Sleep Sounds . . . for Those of You Whose Sandman Lives in the Big City

July 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

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On the evening of the Fourth, as my wife and I were getting ready for bed, the fireworks in our neighborhood started kicking in. Boom! Boom! Ka-boom!

“Here we go,” said my wife as she pulled back the covers.

Then I crawled into bed . . . and fell asleep. Maybe it was because our neighbors ran out of bottle rockets. Or maybe it was because fireworks don’t bother me as much after living in an Asian city—where the lunar new year is like one big month-long Fourth of July. In fact, we got used to sleeping with a fan on while we were in Taipei, to mask the loudest of the city’s sounds. We still use a fan now that we’re back in Missouri, but it’s not because of the noises outside. Instead, it’s the lack of noise that we’re masking. Sometimes quiet can be so loud.

So last week, when I saw this T-Mobile commercial, I could relate.

I couldn’t find this couple’s ambiance video, but that didn’t stop me. If you’re soothed by urban clamor, here are two loooong tracks that should get you well on your way to slumberland (population 5 million).

And if your city soundscape needs some pyrotechnics to complete the full auditory scene, try mixing in one—or both—of these below. Ahhh. I can almost smell the stinky tofu.

(Still not catching any Zs? Maybe long international flights are your recipe for a good snooze. If so, go to “A Biscoff Cookie, an Inflight Magazine, and Some White Noise . . . Welcome Aboard.” It takes all kinds.)

[photo: “Busy Taipei,” by Jen-Hao Kuo, used under a Creative Commons license]

Amusement Parks, 2, 3, 4

July 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

“Six Flags Aiming to Open First Saudi Theme Park by 2021”

US-based Six Flags announced in June that it had begun talks with the Saudi government to build theme parks as part of the kingdom’s efforts to expand its entertainment sector and diversify the economy.

Developing the leisure sector is fraught with difficulties in Saudi Arabia, which adheres to a strict social code where women are required to wear plain loose-fitting robes, cinemas are banned and public spaces are gender-segregated.

[Jim] Reid-Anderson [executive chairman of Six Flags] said it was too early to say whether the Six Flags parks would be segregated or whether there would be any restrictions placed on women’s access to the rides, which elsewhere include roller coasters and water slides.

“We’re at the research phase,” he said, but added there was “great support” for the project from its Saudi partners.

Katie Paul, Reuters, No, 2016vember 15

Repost: 11 Ways Moving Abroad Is like Skiing to the North Pole

May 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

In May of 2004, explorer Ben Saunders completed a solo, unsupported trek to the North Pole—on foot. He set out on his trip from the Russian side on March 5, reached the Pole on May 11, and was picked up by plane on the Canadian side on May 14. So here’s a repost, in honor of the thirteenth anniversary of his return.

Also, today is notable because it’s Mother’s Day, and point #9 below is a shout-out to moms, including a very emotional and very long-distance telephone call. Have you called your mum today?

 

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Ben Saunders sits on top of the world, the youngest person to reach the North Pole alone and by foot.

In 2004, 26-year-old Briton Ben Saunders became only the third person, and the youngest ever, to ski unaccompanied to the North Pole. As it turns out, there are a lot of ways that making a solo trek to the North Pole is a like moving to another country. Here are 11 things that the two adventures have in common, all taken from Saunder’s February 2005 TED Talk, “Why Did I Ski to the North Pole?”

  1. Luggage is a drag
    Saunders describes his specialty as “dragging heavy things around cold places.” He says, for his trip to the North Pole, “I was dragging all the food I needed, the supplies, the equipment, sleeping bag, one change of underwear—everything I needed for nearly three months.” That sounds like trying to put every necessary item in your carry-on bag, just in case your checked luggage gets lost. (If you think your bags are heavy, Saunder’s supply of food and fuel weighed 400 pounds.) Sometimes your destination has harsh conditions. And sometimes it doesn’t have chocolate chips. How many bags of those should you bring? Can’t be too prepared.
  2. It can be lonely out there
    One of the challenges of Saunder’s voyage was that he had to make it alone. Very alone. When he arrived at the northern-most point on the globe, he was the only “human being in an area one-and-a-half times the size of America, five-and-a-half thousand square miles.” Most of us don’t go to such remote places, but even if you’re in the biggest city, surrounded by millions of other souls, you can easily feel all by yourself.
  3. No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus
    When Saunders got to the top of the world, he didn’t find Santa. No Santa’s workshop. No elves. In fact, he says, “There isn’t even a pole at the Pole. There’s nothing there, purely because it’s sea ice.” When you go to another country, expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised when what you find doesn’t match the photos in the magazine article. “I’d read lots of books,” says Saunders. “I studied maps and charts. But I realized on the morning of day one that I had no idea exactly what I’d let myself in for.” Photoshopped and cropped pics don’t do us any favors. If GPS and street signs say we’re in the right place, don’t waste time—or emotions—trying to find something that doesn’t exist.
  4. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back
    According to NASA, during the year of Saunders journey, the ice conditions were the worst on record. Ninety percent of the time he was skiing into headwinds and the drifting ice pulled him backwards. “My record,” he says, “was minus 2.5 miles. I got up in the morning, took the tent down, skied north for seven-and-a-half hours, put the tent up, and I was two and a half miles further back than when I’d started. I literally couldn’t keep up with the drift of the ice.” When you’re in a new place, learning the language and culture, get used to those backward drifts. But always keep your compass set on your true north.
  5. The only constant is change
    Because the ice is constantly drifting over the North Pole, Saunders says that if he’d planted a flag there, it wouldn’t be long before it would be heading toward Canada or Greenland. Like Saunders, don’t be surprised when the emotional flags you plant aren’t permanent. The ground may not move under your feet (earthquakes not withstanding), but other kinds of landscapes certainly will. Find a special restaurant that serves your favorite dishes? Wake up the next day and it’s become a plumber’s shop. Make friends with some other expats? You may soon have to say goodbye. But, repeat after me, “Change can be good. Change can be good. Change can be good.” Maybe, just maybe, that plumber’s shop will end up being exactly what you need.
  6. Culture stress can be a bear
    Literally. On his first try at the North Pole, Saunders went with a partner, but they failed to reach their goal. Saunders says that from the outset “almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. We were attacked by a polar bear on day two. I had frostbite in my left big toe. We started running very low on food. We were both pretty hungry, losing lots of weight.” Yup. Sounds like culture stress to me.
  7. Coming back can feel like the bear wins
    When his first attempt fell short, Saunders says he “was physically exhausted, mentally an absolute wreck, considered myself a failure, in a huge amount of debt personally to this expedition, and lying on my mum’s sofa, day in day out, watching daytime TV.” His brother texted him an encouraging quotation from Homer Simpson:
    “You tried your hardest and failed miserably. The lesson is: don’t even try.” Repatriation can feel that way. Maybe all the people who’d said you shouldn’t go were right. But Saunders didn’t let his failure define him. Instead, three years later he made history.
  8. People aren’t sitting around waiting to hear your stories
    When Saunders reached the North Pole, he got out his satellite phone. After warming up the battery in his armpit, he made three calls: “I dialed my mum. I dialed my girlfriend. I dialed the CEO of my sponsor. And I got three voicemails.” OK, that’s unfair to say they didn’t want to hear what he’d done. They were just busy at the time, that’s all. But . . .
  9. Some people really do want to listen
    “I finally got through to my mum,” says Saunders. “She was at the queue of the supermarket. She started crying. She asked me to call her back.” There are special people who will make time to listen—when they can focus on your story without distractions. Thanks, Mum.
  10. Don’t let others draw boundaries on your map
    When Saunders was 13, he got a school report that said, “Ben lacks sufficient impetus to achieve anything worthwhile.” Saunder’s response—”I think if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: that no one else is the authority on your potential. You’re the only person that decides how far you go and what you’re capable of.”
  11.  One of the three most important questions will always be “Where is the bathroom?”
    Saunders gave his TED Talk to answer three questions:
    (1 ) Why?
    (2) How do you go to the loo at minus 40?
    (3) What’s next?
    That second question is very important at the North Pole, because it seems that “at minus 40, exposed skin becomes frostbitten in less than a minute.” Your question number two will be more like “Where’s the bathroom?” or just “Bathroom? Bathroom?” Then, once you see the facilities, you may ask yourself, “How?”

As for the answers to those question, in short, Saunder’s responses go something like this:

(1) “For me,” says Saunders, “this is about exploring human limits, about exploring the limits of physiology, of psychology, and of technology. They’re the things that excite me. And it’s also about potential, on a personal level. This, for me, is a chance to explore the limits—really push the limits of my own potential, see how far they stretch.”
(2) That’s a trade secret, no answer here.
(3) Antarctica. Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are currently on the first leg of their trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again—1,800 miles in all—unsupported and on foot. You can follow Saunder’s daily blog posts here. Why the South Pole? See answer number one above. Somebody’s got a severe case of wanderlust. [Saunders and L’Herpiniere completed their expedition on February 7, 2014.]

[photo: “North Pole (3),” by Ben Saunders, used under a Creative Commons license]

Stealing Cookies and Borrowing Stories

March 26, 2017 § 2 Comments

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I recently listened to a TEDx talk by Scott Geller, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, entitled “The Psychology of Self-Motivation.” In it, he recites “The Cookie Thief,” a poem by Valerie Cox.

Wait a minute. Hadn’t I heard that a-stranger-stole-my-cookies-in-an-airport story before? In fact, several years ago, as I recalled, I had seen an actor on a late-night talk show telling how the thievery had happened to him . . . but maybe it had taken place in a train station. I was unclear on the details. I also couldn’t remember which show it was on, but I was pretty sure it was a British actor, since he called the cookies “biscuits.” It’s a funny story—with a great punch line—and I’ve retold it a few times. But is it true, or too good to be true? And regardless of its truthfulness, who can lay claim to its origin?

I did a little digging, and here’s what I found (with thanks to those who’ve dug before me). . . .

First of all, the British “actor” was actually a British author: Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman, and videos of his appearance on the web give the show date as February 14, 1985. Adams was there to promote his novel, written in 1984, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, “the fourth volume in the Hitch-Hiker Trilogy.”

Letterman asked him if he used his own life experiences in his writing, which was, I’m guessing, a pre-planned question to set up what came next. Adams answered,

Yeah, well occasionally. Actually there’s one story I put in this book, which I fi— I wanted to put in print, because it’s something that happened to me a long time ago. And I’ve told the story pretty regularly now, with the result that other people are beginning to use it, so I wanted to put it in the book to say, “Hands off, guys.”

The gist of his story (minus Adams’ comedic flair) is this: At the train station, Adams buys a newspaper and package of cookies (biscuits). He puts his purchases down on a table and sits down across from a stranger. The man across from him opens the package of cookies and proceeds to eat one. Adams is perplexed, but saying nothing, eats a cookie himself. Back and forth they go, with Adams wondering how anyone could have such gall. Finally, the cookies are gone and the stranger leaves. When his train arrives, Adams picks up his newspaper to depart, and, much to his surprise, finds his unopened package of cookies lying there.

In 2001, Adams again recounted the story in a speech to Embedded Systems, saying that it had occurred in Cambridge in April of 1976. After Adams’ death in 2001, the Embedded Systems retelling was included in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, a collection of Adams’ previously unpublished works.

So Adams’ story predates Cox’s “Cookie Thief,” which was published in 1996 in A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. But his rendering is still not the beginning.

Jan Harold Brunvand writes in The Choking Doberman: And Other Urban Legends that the biscuit/cookie story is one of many variations on “the unwitting-theft legend,” a general category for which he finds examples from as far back as 1912. Though the origins of Adams’ account don’t seem to be quite that old, they still precede his 1976 timeframe. Brunvand points to a letter written to the editor of the journal Folklore, in 1975. In it, A. W. Smith writes that he has seen the story in print three times, in July 1974, July 1972, and some indeterminate time earlier. The sources are, in that order, London’s GuardianOxfam News, and (possibly) London’s Evening Standard. Smith notes that in all these versions, the traveler is British (in Oxfam News he’s the director of Oxfam Scotland); the encounter takes place in a train station, near a train station, or in a dining car; the offending stranger is from another country, a West Indian, African, or Pakistani; and the foreigner kindly offers the Brit half of the last cookie. On the last two details, Smith asks, “Does the essence of the story concern the patient and indeed saintly character of the often despised and rejected?”

While Adams’ and Cox’s version leave out the cross-cultural aspect, Cox’s telling does include the stranger’s kind (but irritating) act of breaking the cookie in half.

Back to where we began, here’s Cox’s “Cookie Thief” in video form.

(Douglas Adams, appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, February 14, 1985; Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, Del Rey, 2005; Valerie Cox, “The Cookie Thief,” A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 More Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit; Jan Harold Brunvand, The Choking Doberman: And Other Urban Legends,  Norton, 1984; A. W. Smith, “Letter to the Editor: Yet Another Modern Legend?” Folklore, vol. 86, issue 2, 1975)

[photo: “dark chocolate digestive BISCUITS,” by SimonQ, used under a Creative Commons license]

Krispy Kreme: Going Global with a Strategy That’s Full of Holes . . . and Topped with Green-Tea Icing

March 17, 2017 § 2 Comments

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In September of 2015, CNN posted a story with the horrifying headline “Krispy Kreme Krashes”! (exklamation point mine), announcing that KKD stock had dropped 12% following poor sales and earnings reports. The problem? Lackluster profits on their packaged doughnuts sold outside their Krispy Kreme stores. The solution? Opening more Krispy Kreme stores overseas.

Fast forward to today, and the eatery has outlets in over 25 countries. That means fewer people making overseas Krispy Kreme runs and wondering if they can get their purchases through airport security and transport them as carry ons.

It also means plenty of new creations to appeal to global palates. Take, for instance, the new “premium” doughnuts at Krispy Kreme Japan, which, RocketNews24 reports, just became available this month. They include the Premium Matcha Azuki, filled with green-tea flavored whipped cream and red-bean paste and topped with matcha green-tea icing; and also the Premium Sakura, which has a multi-layered filling of cherry paste, strawberry-raspberry-cranberry puree, and whipped cream. (If either of those sound good to you, you’ll need to head over to the Krispy Kreme JR Nagoya Takashimaya store in Aichi Prefecture in the next few weeks—it’s a limited-time offer.)

Seeing that news got me wondering what else one can find at Krispy Kremes far and wide. And so that you don’t have to wonder, too, here’s a list of some of the tasty offerings from Krispy Kremes around the world.

My mouth is watering as I type. . . .

(Paul La Monica, “Krispy Kreme Krashes,” CNN Money, September 10, 2015; Oona McGee, “New Krispy Kreme Premium Range Includes Sakura and Matcha Green Tea Doughnut Cakes,” RocketNews24, March 8, 2017)

[photo: “Free for All,” by Bokeh-licious, used under a Creative Commons license]

Tea, 2, 3, 4

March 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

[an animation made from tea leaves]

“Tea Tuesdays: Kenyan Farmers See Green in the Color Purple”

Across the picturesque highlands of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, fields of tea shimmer in shades of emerald, lime and moss under the equatorial sky.

Some of these fields, though, are now darkened with patches of purple. The purple comes from leaves with high levels of anthocyanins, natural pigments that also give cranberries, blueberries and grapes their color.

These purple leaves are Africa’s newest—and most intriguing—tea.

At the moment, they are being made into a handful of different styles. . . .

As pleasing as the unique flavors might be, [purple tea] was never developed for its taste.

Instead, [state-run Tea Research Institute] breeders were most interested in creating “a high-value medicinal tea product.” A number of scientific studies done inside and outside Kenya on purple tea suggest that its anthocyanins may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

“Anthocyanins have capacity to scavenge for free radicals and thus are good antioxidants,” says Stephen Karori Mbuthia, a biochemist at Egerton University, Kenya’s premier agricultural public university, and lead author of a recent study.

Jeff Koehler, Tea Tuesdays, NPR, March 3, 2015

Those Friendly, Friendly Drive Throughs and “Food Houses”

December 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

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It’s that holiday time of the year, which means lots of traveling and probably some quick meals along the way. If you’re wanting to up your grabbing-a-bite-to-eat game, take a look at Business Insider‘s list of the top 25 US limited-service restaurant chains, published earlier this year. Below are the ten restaurants with the highest customer-satisfaction scores. (By the way, if you’re wondering, “limited service” means pay before you eat and includes fast food and fast casual.)

  1. Firehouse Subs
  2. Chick-fil-A
  3. Papa Murphy’s Pizza
  4. Ben & Jerry’s
  5. In-N-Out Burger
  6. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
  7. Krespy Kreme
  8. Fuddruckers
  9. Jersey Mike’s Subs
  10. The Habit Burger Grill

I guess you could say this is a pretty congenial group of eateries—offering good food at a good price with good service—but if you want to know just how friendly the American food-distribution scene is, you need to look at it from an outsider’s point of view. In his book End of the Spear, Steve Saint tells about his friend Mincaye’s first trip to the States. Mincaye is from Ecuador, a member of the isolated Waodani (Waorani, Huaorani) tribe.

After he and Steve return to Ecuador, Mincaye describes grocery stores to members of his village. To him, “food houses” are wondrous places with endless amounts of food (people take it out but no one brings it in), and taking it out is oh so easy:

The only thing you have to do is when you are leaving, you have to go by the place where the young foreigner girls stand. They look at you very seriously. But if you just stand there and smile, when they smile back, you can take all your food and go eat it happily.

At this point, Steve corrects Mincaye’s story by explaining that the food needs to be paid for and shows the group a credit card.

“Don’t worry,” Mincaye explains. ” They just give that thing right back to you, and then you can go and eat all your food!”

But someone wants to know how food can be gotten when you’re out driving and not close to a food house. Mincaye knows the answer. That’s not a problem for Babae, as he calls Steve:

Babae has friends everywhere. Whenever we are away from the big, big food house and my stomach hurts, telling Babae, he just stops at one of his friend’s houses. They open the little windows in their walls and hand us food. Those people really like Babae, just like we do.

I really feel special now. I guess those people really like me, too!

(I’ve written about Steve and Mincaye before, but if you’d like to know their full stories, read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor and Saint’s End of the Spear, or watch the movie of the same name.)

(Emmie Martin, Tanza Loudenback, and Alexa Pipia, “The 25 Best Fast-Food Chains in America,” Business Insider, May 9, 2016; Steve Saint, End of the Spear, Tyndale, 2005)

[photo: “Service with a Smile,” by Broken Piggy Bank, used under a Creative Commons license]

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