Monthly Archives: October 2011

the customs of the country

so my son joseph and i were at an airport.  we were at the gate and i realized that it was going to be a full airplane.  i grew up with mrs. patrick who always made me go to the bathroom before a trip.  even if the trip was to the grocery store.  she would have made me go twice for a trip across a continent.

in the ladies’ room, the women wore white cotton modest dresses, scarves and sandals.  one woman stood at the sinks and she filled what looked like a five gallon gasoline container with water from a hose attached to the wall. she poured a little of the water on the feet of the women who used the stalls as they came to the sink to wash their hands.  she occasionally added a little bleach to the water.  the floor was slick and slippery.  it took me several minutes of standing in what i thought was a line for the next available stall before i realized i was not in such a line because there was no line.  groups of women surrounded a door, made sure that every gal in their group took her turn, and then the stall was turned over to another group.  i have no idea what nerve i possessed to slip into a stall just as a regime change was being negotiated.

the floor of the stall was covered with water and in the middle of the floor was a hole.  i was stymied.  in deference to what i understood about the customs of the country, i had worn a pair of pants under my full length skirt.  i couldn’t figure out how to get out of my pants and squat over the hole without getting water all over my feet, my pants or my skirt.  and there was no counter to put my carhartts bag.  and what was i supposed to do with the hose that came out of the wall behind the hole in the floor?

that’s when i decided that airplane lavatories are actually quite spacious, clean, airy, and i will never, ever complain about a forest preserve port-a-potty again!

i left the stall but decided i should wash my hands.  the lady with the bleach water approached me.  i thought “black fabric–bleach–bad combination–even if she is a professional”  and also  i didn’t want to risk slipping and falling. 

there are a few things i have learned as a world traveler and here is one:  baby wipes are not just for babies.

“everything all right?” joseph asked when i rejoined him. 

“yeah, but maybe a little different,”  i said.

“hole in the floor?”  he asked. 

i nodded.

“i wondered when you were going to run into that,”  he said.  “and no, i’m not going to tell you about the men’s bathroom.”

please don’t feed the elephant before we get on the plane!

when i left manila, i was astonished at the wealth disparity.  across from my hotel room window was a river and across the river, a town made of buildings that were constructed in the most creative ways:  strips of tru-link fencing, corrugated steel, bed linens, plywood.  as i approached the water’s edge to get a better picture, a security guard (policeman?) advised me to not do that.  there were others living on “my” side of the river.  but the guard didn’t stop me, instead he watched over me.  if pictures are worth a thousand words, this is but a few.  the memories are going to stick with me.

this isn’t to say that life is not good for some residents. i saw kids playing basketball and a man offered me a ferry ride but he might have been asking me to go fishing with him!
on the other side of the hotel was my son’s joseph view–a manila business district to rival new york, london, or chicago.  we left the hotel and made for the airport.
i wanted to take this bus to the airport but my son joseph insisted on a cab. kids are no darn fun these days!
we first flew to malaysia and then into mumbai well past midnight.  i was exhausted, but first we had to go through immigration, customs, a security check, and then joseph got shook down for “tips” from two gentleman who gave us directions to our cab and who took his backpack.  at the airport, the cab was checked for explosives and our bags went through a conveyor belt.  our bodies were wanded and then inside the lobby our passports were taken for an additional scanning.  i think india is at war and just doesn’t want to admit to it.
i met f2fb friend #234 anto prashanth and #235 rahul guru when they worked for which is an outsourcing company in mumbai.  i wanted to devise a website.  it didn’t work for me and i ran out of money but i did end up with two friends.  unfortunately, rahul was unable to get a day off to see me and i got the impression that the american way of having paid days off and sick days and whatnot just doesn’t cut it here.  rahul sent anto as his emissary.  anto met me and joseph at the hilton mumbai where we were staying.  i picked the hotel because it was the closest t the airport and i recognized the name “hilton”.

the hilton mumbai is so fancy i felt like the romanovs had added an extra princess: tatiana, olga,maria, anastasia, and now arlynn!


if you didn't get to take an elephant or a tiara back from india, would you settle for anto prashanth?

anto asked me if i wanted a souvenir from india.  i told him that memories are the souvenirs i like to take with me, but that i wanted an elephant.  something to ride in winnetka that would tower above the landrovers and the escalades.  later, i fell asleep,  part of the forty eight hour circadian cycle.  i didn’t know this but anto went out and bought a wood elephant for me to take back a little bit of india to winnetka. 
i hope anto and rahul (and anto’s wife, of course) will come visit me next in chicago!  both anto and rahul work in american oriented companies that do work that one might call “outsourcing”.  they are our new middle class.  so they will have the wherewithal someday, if not now, to travel to exotic places like chicago and winnetka!

manila is not a disaster and now one of my facebook friends is down an appendix

when i reached manila i was feeling completely dead to the project.  it was impossible in january and no less possible in october.  i had traveled all  the way to the phillippines via korea and taiwan only to find out that f2fb friend #243 mark bitanga del rosario had appendicitis and couldn’t see me.  a wasted plane trip, a hotel, a new city, another exhausting day of cabs and trains and figuring out the right line at customs and immigration. 

and i would have failed at meeting a friend.  i was coffee-d out.  my son joseph was relentless about whether i knew the exact location of the cab to take to the air port because he had heard from a friend of a friend who had been to the phillippines that it was a dangerous place.  no, i didn’t know the exact place where the taxi driver would meet us because i have never been to the phillippines — and right then i didn’t want to go to the phillippines at all. 

i checked into the hotel and it was beautiful.  manila is such a place of  contrast.  the view from my window was a shanty town, built with fencing, plywood, strips of corrugated steel. 


joseph’s room faced skyscrapers and luxury brand shops.  and we were just across the hall from each other!  as i put down my carhartt’s utility bag that has been my luggage, the hotel room phone rang.  a miss nona was waiting downstairs.  i rushed for the elevator.

so many things on facebook are not what they appear.  we put on a good face.  we put on an entirely false face.  we hide what we don’t like.  we proclaim accomplishments that may not exactly have been our own.  i have found out this year, for example, that my f2fb friend #54 InDaLoop is not actually a female rapper from brooklyn, but is a white dude f2fb friend #53 richard “mop” furniss.  and i have had one contretemps when a friend in san diego failed to advise me that he had a girlfriend, his girlfriend that he was going to see me, and three months later she googled his name and KABOOM! 

so i didn’t know what to think about mark’s appendicitis episode.  or his wife being in the lobby.  and yet, this was a case in which everything was as it appeared.  he had taken ill on monday evening and was operated on.  he is in hospital for at least another day.  he remembered that he was seeing me and my son yesterday.  he sent his wife with a present–a charcoal portrait that is called “shaman” but which bears a striking resemblance to fritz leiber, jr., my grandfather the science fiction novelist.  both mark and his wife nona are fans. 

nona, joseph and i had a few drinks at the hotel cafe–there is a specialty drink which is thick juice with a carafe of pure corn syrup on the side.  then we went to a stationery store to buy a nice “get well soon” card.  difficult, since manila is in full “christmas decorating” mode. 

we were treated to a johnnie rockets’ “spontaneous” dance show!

and then we made a special video, nona and i, for mark! 

then it was on to kuala lumpur and from there to mumbai in a scant fourteen hours of flying and standing in lines for customs, immigration, security, and then customs, immigration, security again.  i slept so soundly on the plane that i couldn’t sleep this past evening and i have started to feel ill.  i worried yesterday about seeing mark and now today, i worry that i won’t be able to see my friends anto and rahul simply because i am so sick.  i regret the prescriptiosn for antimalarial serum that i didn’t fill and that typhus serum that i  left in the refrigerator unopened.  or maybe it’s just the fifty one years catching up to my itinerary.  around the world in less than 18 days is almost as crazy as top to bottom alaska in less than 96 hours.  who does that stuff?

ninety percent of disasters are things you never anticipate

 i  got here!  i made it!  it’s a small country, the little tiny renegade province that held its ground against the communists.  they are proud of their resistance and they should be.  even though america and many other countries have sort of abandoned them in their haste to curry favor with the larger, wealthier people’s republic of china.  i appreciated that they had more flags up than a fourth of july, memorial day, and a joint republican-democratic national convention combined!

got lost but saw beautiful things

chestnuts roasting over an open fire seems more bing cosby than tai pei!

then i got even more lost and ended up in a dilapidated courtyard that boasted the finest sculpture–

everybody walked right by this thing as if it weren't remarkable. i wonder if i do that at home a lot!

so then i went to a wonderful little restaurant where f2fb friend #242 warner sills gave me a wonderful dinner of dumplings and noodles and ginger tea.  he gave me a tour of the city and then went on to classes.  i am so proud of someone so brave to strike out on his own for a new country–then it was to bed because our flight to manila was at seven thirty.
i logged on that night to an unsettling post.  using the facebook account of my friend mark del rosario, his wife told me he was going to have to cancel, he was ill.  i wondered “is he going to be all right?”  “what the hell am i doing going into manila for a day?”  and lastly “is this another example of facebook not being what it appears to be?”  i looked at how i would hopskotch off to mumbai without hitting manila.  impossible.  so onward we went, although my son joseph decided  iwas a complete idiot.  he had been told by his friend’s friend who once visited manila that all the flights into the city are turbulent and the crime rate is so excessive that it was a fifty-fifty proposition on even one of us getting out alive.  i was definitely feeling under pressure from this disaster i hadn’t anticipated.

plenty of surprises on the way to incheon–

murphy, always vigilant, always ready, drove my older son joseph and me to the airport.  i felt that horrible sense of dread approaching t.s.a. but for the first time i was waved through.  joseph, however, got some strange treatment. 

t.s.a. agent:  don’t slouch.  and get a job.  he doesn’t have a job, does he?

me:  no, he doesn’t and can you ask him to get a hair cut?

t.s.a. agent:  get a haircut and do what your mom says.  she is your mom, right?  not some random woman nagging you?

i think this might have either been what passes for t.s.a. humor or maybe they got a handbook advising them to employ humor for sotto vocce interrogation.  for instance, if joseph had said “mom, you could be buried up to your neck in the sand and be stoned for telling me to cut my hair so just stop it!”  maybe the t.s.a. agents wouldn’t have laughed and waved us through.

the asiana airlines stewardesses were so glamorous.  they wear identical brown suits and brown slippers.  they have tight, ballerina buns at the back of their heads.  and theyare so happy to pour one champagne that one feels quite as if it’s only a matter of common courtesy to allow them the opportunity to do it again.  joseph and i eschewed the “american” menu and did bibampop, kimchi, and ramen.  i haven’t thought well of kimchi mostly because the people who owned our house before us buried kimchi pots all over the yard and i’d dig them up when trying to put in hostas, tulips and daffodils.  it was like a sour smelling nonexplosive landmine. 

but the meal was great.  and the flight was straightforward except for the part where the pilot seemed to take great pains to avoid north korean airspace.  maybe he had an ex-girlfriend he was worried he’d run into!

f2fb friend #241 john chie is neither fully american nor fully korean.  he was born in korea and his mother, determined to give her children a good life, moved the family first to south anerica and eventually to the united states.  he went to the university of illinois.  he lived in chicago when i met him ten years ago.  he moved back to korea five years ago and still hasn’t learned enough korean to be fully accepted.  at one point, we were talking with a woman who was clearly baffled by my attempt to help her understand english by talking really loud.  the woman turned to john and he referred to himself as “megook” which means “i’m american”. 

he wants to move back to the states and i hope he does.  my sense of korea is that american allows for greater diversity of people, we accept back stories that are different from expected. 

unfortunately, the only picture i have of seeing him was so soft and grainy–and oddly formatted in a bmp (?) fashion that i can’t upload it.  just as well. i look half asleep.  joseph was half asleep.  but john was wearing a nice suit and, this is the weird part, looked five years YOUNGER than when i met him last.  i wish i could share that!

but it was nice to catch up with john and he was a gentleman to share a cab with us to make sure we made it to the best western hotel on incheon island.  it’s quarter to six a.m. local time and we have a plane to taipei to catch in three hours! 

thank you to john chie for seeing me and joseph!!!!  and for being my friend!

okay, the really impossible part begins. . . .

just before heading out to the airport to get on a fourteen hour flight to south korea, i saw f2fb friend #240 michelle larson.  she’s just bought her first home, she’s got a great job and a great boyfriend.  she is the most optimistic person i have met this year!  and she is in the adventure appropriate to being a 26 galpal and i guess i’m on the same sort of adventure.  except for the butterflies in my stomach. .  . . .

here’s a bit of what’s happening next:

asiana airlines, flight oz235 noon, chicago to seoul  arriving at october 24 4:00 p.m. local time

asiana airlines, flight oz711 11:00 a.m., seoul to taipei arriving october 25 12:30 p.m. local time

china airlines, flight ci701 7:35 a.m., taipei to manila arriving october 26 9:35 a.m. local time

malaysia airlines, flight mh705 3:05 p.m. manila to kuala lumpur arriving october 27 6:40 p.m. local time

malaysia airlines, flight mh194 8:05 kuala lumpur to mumbai arriving october 27 10:40 p.m. local time

emirates airlines, flight ek 505 9:45 a.m. mumbai to dubai arriving october 29 11:15 local time

emirates airlines, flight ek97 9:10 a.m. dubai to rome arriving october 30 12:35 local time

air berlin, flight ab 8467 11:40 a.m. rome to vienna arriving november 1 1:05 local time

air berlin, flight ab 8517 2:50 p.m. vienna to dusseldorf arriving november 1 4:20 p.m. local time

and from there, i am not sure how but i’m hauling myself and my son joseph to london and from there to bristol, southhampton, and eastbourne and then home. . . .


every adventure begins with the word impossible

the year began with 365 days, 325 facebook friends, and a new year’s resolution to meet every single friend at least once during the year.  it appeared, and still appears, to be impossible.  this weekend, on the 298th day of the year, i will have to embark on what i consider the most impossible aspect of this venture–traveling overseas.

i leave for south korea on sunday.  i’ll have with me my older son joseph who is, oddly enough, f2fb friend #61.  we will meet with facebook friend john chie, hopscotch over to taiwan, slipping into and out of the philippines in one day, hitting up mumbai and dubai before landing in rome on the 30th.  we will see facebook friends at every stop, except in mumbai and rome there will be two friends!

after trick or treating at the vatican, joseph and i will head for germany on monday and wind up in england on the second of november!

f2fb friend #238 tina marshall invited me to highwood.  she is a manicurist and she wanted at least my hands to look good on this trip.  we’ve known each other for close to ten years but it’s been at least a year since we’ve actually physically seen each other.  when we have phones, messaging, email, facebook, twitter, and carrier pigeons, we sometimes can forget that it’s spending time together that makes a friendship.

i told her that i’m scared of the upcoming flights, the uncertainties of countries where i don’t speak the language, the possibilities for catastrophe.  and, of course, that i will–for the first time in my life–not be here for this sacred holiday of candy and mayhem.  halloween is my favorite holiday because i don’t feel so silly being myself.  she reminded me that i will also be missing the special festivities of the city of highwood.

(to learn more about the festivities go to!)

it still seems impossible that i’ll see each of my 325 facebook friends by december 31 (all new year’s resolutions have an endgame) but if they’re as easygoing as f2fb friend #239 jim levin it’ll be a joyful but hectic 73 days to the finish line.  jim invited me to the river north area of chicago where he works starting new businesses.  he likes the excitement and challenge–for instance, when he was just 24 he recognized the talents of an italian designer gianni versace.  he negotiated to bring the designer’s work to the united states.  within a few short years, he had opened all the versace stores in america and sold the business, moving on to another challenge.  he is an artist as much as a painter or sculptor.  his canvas just happens to be commerce.

jim is an actor and was a highly valued college football player. but you could have guessed that from his good looks!


jim and i share an excitement about the impossible.  i don’t know if we share the fear of the impossible–i have it, i have a sense that jim doesn’t have that fear.

make a new year’s resolution, whether your new year begins on january one or rosh hashanah or on your birthday or on the third day after the first full moon in april.  make it something you’ve always yearned for but believe to be utterly impossible.  then tell all your friends (posting on facebook december 31, 2010 worked for me) and you’ll find that you can’t back out.  your friends will propel you forward towards success.  you will take small steps, ignoring the big obstacles and turning them into strengths.  if you want, email me your most impossible resolution.  i will be that friend for you!