Friday, May 13, 2016

Travel Faux Pas

In my 12 years of heavy travel, I’ve learn a lot of things that can’t be learned in any school. My experiences in travel have been the most lesson-rich in my life. I’ve traveled to Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, Canada, China, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia as well as 42 of the 50 states of my homeland.  I’ve mastered patience in the face of the stresses of airport security, taxi services, train stations, and international customs agency. I’m proficient in what I call “universal sign language” when trying to order food or find a bathroom.  I’ve learned to navigate through foreign countries where English is not the primary language, being mindful of customs and protocols. Though all my travels, I’ve learned (or affirmed) knowledge of… commonality of people….the need to accept things I have no control over….that smiles go a long way no matter where you go…that fear is mostly an illusion…that as long as I have a bed and running water, I can tolerate any quality of hotel room….that airline boarding agents, hotel housekeepers, and waiters/waitresses have hard jobs…yup, I’ve learned lots in my travels. I would say I’m a professional traveler…..but, that said, it has been through many a mistake that has given rise to this wisdom…

  • Example 1: During one of my many trips to Brazil, I was tasked with drafting a document in Portuguese….I know enough Portuguese (and universal sign language) to navigate socially on a minimal level but not much more. So, I resort to “Google Translate” to translate the document I had written in English. I asked a Brazilian colleague to review this document….which, after reading a couple of paragraphs, prompted a peculiar look….which turned into what I can only describe as a look of anger/disgust/embarrassment.  This prompted me to urgently call for my buddy, Marcelo (a Brazilian) to defuse what I was taking to be a “situation”. Upon reading the 1st few paragraphs of my document, Marcelo busted out in hysterical laughter….apparently I had somehow written a reference to inspecting “breasts”….not my intention…still, to this day, not sure what phrase in English translated to the Brazilian slang term for “boobs”…..but I was mortified and devastatingly embarrassed. Thank God this lady new me well enough to know I meant no disrespect….but….NEVER TRUST GOOGLE TRANSLATE!

  • Example 2: Prior to my visit to Saudi Arabia, I was coached by my friend who’s from Saudi on the do’s/don’ts of social customs in this most fundamental of Islamic countries. One of the things my buddy stressed emphatically was to not be in close quarters with a Saudi women as it’s a major no-no to be with a lady not your wife or close relative….simple enough. Steer clear of the women…gotcha…Well, my 1st morning in Jeddah, I enter the hotel elevator, my head down as I’m checking e-mails on my smartphone. I press the button for the lobby and continue to read my e-mails. The moment the door closes, I sense that I’m not alone in the elevator. I turn to look behind me and see a Saudi women, completed coved in a veil/hajib/whatever. She is slowing turning away from me to face the back of the elevator and move towards the corner….HOLY S#%T!!!  I AM GOING TO DIE….all sorts of thoughts are racing through my head….her husband will be waiting in lobby as the door opens, sees me with his wife…..AND KILL ME!....Longest elevator ride of my life!  When the door opened, I quickly glanced out and…not ran…but walked real fast out of that lift and in the opposite direction of the women I had inadvertently shamed….Lesson learn: Be aware of your surroundings…put the damned phone away when walking…don’t get into an elevator blindly…especially in Saudi Arabia….if there is a Saudi women, all veiled up and in elevator alone, be in Saudi Arabia or anywhere, let her have the elevator to herself…take the fracking stairs if you must….

I can list other mistakes but, in a nutshell, I've been afforded plenty of experiences around the world that have taught me things you will never find in a text book. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Random Travel Thoughts

The following is the product of a jet-lagged and overly-caffeinated mind that has not slept in 28 hours. Any logic or lucid thought is purely accidental.....

  • This now-concluded trip to Brazil is the 32nd trip I've made to that country. As expressed in a previous post, I have a love/hate relationship with the country. I do really enjoy aspects of the culture and country. I am very fond of the friends I've made down there. That said, I'm greatly concerned at the changes I've seen recently. Clearly, the economy has slowed down dramatically and a air of cynicism and pessimism amongst the people towards their government and future is evident.  According to one of my friends, there is a growing drain of Brazilians who do have money leaving the country for places such as the U.S. and Portugal. Government corruption, the Zika virus, and the rush of preparation for the Rio Olympics are the hot topics in the news with a sense that, as one Brazilian told me, "everything is broken". Unfortunate. 
  • As a seasoned frequent flier, there are really only a couple of things that try my patience or unnerve me:
    • The destination airport being shut down due to weather while the plane I'm on is on its final approach, thus causing the pilot to have to circle the airport in a holding pattern until the airport opens. This happened yesterday coming into Sao Paulo. I counted 9 complete "orbits" of Sao Paulo over the course of an hour with the thought "I wonder how much fuel this thing has?" crossing my mind a few times. 
    • Mindless fellow travelers that are completely unaware of how their behavior and actions affect others on the plane. I believe Robert Fripp termed such people "boobies". I encountered an exceptional "boobie" yesterday who had no awareness of his butt being in my face for the better part of 10 minutes while he organized his carry on luggage. 
    • Excessively long queues at customs. Last night a "leisurely" 2 hour layover turned into 2 stressful hours waiting to get my passport, leaving me 5 minutes to get to my flight.....ugh!
  • When the aforementioned stress-inducers happen, a good remedy is to listen to some good music on the iPod. What worked for me last night:
    • Mike Monroe
    • Jimi Hendrix
    • Djivan Gisparian
  • I don't care how hygienic a person is. 24 hours + of travel will make the cleanest and prettiest amongst us a stinky mess.
  • After a long journey, there is no greater joy than coming home to loved ones, taking a shower, and sleeping in ones own bed....something I plan on doing in approximately 5 hours..... 

Monday, February 08, 2016


I am, by any definition, "middle aged". Just focusing on the "temporal" validation of this fact....:

  • The music I grew up on is now part of the "classic Rock" format of radio airplay
  • "Han Solo", "Luke Skywalker", and "Princess Leia", all pivotal icons of my youth, looked to be ready for the old-folks home in "The Force Awakens". 
  • Many of the talent from my youth has started "dropping like flies". 
Prior to this year, there had been deaths of "heroes" that have affected me (John Bonham, Randy Rhoads, Bon Scott). But in the past 1.5 months, the pace of celebrity death has been shocking. A small sampling of names that gave me pause....:
  • Lemmy
  • David Bowie
  • Jim Bain
  • Alan Rickman
  • Natalie Cole
  • Glen Frey
  • Maurice White
Aside from the seemingly ridiculous pace at which celebrities have been dying, they have been dying from health conditions that can be associated with aging. This has given me some pause for....not concern...but reflection. 

I'd like to think I'm not overly concerned about growing old and my mortality. And, for the most part, I'm not. However, it is the mortality of those that I care about that agitates my peace of mind. 

In the past year, I've had multiple moments where people near and dear to me have had serious health issues related to aging. In some cases, they have been life-threatening. It one case, it led to death. These are the things that shake my foundation. 

It seems to me that our societies make us very ill-equipped to handle the aging and dying process that is and inevitability. There are exceptions to this statement but, for the most part, most humans are not prepared for growing old or dying. Hence the "mid-life crisis", depression, youth obsession, etc. In actuality, I can't comprehend being prepared for the death of those I love. Its something I fear. 

As to the celebrities that have died, I've not met any of those mentioned but they have affected my life. In the case of Lemmy, Jimmy Bain and David Bowie, I have had many moments of my life that I associate with their music. They were part of the soundtrack. I had emotional responses to their art. They, in fact, affected my life in a very real and tangible way. They were not strangers to me and, as such, I mourn their passing in a very real and personal way. Not as real or personal as, say, if a family or dear close friend passed....but real nonetheless.

I don't really have a point to this posting except to express how life, as its reaches a point, starts taking more than it gives (from a certain point of view). But, that said, I do look at the passing of those and the associated mourning in a positive light for one reason: If the absence of someone causes pain and grief, then you know that you were blessed to have those people in your life to have created such a void. That goes for friends, family, and the celebrity whom I've never met....