To a Friend Nine Days before We Fly Out Again [—at A Life Overseas]

November 30, 2019 § Leave a comment

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Dear friend:

I’m so glad we got to say Hi a while back, but sorry we never made it to your house for dinner. When we landed three months ago it seemed like we’d be here forever, but then the time went by so fast. We’re all busy with so many things, and we had so many places we needed to be.

You asked about us getting together for coffee next week, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it. We’re kind of booked up with so many last-minute things to take care of, and then we’ve set aside a couple days to get away and catch our breaths before we head out. I’m afraid coffee will need to wait until next time.

And you wondered about seeing us off at the airport. That’s so nice of you, but we’re trying to get our goodbyes done before we pull up to the curb and have to fix our minds on tickets and luggage and passports.

Speaking of luggage . . .

Read the whole post at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “coffee lover,” by Camila Tamara Silva Sepúlveda, used under a Creative Commons license]

Big, Big, Big Ideas from—and for—the Friendly Skies

November 19, 2019 § 2 Comments

I got an idea!!!

There’s something about flying that inspires me creatively. Maybe it’s the altitude. Maybe it’s the soda and snacks. Maybe it’s the inflight magazines and pretending that I belong to their target audience.

Whatever the cause, ideas come to me when I’m up in the air. What kinds of ideas, you ask? Well, they’re great ideas, amazing ideas, Shark-Tank-winner-million-dollar ideas. Understand that I have no plans to bring these to fruition—no, I’m just an ideas guy—but I do want to be on the record for creating these when someone else puts them in production. . . and changes the world of travel as we know it. And if you find out that someone has already come up with anything like these, I simply don’t want to hear it (fingers in ears, LA LA LA LA).

So without further ado, here they are, the fruit of a recent flight:

  • Out o’ My Way Beeper: A small speaker system that you wear on your belt that emits the high, sharp beep used by airport carts. Use one of these and everyone will clear the way for you as you hurry to your gate. By the time they realize they’ve been had, you’ll be long gone. I saw a man driving a malfunctioning, silent cart through an airport once. He called out “Beep, beep, beep,” as he drove. He could have used one of these.
  • Mag Pillow: Maybe you have a neck pillow that takes up too much room in, or hanging onto, your carryon. Maybe your pillow fills with air, but you have to blow it up for each flight. If either of these is true, you need the Mag Pillow. It’s a hollow, zippered pillowcase that you fill with the wadded-up pages of your inflight magazine. I know: brilliant.
  • EarThing I: A fake Bluetooth earpiece that screams “I’M SUCH A BIG DEAL!” as you yell such things as “WHEN IT GETS TO 2 MILLION I WANT YOU TO SELL!” or “I DON’T CARE HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN CEO! CLEAR OUT YOUR OFFICE NOW!” You’ll get the respect you deserve without having to pony up for a real Bluetooth system. And, yes, those sideways glances you’re getting are looks of envy.
  • EarThing II: This one’s an earpiece connected to a coiled cord that leads into your collar . . . and goes nowhere. You’ll get all sorts of attention: “Are you a pilot? Are you a sky marshal? Are you important?” A slight shrug of your shoulders and a finger to your lips is your answer.
  • The One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon: Have you put a red ribbon on your luggage to make it stand out only to find that five other people on your flight had the same idea? Get a One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon and that will never happen again. Your luggage tag will be 100% unique. Billions to choose from! No one will every have your color and pattern because no two One-and-Onlies are the same. Guaranteed! In fact, if you find two that are identical, you’ll get a free, um, Mag Pillow.
  • I Heart Kiosk: This is not only a product but a place for selling it, too. You can set up this shop in any airport, but it works best in the small, regional, last-stop variety. Ever arrived home and realized you forgot to pick up a souvenir for that special someone in your life? Don’t worry—Look, there’s an I Heart Kiosk over there. It’s stocked with taffy, peanut brittle, pork rub, golf balls, teddy bears, and the kinds of et-ceteras that you can find in any locale. But the secret sauce is in the stickers that come with them, stickers printed with “I ♥ [name of a city of your choice].” And you don’t even have to visit a city to show your loved ones that you thought of them while you weren’t there.

[photo: “I got an idea!!!,” by Ky0n Cheng, public domaibn]

Ink, 2, 3, 4

October 16, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“Student Uses Invisible Ink to Ace Ninja Report”

A Japanese student aced an assignment on ninja culture by making her own invisible ink from soybeans in a stealthy move that impressed her professor.

Eimi Haga, a member of Mie University’s ninja club, turned in an essay on a visit to a museum about the nimble assassins with an attached message to heat it before reading.

“I knew that I needed to take it home and put it above a stove,” said Yuji Yamada, who teaches Japanese history, including ninja culture.

“She replicated what is written in records of ninja art. She strived to prove what was written actually works and went through a trial-and-error process. I was impressed,” he said.

When the characters of Haga’s essay revealed themselves in the heat, Yamada—who had promised his students extra marks for creativity—decided to award her an A.

Toshifumi Kitamura, Japan Today, October 15, 2019

The Reports of Mark Twain’s Travel Quotations Are Somewhat Exaggerated

September 8, 2019 § 2 Comments

USS_Quaker_City

Quaker City, Mark Twain’s steamship in The Innocents Abroad

In 1866 and 1867, Mark Twain wrote a number of letters to the San Francisco newspaper Alta California, detailing his travels from California to New York, by way of Nicaragua. In 1940 they were collected and published under the title Mark Twain’s Travels with Mr. Brown. In one of those letters, a dispatch from New York dated May 18, 1867, we find what has become one of his more famous quotations on travel:

[N]othing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.

In context, Twain is describing “The Traveller’s Club”:

That is a human institution. Its President is a Californian, and its members hail from more places than there are on the Atlas. They have kindly complimented me with the privileges of the place for a month, and I went up the other night at ten and spent a very pleasant evening till two or three o’clock in the morning.

Of course I met pleasant people, because nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people. An Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotchman, an Italian or so, several Frenchmen and a number of Americans were present, and you couldn’t ask a question about any possible country under the sun, but some fellow in the crowd had been there and could give the information from personal experience. . . .

They said they were going to send me a formal invitation to make a speech before the Club, as Du Chaillu did, and I said I would be glad to accept it, but I did not know then that they go and invite a whole raft of ladies to be present on such occasions, to look at a poor victim and make him lose his grip, and so I hope they will forget to send the invitation, now.

You ought to start a Travellers’ Club in San Francisco. You have got an abundance of material, and that sort of an organization is much pleasanter than political one-idea affairs, such as clubs generally are.

Subsequent letters to Alta California didn’t need to wait so long to be put into book form. Published in 1869, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, chronicles his trip to Europe and the Holy Land and became a classic in travel literature. Volume two of the book contains an even more popular (in my estimation) travel quotation, in the form of

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

The full paragraph is as follows:

I have no fault to find with the manner in which our excursion was conducted. Its programme was faithfully carried out—a thing which surprised me, for great enterprises usually promise vastly more than they perform. It would be well if such an excursion could be gotten up every year and the system regularly inaugurated. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Twain’s view sounds right, but don’t take my word for it, just ask SCIENCE. As reported in PsyPost, researcher Jiyin Cao says that he and his colleagues were “intrigued” by Twain’s quotation, so they conducted five studies to test the idea. The results suggest that Twain knew what he was talking about:

In this paper, my coauthors and I tested this assumption: Does travel make people more trusting? Does travel lead people to have a more charitable view of humanity? Given the trend toward globalization and the increasing popularity of foreign travel, this will be an important and interesting question to explore. In addition, we compared two aspects of foreign experiences: the number of countries one visits (breadth) and the length of time one spends abroad (depth), and explored which one plays a critical role in the process. Across five studies, using different research methods including a longitudinal study, we found that breadth but not depth of foreign experiences increases generalized trust. In other words, the more countries one travels, the more trusting one is. Breadth is important here, because breadth provides a great level of diversity in people’s foreign travel experiences, allowing them to reach such a generalized assumption.

Earlier in The Innocents Abroad, Twain has more to say about the benefits of travel: self awareness. (This one I don’t see quoted much.)

The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother.

And then there’s the well known

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Yes, Twain had a lot of things to say about travel . . . but this last quotation isn’t one of them. Despite many online and offline sources attributing it to Twain, Quote Investigator‘s Garson O’Toole finds it no earlier than in 1990, when H. Jackson Brown, Jr. included it in his book P. S. I Love You. The inspirational author credits the saying to his mother, Sarah Frances Brown.

And as long as we’re trekking down this path, so to speak, Twain also didn’t say, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” (I know, this is stretching the travel theme a bit, but the word is in there.)

Back to O’Toole: He writes that Bonnie Taylor-Blake located the phrase “falsehood will fly from Maine to Georgia, while truth is pulling her boots on” in an 1820 issue of the Portland Gazette. And then in 1821, William Tudor, in The North American Review, ascribed “a Lie would travel from Maine to Georgia while Truth was getting on his boots” to congressman Fisher Ames. In Twain’s writings, though, nothing similar appears.

Bummer! Mark Twain didn’t say everything.

But now I’ll leave this discussion on a more positive note—positive because here’s something that did come from Twain, and positive because it recognizes another beneficial aspect of getting out and about. With Huckleberry Finn as his spokesperson (a passenger, by the way, in a boat held aloft by a balloon, floating around the world), Twain wrote the following in 1894:

I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.

Yes, Huck, you said it. You sure did. And I figger we don’t need no research to know that it’s true.

(Mark Twain, “Letter 18,Alta California, June 23, 1867; Twain, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, American, 1869; Eric Dolan, “New Study Confirms Mark Twain’s Saying: Travel Is Fatal to Prejudice,” PsyPost, December 9, 2013; Garson O’Toole, “Twenty Years from Now You Will Be More Disappointed by the Things You Didn’t Do than by the Ones You Did Do,” Quote Investigator, September 29, 2011; O’Toole, “A Lie Can Travel Halfway around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes,” Quote Investigator, July 13, 2014; Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Charles L. Webster, 1894)

[illustration: USS Quaker City,” by Clary Ray, c. 1890, public domain]

Speculoos Cookie Butter: A Little Bit of Air Travel in a Jar

August 15, 2019 § Leave a comment

Delta cookie

Sometimes the choices at the grocery store can get downright overwhelming. Take, for instance, the butter section. I’m not talking about butter butter and I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter butter.

No, I’m talking about the I-can’t-believe-there-are-so-many-alternatives-to-peanut-butter butter. A recent trip to the grocery store (and a follow-up search on the web) introduced me to almond butter, pistachio butter, walnut butter, brazil-nut butter, cashew butter, pecan butter, hazelnut butter, macadamia-nut butter, sesame-seed butter, pumpkin-seed butter, sunflower-seed butter, coconut butter, granola butter, and soy butter.

And then there’s the last-but-not-least variety I haven’t gotten to yet, the one that got me looking in the first place, the one that a coworker brought to work to have us try . . . speculoos cookie butter.

This butter variation is made from crushed speculoos—European shortbread—cookies. If that doesn’t ring a bell, think of the Biscoff cookies you get as an in-flight snack. Oh, the flavor. Oh, the memories.

If you’re looking for speculoos cookie butter in the US grocery aisle, start with Lotus Biscoff Cookie Butter or Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter or Wal-Mart’s Great Value Speculoos Cookie Butter. And if you’re more of a DIYer, you can make your own.

Eat a spoonful of speculoos cookie butter and the flavor will transport you to a seat on a flight transporting you to a life-changing destination. But don’t limit it to a spoon topping. Try it on waffles, toast, ice cream . . . or Biscoff Cookies. And there are tons of recipes online with cookie butter as an ingredient.

Need more inspiration? Take a look at these websites and videos. And there’s a lot more out there. When it comes to speculoos cookie butter, the sky’s the limit.

50 Ways to Use Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter

30 Incredible Desserts to Make with Cookie Butter, the World’s Most Addictive Spread

25 Cookie Butter Recipes to Make ASAP

[photo: “IMG_9255,” by adaenn, used under a Creative Commons license]

In-Flightisms

July 8, 2019 § 3 Comments

 

Plane toy on blue sky

Here’s one more installment of travel “isms”—created words and terms to help travelers talk the talk . . this time while they fly the flight. And if you’d like to get caught up on my past entries, check out Expatisms, Airportisms, and Pre-Tripisms.

passenger of imminent domain
This is the person directly in front of you on a plane who, upon sitting down, immediately pushes his seat back as far as it will possibly go. Intuiting that something must be hindering it, he tries to force it back farther, again and again. There. Must. Be. Something. Keeping. The. Seat. From. Reclining completely flat (possibly your knees). Finally, leaving the seat fully back, he leans forward to watch a movie.

chipillow
The bag of snacks that you bring from home that bloats up once you reach higher altitudes. With care, it can be used to rest your head on, due to the fact that it’s in the same food group as the neck croissant.

single-entré seating
The rows in the far back of the plane where you no longer get a choice between the brazed beef medallions over a wild-rice pilaf and the broiled fish and mashed potatoes. You get the fish.

cartnering
This is the act of hovering next to the food cart as it’s making its way down the aisle. Timing a trip to the bathroom with the distribution of meals is truly an art form, and it is best done passive-aggressively (such as by wearing a smile while dancing from one foot to the other).

silent gotcha port
The “SGP” is the small screw hole on the seat armrest that looks as if it must be the place where you plug in your earphones.

Queen Ramona’s veil
The dark mesh curtain that separates business class from coach. Its main purpose is to protect those in the front of the plane from projectiles thrown by the riotous mob behind, who are known to catapult dinner rolls at each other using slingshots fashioned from their airline-provided sleep masks and who sometimes divide into teams for prolonged games of ultimate Frisbee. In small planes, the curtain, only a few inches across and resting next to the cabin wall, is known as Queen Romana’s Veilette. Its purpose is purely psycho-social.

The term “Queen Ramona’s Veil” comes from the name commonly used for the wood-and-iron gate employed by the overly paranoid and little-known British Queen Ramona II to separate her highness from the filthy hordes sometimes present in the steerage portion of her royal sailing ship. Mention of the barrier is made in the English dirge “The Death of Queen Ramona at the Hands of the Filthy Hordes.”

FASL
Flight Attendant Sign Language. Includes such specialized hand maneuvers as indicating the exits by extending the arms to the side, palms forward, pointing with two fingers, Boy Scout style, and mimicking the pulling of life-vest inflation cords using the crook of the thumb and first finger with the other fingers fanned out, subliminally showing that everything will be “OK.”

seatemic
(pronounced see-uh-tehm-ic) Your connecting flight is delayed and you have no time to spare so when it lands you run as fast as you can (and by “as fast as you can” I mean a combination of running, jogging, speed walking, walking, stopping, and wheezing) across the airport and arrive at your gate just as they’re closing the door and you speed down the gangway and board the plane and force your carryon into something close to an available slot and find your seat and quickly strap in so the plane can take off. . . . Now all you can do is sit still, sweating, with your heart racing and your veins coursing with adrenaline. Your body is in a fight-or-flight response but something tells you this is a different kind of flight. If you are suffering from these symptoms, you are seatemic.

no-watch list
Movies that are not allowed to be shown in-flight. The list includes Red Eye, AirborneNon-Stop, FlightplanSnakes on a Plane, Quarantine 2: Terminal, and Plane of the Living Dead. And, yeah, some of these shouldn’t be shown on the ground, either.

post-ping che-klatches
The sound of seatbelt buckles popping open the instant the plane stops at the gate and passengers hear the OK-now-you-can-get-up tone. This allows those in window seats to immediately grab their carryons, put them where they were just sitting, and wait, hunching under the overhead bins.

[photo: “Plane Toy on Blue Sky,” by Marco Verch, used under a Creative Commons license]

Leeches on a Plane, and in Other Sundry Places

June 14, 2019 § Leave a comment

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For most people, an uneventful international flight is a good international flight. That wasn’t the case for Ontario native Ippolit Bodounov when he traveled from Russia to Canada last October. His problems started when a Canada Border Services Agency beagle sniffed out a strange scent in his luggage. Actually, his problems started pre flight, when he decided to load a grocery bag with 4,788 wild leeches and put it in his carry on.

Bodounov’s story made the rounds last year when he was caught, and then again in May when he was fined C$15,000 for the illegal importation. Importing leeches, in and of itself, isn’t wrong—they’re often used for medicinal purposes (their saliva contains blood thinners, anti-clotting agents, blood-vessel dilators, and an anesthetic). But the species of leeches brought in by Bodounov are internationally regulated and he lacked the necessary permits. So remember that the next time you think about . . . nah, just forget it.

Hearing about leeches brought to my mind a passage in the book Exodus to a Hidden Valley, which tells the story of the Morse family, missionaries to the Lisu in Burma. They were ordered by the military government to leave the country by the end of December 1965, but rather than leave the Lisu behind, the Morses relocated to a remote area in Burma near the Indian border, away from government control. In describing their trek through the jungle, Eugene Morse writes,

There is no really effective weapon against the leech, Instead of keeping them away, bundling up often tends to hide leeches from your sight. During the rains we learned that even wearing shoes can be a hazard, because leeches hiding in a shoe can turn your foot into a bloody mess before you feel their bite. Leeches dread fire and ashes, and many American British soldiers virtually chain-smoked their way through the Burma campaign of World War II in an effort to keep them at bay. But we learned the Lisu technique of scraping them off with a sharp machete, a process that had to be repeated every few minutes to keep them from sucking blood. On one occasion my brother Robert helped his wife scrape 102 leeches off just one of her legs after she had been walking only five minutes. The mobility of these wormlike creatures is incredible. You can look at what seems to be a totally quiet area of jungle foliage, wave your hand, and suddenly find leeches crawling out from under every leaf, where they have been hiding from the rain. They almost seem to jump the last half inch or so to reach any available piece of warm flesh. If a man opens his fly to relieve himself along a jungle trail, later he will very likely find that at least two or three leeches have managed to make their way to his groin.

Once a leech has attached itself to you, it injects an anticoagulant into the surrounding area of flesh. It drinks until it swells up like a miniature sausage and then falls off. But because of the anticoagulant, you continue to bleed, and anybody who gets a number of leech bites is likely to suffer seriously from loss of blood. Nobody who has lived in the jungle during the rainy season underestimates the danger of leeches or ignores the importance of seeing to it that everything, from houses to latrines and other buildings, is made as leech proof as possible.

In the jungle opening one’s fly can be dangerous. Got it. But as it turns out, opening one’s mouth—or nose—can be risky, too. In 2017, a young Australian man claimed that while eating a pre-packaged salad from a Coles supermarket, a leech attached itself to his tongue. And he has video evidence. “I tried to get it off with a fork,” he tells The Daily Mail Australia, “and it just exploded in my mouth.”

Want more visuals? A report in the Turkish Archives of Ortohinolaryngology shows a leech on the base of a young lady’s tongue, the result of drinking unfiltered spring water. BBC published photos of a leech removed from the nose of a backpacker from Edinburgh, who came back from Southeast Asia with the unwelcome souvenir, which had grown to three inches long over a month before the traveller realized what was going on. And a YouTube video shows the extraction of a veeeery large leech from the nostril of a man from southern China. It had possibly latched on while the man was swimming in a river.

All this got me wondering if anyone makes a habit of putting leeches in their mouths on purpose, as in, for food. From what I’ve found, the answer is a definitive Maybe. In season four of Dirty Jobs, host Mike Rowe spends time with some some leech trappers in Minnesota. After they walk him through the collection and sorting process of the soon-to-be bait, Rowe asks them if there’s anything else he needs to know. “We occasionally eat ’em,” one answers.

Rowe later asks Jason, son of one of the leech wranglers, “Now look, man. Be honest with me. Leeches, are they served in fine restaurants up here in northern Minnesota, or anywhere for that matter?”

“Not too much in the United States just because of the whole food standards and everything,” Jason replies, “but over in Asia, it’s good to go.” He then proceeds to de-vein some leeches and deep fry them. Jason and the cameraman eat some raw, while Rowe waits until they’re cooked, claiming, “You know what? It’s pretty good.”

“But over in Asia, it’s good to go.” Really? Actually, I’m thinking probably not. Asians do eat a lot of things that aren’t normally on Western menus, but it’s a too easy go-to to claim that they eat anything and everything.

In truth, if you’re looking for a good leech recipe, look no farther than Europe. In one episode of Heston’s Feasts, British chef Heston Blumenthal hears from a Transylvanian historian on how to prepare “leeches swollen in goose blood.” Good may be stretching it a bit. After sampling the chewy result, Blumenthal declares, “That’s just congealed goose blood with a leech-membrane casing, and that to me, no matter how I try and wrap that up, it’s not appetizing.”

Dina Fine Maron, “Why Was This Man’s Luggage Stuffed with 5,000 Leeches?National Geographic, February 10, 2019; “Leech Smuggling: Canada Fines Man after 4,700 Carried on Plane,” BBC News, May 28, 2019; Eugene Morse, Exodus to a Hidden Valley,  Reader’s Digest Press, 1974; Nic White and Josh Hanrahan, “Man Says He Found a LEECH in a Coles Salad—and Only Noticed when the Creature Attached Itself to His Tongue,” Daily Mail, January 14, 2017)

[photo: “Bush leech,” by Doug Beckers, used under a Creative Commons license]

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