtues. In I came across an interview of Alan Moore, who the author, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Atenco Foreshadowed Oaxaca

Monday, March 26th, 2007
A brutal repression and massacre of resistors by federal and state police in the small city of Atenco, 15 miles south of Mexico City, in May of 2006, foreshadowed the repression that was to follow June through November 2006 in ... [Continue reading this entry]

Seeing Red Over Mao in Alhambra

Saturday, February 24th, 2007
Values in China today are only carried forward by the culture largely as a result of the destruction of ethical and civic standards wrought by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. In other words, in my experience, there is generally ... [Continue reading this entry]

Contemplating Going “Home”

Friday, February 23rd, 2007
I was quickly stopped by a policeman. "Have you been drinking? Have you been smoking pot? Your eyes are all red! Then he made me stand, in high heels, on one foot and count to forty. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Watching The Chinese

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007
A local newspaper in Borneo reported another logging agreement. China had just placed a rush order for 800,000 cubic meters of wood to be used in the construction of its sports facilities for the 2008 Olympic Games. Authorities are planning ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Looming Tower

Thursday, February 15th, 2007
Have recently finished the acclaimed "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright which is a history of Islamic radical fundamentalism beginning in the 1930's and 40's and ending with the bombing of the World Trade Center. Including the ridiculous and ... [Continue reading this entry]

What Now For Oaxaca?

Monday, February 12th, 2007
Local analysts argue about whether the causes of the popular social movement here in Oaxaca are utter corruption and the history of political bossism by the PRI party, the effects of transnational/neoliberal policies created by NAFTA, the lack of economic ... [Continue reading this entry]

I Could Be In India

Monday, August 7th, 2006
I was reading through some of my blog entries about India the other day and then I came upon this article about India and laughed so hard I nearly cried. It's really good to laugh. Trying Really Hard To ... [Continue reading this entry]

A Field Guide To Getting Lost

Monday, June 5th, 2006
My son, Josh, the little weasel, asked me what it felt like to be living alone in Oaxaca. It got me to thinking. Then I picked up a book at Sharon's apartment entitled "A field Guide To Getting Lost," ... [Continue reading this entry]

“Letters From Thailand”

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006
"Letters From Thailand" is a lovely novel wrtten in 1969 by "Botan", a pseudonym of the Chinese-born Thai female writer, Supa Sirisingh, and recently translated into English by Susan Fulop Kepner, an academic on Southeast Asian studies from UCLA. ... [Continue reading this entry]

The World A Playground?

Saturday, March 4th, 2006
A friend recently emailed me asking what it is like to have all the world as my "playground." This was my very brief answer: Well, the best thing about traveling in developing countries like SE Asia, Africa and China ... [Continue reading this entry]

Chiang Mai Thailand

Saturday, March 4th, 2006
1wXSp3CkNsDoJl3s0SgHmw-2006171150454826.gif Flew from Koh Samui on Bangkok Air (the only airline off the island because Bangkok Air built the airport) and then on to Chiang Mai on budget Air Asia. I guess Bob is in ... [Continue reading this entry]

More On Mao

Friday, December 23rd, 2005
We are grounded by the subway strike so have been reading more of the biography of Mao by authors Jung Chang, the author of the wonderful three-generation epic "Wild Swans," and her British husband Jon Halliday. What is especially interesting so ... [Continue reading this entry]

Deep Into Mao & China

Sunday, November 27th, 2005
It's cold and snowy outside and right now I am deep into the recently published biography of Mao Tse Tung by Jung Chang who also some years ago wrote the respected three-generation epic "Wild Swans." Jung, born in China, ... [Continue reading this entry]

“An Uncommon Friendship”

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005
After getting through Phil & Adri's New York Times and Wall Street Journal that arrive on our stoop every day it is difficult to find time for other reading. However, Amy's mom gave me a book I couldn't refuse. ... [Continue reading this entry]

“11 Minutes” Outranks Mao

Thursday, July 14th, 2005
On my way to my BTS Skytrain station, I stop for lunch at The Emporium, an upscale indoor shopping mall where there is a variety of restaurants on the 5th floor. A young Asian woman sitting next to me ... [Continue reading this entry]

End of a Disastrous Experiment

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif I want to emphatically state (and I think Bob would concur) that I have nothing but admiration for this proud and resilient people who have survived 70 years of this "ideological tidal wave that ... [Continue reading this entry]

Who Would Have Thought…?

Monday, August 30th, 2004
Who would have thought that Poland in 1995 would have chosen the former communist bureaucrat, Aleksander Kwasniewski, over the former hero Lech Walesa, who, along with the Solidarity movement, led Central and Eastern Europe out of Communism? Poland still has a ... [Continue reading this entry]

Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)

Friday, August 27th, 2004
Ancestral Poland.gif Photos The Germans changed the name to Auschwitz but the Polish still call it Oswiecim. We hire an English speaking guide to drive us to Auschwitz and Birkenau for the day and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Young Czech Prime Minister

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004
NikaFEAe66TwIiJDaeZZ7w-2006198180634090.gif The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Stanislav Gross, is 32 years old and looks 20! We are realizing how little information we have gotten in the US in the last ... [Continue reading this entry]

Former East Berlin

Friday, August 6th, 2004
I am off to Starbucks to spend an hour over coffee while checking my email but their Hotspot internet service is down. It's a good time to revisit the former eastern sector of the city. Berlin's architecture is stunning...old and ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Case For Solo Travel

Monday, July 12th, 2004
Inspired by and quotes from Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel, (2002) Friends often ask why we want to travel independently and when they do, it sets off a flood of thoughts and images. Being a wanderer, crossing different ... [Continue reading this entry]

Yichang & Yangtse Dam

Wednesday, January 8th, 2003
YUqE3FCf1Hd9CjfG1qqmt0-2006171132705308.gif As we were checking into our hotel, Joe Peng, 30-something young entrepreneur that was with us on our trip up the little gorges showed up with four of his travelling friends: "Most ... [Continue reading this entry]

Perspective On China

Tuesday, December 31st, 2002
China is big. The population is staggering with a billion and a half people. It's a matter of getting perspective. Our home state of Oregon only has about 1.5 million people. By comparison Hong Kong has 7 million. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Conversation With Roland

Monday, December 16th, 2002
YUqE3FCf1Hd9CjfG1qqmt0-2006171132705308.gif Had a final dinner at familiar and cozy Sekura's Cafe in Old Town Lijiang...splurging on Western food...sharing our beer with Roland, a 30 year old economics teacher in a university in Singapore. (Surprisingly and ... [Continue reading this entry]

End of the Burma Road

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2002
YUqE3FCf1Hd9CjfG1qqmt0-2006171132705308.gif Sunday Dec 1-3 2002 Arrived at Kunming from Guilin after 23 hours on the train. We had gained considerable elevation throughout the night. We took a taxi to the Camellia Hotel where ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mobbed at Yangshuo

Tuesday, November 26th, 2002
YUqE3FCf1Hd9CjfG1qqmt0-2006171132705308.gif Southern China Guangxi Province Tuesday Nov 26, 2002 At Yangshuo we were mobbed by women selling hotel rooms. I stayed with the backpacks while Bob and Jana looked at a few rooms. We chose ... [Continue reading this entry]

Westerners Go In The Back

Thursday, November 21st, 2002
YUqE3FCf1Hd9CjfG1qqmt0-2006171132705308.gif Video Thursday November 21 2002 Reading "The Coming Collapse of China," a book written by a Chinese American economist...a dissenting opinion...he gives China five years to get their banking system in order...which he doubts will ... [Continue reading this entry]

China’s Secrets I Will Never Know

Wednesday, November 20th, 2002
S2bYNL6zJRrgaMn9LtR9tg-2006170195030775.gif Major Cities We Visited "The opening up of China is a stirring idea," Lonely Planet says. A foreigner traveling alone today is privileged to see more of China than almost any Chinese has seen ... [Continue reading this entry]

Facing Cambodia’s Past at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Thursday, October 24th, 2002
7VJvlOW1A5Ali2rnovusuM-2006216180228245.gif We got our second wind and almost reluctantly mounted a motorcycle taxi to do what we (or at least I) came here to do and that is to see, after more than 30 ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Communist Party

Sunday, October 20th, 2002
People everywhere in Viet Nam confided in me, as a foreigner who would not know who to tell anyway, that they hated the corrupt officials in the Communist Party that are entangled in a growing web of organised crime. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Catholics In Vietnam

Sunday, October 20th, 2002
Catholics have never had an easy time of it in Vietnam beginning with the Confucian elite who opposed the intrusions of missionaries among whom was Alexandre de Rhodes who devised the system of romanisation of the Vietnamese language. Catholics ... [Continue reading this entry]

‘Peaceful Evolution’

Sunday, October 20th, 2002
In Viet Nam, the enemies of the Communist Party, in the absence of conflict, has become the democracy and human rights promoted by the forces of 'peaceful evolution.' Enemy jets unload tourist dollars and foreign investment rather than bombs. ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Myth of “Nam”

Thursday, October 17th, 2002
7VJvlOW1A5Ali2rnovusuM-2006216180228245.gif The male fantasy of Saigon that was nurtured in Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" written in the 1950's is recreated superficially in bars in Saigon with names like Apocalypse Now and B4 75 where, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Making Friends in Lang Co

Saturday, October 12th, 2002
KtJTxGv4eiozwJxI0Lb6qM-2006216170118412.gif Spent the night in a cheap backpacker hotel before boarding an air conditioned tour bus the next morning for Danang. On the way to Danang though, we pass through Lang Co, a small ... [Continue reading this entry]

Dong Ha and the DMZ

Friday, October 4th, 2002
KtJTxGv4eiozwJxI0Lb6qM-2006216170118412.gif October 4, 2002 Stumbled off the night train from Hanoi at 6am and found a seat at the outdoor railroad station cafe to dump my bags and have a wake-up Vietnamese coffee that is ... [Continue reading this entry]

Pagan’s 2000 Stupas

Thursday, August 22nd, 2002
See Burma Video JTOL4njiflVtj5kLlwVbAM-2006175061519331.gif August 22 2002 (Pagan was previously called Bagan) I really would have preferred the rickety and slow train north so we could see the countryside but to reserve the most time possible ... [Continue reading this entry]

Sex In The City of Angels

Sunday, August 4th, 2002
August 6 2002 Bangkok Thailand The Indian pilot lovingly set the Air India wheels down on the Bangkok tarmac... Being in Thailand feels good even when you know Thais will use those beguiling smiles and soft voices to extract ... [Continue reading this entry]

Migrants & Beggars In India

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
Continuing our taxi tour with Asane, he takes us to a part of Mumbai where we will see many migrants and beggars...and the red light district. As is happening all over the third world, migrants from rural areas make their way ... [Continue reading this entry]

Fiddler’s Creek Camp

Wednesday, June 12th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193172914229.gif June 12, 2002 To the South African Border In the morning before we leave camp, three guys walk up to our campfire as George is frying bacon; I walk up and introduce myself. Two ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hobas & Fish River Canyon

Tuesday, June 11th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193172914229.gif June 11, 2002 On the way from Serus the topography is incredible--perfectly formed mesas and buttes-almost Utah-like. We stop in the tiny wide spot in the road called Bethanie. Bob mails a card ... [Continue reading this entry]

Buffalo Fence & Planet Baobab

Monday, May 27th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193161808725.gif May 27, 2002 We see the 3000km of 1.5 meter high "Buffalo Fence" along side the road on the way to Okavango Delta in Botswana. It's actually a series of high-tensile steel wire barriers ... [Continue reading this entry]

On The Road In Malawi

Monday, May 20th, 2002
PZmR20gwby0cg19rXgklIw-2006197131657399.gif May 20, 2002 Up 5 am and out 6:30. Most of the day is spent traveling to Zambia. A bridge is out on the road south so we have to double ... [Continue reading this entry]