Traveling the World with Parkinson’s Disease

About three years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  It has changed my life and the lives of my Family.  Changed my life, not ruined it.  I travel now more than ever, not because of any fear or thoughts of “the clocks running out”, but simply because it makes me feel better.  The Points and Miles hobby helps me focus and challenges me daily.  I’m a numbers guy and it works.

I can still “control” what you see, to a point.  I look normal, unless you add stress and/or lack of sleep, piss me off or ask me to write anything down and it might show at a meal as I try and eat with a fork.  Lilly says that I eat slower.  I haven’t noticed, but it does make me wonder how I must have appeared to eat before…and I have accepted that being a Surgeon or a Watch Maker is not an option any longer due to “fine motor control” issues.  Some have suggested that my speech is softer and that it is getting harder to understand me.  I probably talked too much anyway.

Traveling with Parkinson’s is a dance of trying to minimize everything listed above and still be happy and functional.  When I was diagnosed, I walked out on the doctor, crawled under a stairwell and just sat there, trying to grasp what I had just been told.  I originally went to the doctor thinking that I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  After numerous tests, there it was.  I was 49 years old and now having a very bad day.  I went home and immediately made a big mistake, I got on the internet and freaked the !@%# out.  The process of “dealing with it” had begun…and it wasn’t pretty.  I just wanted to isolate myself and be left alone.   Lilly and the kids wouldn’t have it. Two of the kids, who lived out of state, joined the actor Michael J. Foxs’ Foundation to learn and raise funds for research while Lilly and the other three circled around me.  I never felt alone.  Two things I’ve learned; what Parkinson’s is and what it isn’t.

What it is:  Degenerative (you won’t get better) and a kick in the teeth to your status quo.  Your brain has either stopped or reduced the amount of dopamine it provides to your body.  This is a big deal because without it, A can’t talk to B, so things don’t move smoothly.  It can and is frustrating and there is no cure.  Stress plus lack of sleep and I can barely form a coherent sentence.

What it isn’t:  A death sentence (it, per se, won’t kill you).  It’s not the end of the world or an excuse to give up living, especially for tomorrow.  It’s not contagious and you didn’t do anything wrong to get it.  It doesn’t seem to move fast so catch your breath, most likely you’ll have plenty of time before the rocking chair.  It’s also not the monster hiding under the bed and Death has not got you on his to-do list.

Positives:  There are very effective medications available.  Exercise has now moved into the top five on your list of important things as does getting a “good nights” sleep.  You learn to embrace the positives and deal with the negatives.   Basically, you quickly get your @#!$ together.  It’s also “semester finals” time on your financial planning.  Did you make good decisions in the past or not.  The Piper has come a calling…

I love to go everywhere.  Traveling keeps you active; walking helps enormously.  Planning a trip challenges your mind and reminds you that tomorrow will come and you will be a part of it.  Traveling also helps you interact with the world and helps you to be social.  It reminds you to breathe.  Best part is that it doesn’t require any “fine motor” skills and you can relax.  More and more people who have Parkinson’s are living normal lifespans.  Awareness is growing and with it, better research.  Michael J. Fox has lived with Parkinson’s Disease for ~25 years and his foundation http://www.michaeljfox.org  immediately comes to mind and gives me a tremendous amount of hope.

Parkinson’s Disease is not the end of the path, it’s just a left turn up a hill.  You just have to keep on going.

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The Great Wall of China has a Roller Coaster, Seriously

Going to the Great Wall of China.  Comfortable shoes, cameras and transportation has been arranged, check, check and check.  This is a serious “bucket list” to-do.  We arrived near Badaling, full Game Face, let’s do this!

There is the Wall! Off the bus and up a long steep road to the wall, no… to a Roller Coaster.  I kid you not.  You get in a line and when your next, the staff ushers you into a single seat, go-cart looking

contraption and up the hill you go, click click click.  I was stunned.

At the top, you jump out (it doesn’t stop) and you are at the base of the Great Wall.  We explore the Wall and its time to leave.   Back down we go to the base and hop back on the Coaster.

Going down would literally send OSHA right “off the rails”.   Picture a dozen carts in a row, all crammed together and at the front an employee, in his cart, holding a long “arm” which I imagine is the brake.  And down the twisty curvy hill we go.  As he was pulling the arm, I remember thinking that I hope he wasn’t feeling suicidal today.

At the bottom you jump out and wander back down the hill…giggling.   So much for the solemnity of the Great Wall…and Roller Coaster.

Do Americans Still Speak English?

Incoming Phone Call:  Hey, what’s up?

Caller:  Ugh!  I’m ditching work today, my heads in the clouds and I feel like crap, so I’m no good to anyone there.  Plus, outside it’s raining cats and dogs bigtime, the shits coming down in buckets.   It’s really starting to piss me off!

Me:  Wow, that sucks!

Caller:  I’ll call you later, hopefully this crap will pass quickly and I can get back on my game.

Me:  Keep me in the loop, I’ll catch you later, Bye.

Wow!  To most Americans, the above conversation made perfect sense.  To someone who is trying to learn our language, throw in the towel and go to the Pub.

I had the occasion to listen to a man from Great Britain talk about…whatever, he actually spoke English and it was Magical.  I’ve learned three things…

  1. You probably shouldn’t try and learn the language from an American.
  2. We speak in Metaphor, Idiom and Slang.
  3.  We seem to have an obsession with bodily discharges.

I actually started listening to how myself and others that I speak with talk, it’s “like” hilarious.  We can do better, just a little food for thought….

Let’s Have Some Fun!

On March 1st, I wrote an article called “An impressive site and the ugly American” where I detailed how we used Points and Miles to get to Asia.  It has a lot of detail (839 words) and covers a lot of ground.   Let’s really “dumb it down” and focus on just starting with an idea of “Where do I begin?”.  This, thanks to technology, is really the easy part.

First things, I will rate each step with a scale using 1-10.  It’s called the “Pain in the Ass Scale (we’ll call it PASS for short), with 10 being a real PASS to complete and 1 being easy.  Let’s Begin.

  1. Where do you want to go?  Pick a City.  PASS 1
  2. Go to Google or Apple Maps on your device and find your City.  PASS 1
  3. Think about what you want to see while you are there, zoom in on your map and begin finding the sites.  For example, if you chose Rome, look for Vatican City or the  Roman Colosseum.  Zoom in and out to become somewhat familiar with the area.  PASS 2-3
  4. Start noticing that the names of things are in different colors, for example, Hotels are Purple, Museums/Sites in Blues and Restaurants in Reds. (Your colors could be different).  PASS 1 (unless your colorblind, then PASS 8).
  5. Look for Hotels central to what you would like to see.  Look for the big Chains (Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Hyatt…) as they are generally fussy on where they locate and are usually in “good” areas.  Write down the names.  PASS 3
  6. Zoom out and find the closest “Main” Airport and write it down.  For example, Rome is Fiumicino  and it’s symbol is (FCO).  PASS 1

Great Job!  From the comfort of your couch, you’ve picked somewhere to go, gathered ideas on what to see, located some great Hotels and found where to fly in to.  Let’s keep going.

  1. Going forward, the process becomes somewhat mechanical.   We need to get you there, book a Hotel and then get you home.  PASS 5-7
  2. Do you need a Passport?  If so, https://www.usps.com/international/passports.htm  This process can take 2-3 months so plan accordingly, it’s a pain but you’ll be glad you did it.  PASS 5-6
  3. Does your Passport expire with the next year?  If so, see #2 above.
  4. Does your Country of choice require a Visa to visit?  Check http://www.cibtvisas.com   This process can take 1-2 months, it’s a pain, but it will look pretty in your passport (which you need to have first before you can apply for a visa)  PASS 5-6
  5. Breathe…I’ve been to a lot of places with Asia being the only place that I’ve had to obtain a visa.  Email me at http://www.travelgump@gmail.com and I’ll walk you through the process.
  6. Now that you have a Passport or are in the process of getting one, you probably need a flight.  Go to http://www.google.com/flights  Once there, I flip mine back to “classic flights” which seems to work better on my IPhone.  Play with this.  Choose different airports, check different days of the week to depart or return, get creative!  This gives you an idea of the costs.  Don’t buy yet though.  Do you have any credit cards with Points and/or Miles you can use?  If you have questions, call your credit card company or email me.  PASS 3-10 (For some crazy reason, flights frustrate me)
  7. Hotel time, go to http://www.tripadvisor.com and enter your desired city.  Read up and look for what you recognize.  Don’t buy yet.  You’re just checking and getting an idea of possible costs.  Same thoughts as above (bottom of #6, except Hotels are easy to deal with)  PASS 3

Now you have lots of information!  Where to go, what to see, flight and Hotel cost estimates and Passport/Visa requirements.  You’ve checked your credit cards and you’ve emailed me.  Now we need a Date!  Commitment time… PASS 10!  (For many, this is the hardest part).

Now we have 4 scenarios.

  1. You chicken out…It was fun anyways, maybe next time.
  2. You pick your dates and just want to pay for the trip.  Good for you!  Buy the Plane tickets first, then book the Hotel second and go shopping for new clothes…why not?!  PASS 3
  3. You pick your dates, but want to use Points/Miles for part and pay for the rest.  See #2 and email me. Let’s be somewhat efficient. PASS 4
  4. You pick your dates but are swinging for the fences!  Let’s use all Points/Miles and only use money when absolutely necessary.   Email me first, we need to build a plan.  PASS 6 but fun.

My opinion, traveling to Rome is just like traveling to Buffalo, with just with a longer plane ride…and different currency, food, culture, sites and that language thing.  Other than things like that, it’s almost identical….hmmm?

This has been a macro view of planning a big trip.  It is amazing how “real” it becomes when you choose a date, book Plane tickets and reserve a Hotel.  It’s not hard to do and it feels really awesome to see it all come together.

In future articles, we’ll get into the details.  Topics like how do I get local currency (ATMs), getting around (Taxi, Uber, Lyft, Bus or Subway), packing ideas and other “I’m getting close to actually doing this” tips.

 

What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been…

So, I’m back quoting the Grateful Dead song, “Truckin”.  I really don’t know why, other than it comes to mind when I think of our trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Beijing, China.

I’ve written in the prior blogs about some of the experiences of the trip ending with my blasting critique of Beijing, China.  That was the 14th of March.  I’ve been “on my back” since then with an awful case of the “Traveler’s Flu”.  It is everything they say it is, incredibly horrible, you literally just want to curl up and die.  And a bonus tip from my doctor:  If you get it, don’t take ANY medications to stop the symptoms (Imodium, Pepto-bismal etc) as they keep the Monster in.  The more you flow, the faster it goes. (The last part is mine, kinda catchy).

Anyway, the trip was a huge logistic success!  So, how did we do it?  Was it hard to set up? NO.  I’ll spend the next few articles showing you how we did it and why it needed to be as stress-free as possible.  Most people see an international trip as just too big a project with too many details to work out and, there is that money thing too.  First though, let’s get some perspective here…

My World…                                      Not so Positives…sometimes

  1.  Middle-aged me, terribly disorganized, cannot multi-task, high stress Financial Firm job, Five kids (all adults), normal housy bills, and I am married to the most beautiful woman in the world, who absolutely turns every head in the room that she glides in to (no insecurities here)…..and I have Parkinson’s Disease, which requires 9-10 pills a day so that I can attempt to function “normally”, whatever that means.  Stress and lack of sleep are brutal on me.  So reducing the first and preventing the second are crucial.

Positives…Stress Reducers…sometimes

2.  All of the above (especially the part about Lilly and the kids) can be wonderful (sometimes) and stress reducing, except the job thing, no way to reduce that stress (although my assistant does her very best to try).  The Parkinson’s sucks but that’s a part of Life and it is what it is.  I’ll open up like a pelican and take my meds’ like a big boy.

My Point…If you want to see the world and breathe new air, can you really give excuses for not doing it?  Some People have worse issues, I get that…but if you don’t…

What a fun post this has been!

Next post…How we started planning.

 

 

 

 

 

Beijing China, My Review…

Beijing, China was a tough trip for me.  I won’t return, ever, and we absolutely couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  Yes, those are brazen statements, rarely used by any serious traveler and many will disagree.  I truly hope you will add to this post and prove me wrong or at the very least, that I’m narrow minded.

When I travel, I follow the rules of the Country we are in.  You will never hear me say, “well, in America we….”.  I travel to experience the culture, food, beauty or lack of,  wherever we go.  I am NOT the ugly American who runs his mouth or sticks out in any way.  I follow the rules

Beijing was no exception. I wrote about the quirky Taxi and Bus drivers and of the way people exit a plane.  Problem is that what I thought was just quirky is actually a lifestyle.

Things I get about Beijing:  Beijing is ~13,500,000 people confined in a large city with limited space, that that requires a certain level of efficiency in it’s people, to just get from A to B, that pleasantries, manners and social interaction can, at times, take a back seat to existing in a such a large city and I also get that sometimes you’re just a prick.

We did a lot of sightseeing.  Not once, did anyone ever bother, threaten or even say anything to us. Nothing.  Big city normal.  I get it, no problem.  I have what is called a “resting bitch face”.  Lilly is constantly on me to smile, so maybe  it’s me? No…Lilly is beautiful by any Country’s standards and lights up every room she enters.  They treated her like crap too.  At least they’re consistent.

Things I don’t get about Beijing:  In waiting lines you gently but firmly push people aside and cut in front.  This was all the time, all ages, and I would have been angry but this was happening to everyone.  I’m taking a picture, you step directly in front of me and take yours.  In stores, you step in front of me and take what you want.  I bump you, I say excuse me or sorry, you say nothing (maybe that’s an American thing though),  You spit, hack up phlegm and litter anywhere you like. You push, shove and force your way through stores, malls and buses.  But ok, your Country your rules.  I smile at you, you scowl back, I say “hello” as I pass a Police Officer and I literally get grunted at, every time.  I ask for directions, you know nothing and look completely annoyed.

I have never been around a people who have been so adamant about refusing to learn any “English” in any of my travels.  But since I know zero Mandarin or Cantonese, I can live with that.  Unless, I wanted your business, than I better damn well learn the basics.

Bottom Line:  You (the people of the large area of Beijing that we covered) clearly don’t want tourists.  No how, no way.   You seem to have copied the landmark name of “The Forbidden City” and have taken it to heart.

We Travelled to Beijing to quietly and respectfully experience your Culture and to learn what it is to be from this part of China.  I can’t dismiss this as a “few bad apples” as we interacted with a huge amount of people.  We experienced your Culture, then we left as fast as we could.

We have friends at home from China who may be disheartened by this article.  I choose to believe that you (our friends) represent the best of China and hope to continue hearing about the positives of your Country.

Let’s Take The Bus!

We decided to go to the Great Wall.  Easiest way?,  Take a tour.  Lilly set it up and we were ready to go.  It included a Bus, Tour Guide, Lunch and Admission.  This is perfect!, I mean what could possibly go wrong.  After 5 minutes in Beijing traffic, one thing became very clear…

If Hell owned a bus, our guy would be it’s driver.

He’s got a schedule and the World is in his way, Bigtime.  In all my bus travels, this ride ranks tops on the dangerous scary bus scale.  He weaves, has taken tailgating to an epic level and puts this bus in places that a Mini Cooper wouldn’t dare.  All while laying on the horn and jumping from lane to lane.  He’s wearing Prayer Beads.  They appear to be working, because I’m praying, a lot.

There is an accident ahead, scooter vs car.  The scooter driver is injured and trying to get out from underneath her scooter.   Our driver, completely annoyed, HONKS at her then jumps into the lane to our right without even slowing down.  The problem was there were other cars there, more horn and into the lane we went.  The rest of the day, I just kept my head down and didn’t watch.   It didn’t get any better.

So what is the point of this article?  You can’t tell on him, no one would listen and he probably has a great record. For all I know, in Beijing he might be the “norm”.  If you travel in Beijing, just know that bus drivers are, well… aggressive!  That’s me being nice, this guy is deadly and it pisses me off.

Traveling anywhere has risks.  They are just not always what you think.  I suppose, if he wraps this thing around a diesel truck, you can put that on my headstone.

Those Who Do Not Remember The Past…

Cruise ship doing the cruise thing down the Amazon about 10 years ago.  Big sign: Don’t drink the water that comes from the tap.   So nobody did and 70 % or so spent extra quality time in the restroom anyway…True Story.  So what happened?

Investigation Result: Most of you had salad.  Guess who was washing the vegetables in the ships water…the cooking staff.

Rule: When the sign at the place you are doing whatever at says don’t. Then don’t eat anything that has probably been washed but not cooked.  Like a salad.

  1.  Guess who forgot his own damn rule?

  2.  Guess who ate lots of salad?

  3.  Uh huh, ugh.

Remember this Travelers…

J W Marriott, Beijing Central @marriott

We stay at a LOT of hotels.  A few stand out as Wow Hotels but most just blend in.   I confine our Hotels, with a few rare boutique hotels, to the Marriott Family (Ritz, Marriott and Starwood), the Hilton Family (Waldorf and Hiltons), Hyatt Hotels and the IHG Family (Holiday Inn and Intercontinental).  I use credit cards and their respective Hotel points programs to maximize value.

Sometimes you hit a home run.   When I booked the Beijing JW Marriott Central, I knew it would be nice. The “JW” series tend to be their upper level Hotels.  I used 60k (15k per night) in Points (value ~$540) for 4 nights (including taxes) and walked in the door.

WOW! As usual, I looked like a bum. (Think Crocodile Dundee Goes to New York, Lilly of course, looked fabulous).  The staff was incredible.  We had arrived, haggard, in a small crappy looking taxi and the Valets treated us like we had arrived in a Rolls.  The lobby and Reception area appeared to be made of marble. At the front desk, we were warmly greeted.  The receptionist smiled and said, oh, you booked your stay with Points.  I’m thinking, here it comes…we’re basement bound.  She then said, I’ve upgraded your room to an Exectutive Level Suite with full lounge privileges (you can pretty much eat and drink all you want for free).  In addition, you get free wifi.  Being Gold at Marriott isn’t hard, at all,  and it’s a mid-level status, but as you’ve seen, it’s clearly worth it.  Remember…Amex Platinum card = Auto Starwood Gold = Marriott and Ritz Gold.  Our Suite is Glorious with a note and a fresh fruit tray waiting… and a card, Dear Mr McCown, Welcome to the JW Marriott…This is definitely a WOW Hotel.

Beijing, Act 2

Picture an underground parking garage with lanes that run side to side in front of you.  A single waiting line for those in need of transportation and at the front of it, a person, whose job it is to make sure you don’t get plowed over by the taxis as they race by.  Across the garage stands a man whose job appears to be that of yelling at, well… Everybody.  And he’s good at it.  Protocol is clearly everything to him and those who breach it will suffer his wrath.

The whole scenario screams of Jerry Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi episode.  Taxis race in from the left covering 2-3 lanes in mass.  They stop, the Yelling Guy yells at the Safety person who yells at the Taxi person.  Now you’re Up!  Let’s go, two steps to the right, load your luggage, no questions, get in the car and the Taxi gets out fast because other taxis are racing in and the line you were in is growing longer.

Enter, George Costanza .  I have questions, like how much, how long will it take and I need to let you know where we re going, right?  No, no, NO!  Somehow, I messed with the process and it had come to a screeching stop.  Now the Yelling Guy is looking at ME and is on his way over which is NOT good.  Our Luggage is everywhere.  He yells at the taxi driver and at the glut of Taxi’s now clogging the road.  He even has thoughts for the Safety lady for letting us leave the line.  Apparently, my questions are to be asked and answered while blazing out of the garage.  Unfortunately  our driver had a bad case of “no habla” and my Chinese is confined to ordering a meal…and here we are.

The matter is quickly settled. Load their !@#! Now and get them the heck out of here.   But, of course, we have a new problem.  Lilly’s suitcase is huge!  It could hold a 5’11, 165 lb body, quite nicely…hmmm, that’s about my size… That’s a thought that is going to fester…Anyways, the taxi driver fits it in the trunk, filling it up completely, and we’re tossing luggage in the back seat while piling in as we launch out towards the exit.

Now were on our way, I have no idea where. But we’re doing it at about 70 mph.  Here’s where we need to go…She has no idea.   I call the hotel and put them on speaker and they work it out.  We do a 180 turn (the meter is just clicking away) and the GPS says 16 miles to destination.  Then we hit traffic, but she has pluck and is dodging in and out like a pro, ultimately finding the right shoulder works the best.  I just closed my eyes and thought of puppies and butterflies.  Satisfied that all is well and right in the world, she starts singing then plays on Facebook and texts a few friends.  I opened my GPS to see where we were and got the stinkeye for apparently checking up on her.  Finally about an hour and twenty minutes later, she looks lost and we’re creeping down a street in the financial district.  When the Marriott appeared, she looked as shocked as we did.

An hour and a half to go 16 miles at 9pm at night.  Apparently this is normal.  Welcome to Beijing.

 

Welcome to Beijing, Now Hurry your A@@ up! Act 1

A leisurely morning in Siem Reap began with 85 degrees, sunshine and a stroll across the walkways of the lillypond filled courtyards at the Sofitel  Hotel.  We were greeted by the staff, with their beautiful praying-hand gestures,  birds, fish and a delightful buffet breakfast.  We wandered to the front of the hotel, casually loaded the bus and then off to the airport we went.

I was warned that China Southern Airlines could be problematic due to being late or cancelling flights.  They were great and gave us no issues, whatsoever.  Goodbye Cambodia.

We landed in Guangzhou and it was right about here that the wheels came off the wagon, we began to realize that we weren’t in Cambodia anymore.  We have two hours to catch our connecting flight and we are in queue with about 5 million +- other people and it’s not looking good.  The officials look annoyed and 1+ hours later, stamp, stamp, stamp…move on.  More Officials, more stamping, another metal detector, more stamping and a golf cart…apparently our Gate was not near and we we’re directed to a very long, very full, golf cart.  I found a spot on the rear facing backwards, my legs wrapped around my suitcase, my hands full of everything else, except the golf cart.  Our Driver Mario Andretti, somehow got that thing up to at least 60 mph through the airport, the man next to me clocked his head on the roof, hard, and seemed somewhat confused for the balance of the trip.  But we made it to the gate with 10 minutes to spare.  So much for leisure.

One of my pet peeves is people who dawdle when the airplane lands, get up, get your @#$!, and get off the plane, Now!  The things I would love to yell from the back of the plane, all of which would get me banned for life….

To the Chinese, this is definitely not an issue.  They will steamroll you to get off the plane.  Old ones, young ones, whatever, they will run you down.  These are my people.

More stamping, then off to get our luggage, all good.  Now it’s time to get a taxi and that’s when things got ugly…

Not Sure Which Credit Card To Start With? Start Here!

Despite all of the advanced techniques for generating travel rewards, people are still surprised to hear that daily spending on credit cards is the most reliable way to earn points and miles. The key is to use cards that earn the most rewards for each particular spending category. In today’s post, I want to look at the…

via The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Each Bonus Category — The Points Guy

That was Fast

IMG_7535

Had two choices this morning, go ride an elephant or hail a Tuk Tuk and see Siem Reap.  We chose the latter.  Tuk tuks are dime a dozen here so you choose, generally, by how the driver presents themselves and how well maintained their vehicle is.   We struck Gold.

Our driver was anxious to show us the City and after we discussed the time and distance required, he took a few seconds of serious thought and arrived at the bargain price of 6 US dollars.   Off we went and his first stop was an outdoor museum of sorts…Yawn.  Lilly left to take a few pictures.

His name was difficult to understand and even harder to say, so we did our best with the final result sounding something similar to “Soapie”.  It was time for Soapie and me to take a moment and speak as men do.   I explained, with a lot of hand gestures and arm waiving, that we wanted to see the real Siem Reap.  I wanted to go where the average Cambodian shopped, ate, lived and worked.  He went blank and then rattled off some nice shopping centers and Historical sites.   We were not bonding, it was a language thing or he thought I was an idiot.

So I tried again and used bigger hand gestures and when he was satisfied I looked silly enough, he stopped me and motioned that he got it.  I even suggested we could go all the way to $10 to “grease the wheels” of this expedition.

Off we went into the heart of the City.  What I saw was amazing to me.   I pictured myself hanging off the side of the Tuk Tuk, like Gene Kelly holding the lamppost in Singing in the Rain, taking in the sights and smells of Siem Reap.  It was chaotic but with a sense of being oddly organized.  We drove by outdoor bazaars, stores and every kind of shop that a local resident would need.  People were busy building, fixing or doing something.  This was everyday life and they were busy living it.  This is me romanticizing just a bit, the plumber, knee deep in !#$%, might see it differently.   I get that, but it was a sight to see.

Backstreets and non-tourist areas were covered  and soon we were delivered back to our hotel.  Ride an elephant or explore the city through the eyes of a local resident?  Easy choice.  I would have loved to stop and get knee deep with the plumber.  Lilly, probably not so much.

Last thought, this is a very, very Spiritual place.  Everywhere you go, signs of the Buddhist and Hindu religions are front and center.  Also it really didn’t matter where we went, we  found graciously polite people who greeted us by placing their hands together (like praying) and then raising them near their chin saying something that sounded as beautiful as it looked.  I would just smile, look down and wave, clearly outclassed again.  I’m starting to see a pattern here.  Our American greeting needs work and so do I.

I gave Soapie $25 and he joined us for a picture.  Sadly, it’s time to move on but I am very grateful for the kindness that has been shown to us from the People of Siem Reap.

 

 

 

 

Points and Cambodia

Vietnam was about the Vietnamese Dong (stay focused, it’s the name of their currency).  It was complicated, approximately 100,000 Dong equals approximately $4.45 US.  Pretty much everyone is a millionaire, if you convert $100.00 US.  Stayed at the Saigon Intercontinental and used my IHG card.  I apparently had “head in ass” because I should have used the Sapphire Reserve for a much better return.  A great way to prevent this is to use thepointsguy.com’s Pay With This feature, which I have, but still didn’t use, duh! The bill, 9,986,ooo VND.  When was the last time you spent almost 10 million on a hotel stay?  I did use the Sapphire Reserve on meals etc…So bring on the Points!

Welcome to Cambodia! Don’t bother with changing your money here.  They want the US Dollar just as it is.  Hotels, restaurants and stores, everything is listed in the USD.  It’s…comfortably weird.

Last night, I needed ibuprofen and chocolate, as beer gives me a headache and I can’t function without chocolate, ever, and walked into a Pharmacy.  They had all things that are good and handed the lady a $10 bill for a $4.15 transaction.  Sounds simple right, gimme my chocolate and let’s move on.  She stared, we stared and finally she said, you don’t have 85 cents?  Um, No.  More staring.  I have had beer though and this is freaking me out and I want my chocolate.  Finally, she starts peeling American and Cambodian money out of the register and we get a wod of cash.  Five $1 bills and 3400 Cambodian “dollars” of various denominations.  .85 cents, apparently = 3400 Cambodian Dollars, Holy Cow!  No coins available and such is the way of money in Siem Reap.

Oh and 90% of the stores and restaurants, cash only…No Credit Cards! I’ve fallen into a Points and Miles black hole…

Goodbye Vietnam

Today we are leaving Vietnam and are going to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Five days in Vietnam and I need three things, 1.  A dark quiet room to decompress  2. Mexican Food and 3. New undergarments.   The above video shows us trying to cross one of many streets.  I’m actually going to miss the thrill.

The Vietnamese People are wonderful, polite and genuinely appear to be glad to see you.  In an earlier post I talked about the scooters.  If I remember nothing else, it will be that.  10 million people in Saigon, 7 million scooters.  I’ve included a few more pictures showing that there is no limit to their brilliance.  The first picture shows an Uber driver waiting for a fare…Uber on a scooter, wow.

Vietnam is a beautiful country and well worth the trip.  I would do it again and perhaps go to Hanoi in the north.  Hotels, restaurants and transportation are easy.  I have had a harder time going to Dallas then I’ve had here.

A parting thought, I found a man who was about 50 and he agreed to answer a few questions from an annoying American about his thoughts on the Vietnam war.  He told me that his father died in 1972 fighting along side the Americans in Da Nang.   He said times were hard after that but that he and his family had adjusted and moved on.

Then I asked the hard question.  Does he feel that we (America) made a difference, was it worth it?  I cringed as the last of that sentence left my mouth as I had no idea how he would or could reply.  He thought about it and said, when the war ended, we (Americans) had made a lot of mixed raced children and that at least we took them to America and didn’t leave them behind to suffer.

Of all the things he could have mentioned, this apparently, was top of mind.  He then just shrugged and walked away.   I was speechless.  I had imagined him talking about human suffering, life in a war zone or of the loss of his Father.   Nope, he said what he said and that was that.

After I thought about it, I was really glad I was here.  Meeting people of other cultures is a wonderful “eye opener”.  I really liked Vietnam and clearly I have more to learn which can’t be done from sitting behind a computer.  I want to meet more like him and I want to be as thoroughly confused by every answer they graciously give.  That for me, is the best starting point in truely seeking to expand my narrow American mind.