A Trip to the Orient 2003

In May of 2003, after a budding email romance of nearly a year, my husband decided to come and visit. He scheduled his trip months in advanced and had no idea there would be strong warnings against overseas travel due to the SARS epidemic. Armed with a ticket that could not be rescheduled or refunded, he put on a surgical mask and sat down to a tiresome 22-hour flight, more brave, anxious and inquisitive than common sense might have dictated.

He flew into the Philippines second largest airport located in the large metropolis of Cebu City. We met inside the terminal and took a taxi to the nearby wharf to await yet another 4-hour boat trip on a fast-ferry, (as opposed to the large conventional, more comfortable ferry that takes over 12-hours) to my home Island Province of Negros.

From the moment he stepped off the plane, my husband started taking photos. He had never traveled outside of North America and found fascination with the different sites, scents, and personalities of the orient. I have linked a PowerPoint slide presentation of a few of his shots at the end of this post, but you can visit my flikr account for many more if you are interested.

His favorite memories include the 52 to 1 monetary exchange rate (now 42 to 1, 8 years later), the friendly, gentle Filipino personalities and the vivid colors that are traditional among most eastern cultures. What he found most interesting was our traditional housing, food, transportation, and the way we constantly bargain while shopping.  His least fond memories include the heat, humidity, and smells of certain areas within populated areas (open waste-drainage ditches) and back alleys where they process poultry for cooking (searing off remaining feathers after initial plucking).

Trip to the Orient



Macro-Shots.jpg by edesignerz.net

To many of us a photo serves as a personal visual history that we use to revive memories and emotions of another time and place. Photography is also an Art form that captures stunning reflections to share with others who cannot be there to witness it themselves.  Historians, Humanitarians, Politicians and the Media use Photojournalistic Documentaries to inform, persuade, and incite reactions. In Science, it is used in Space Exploration, Engineering, Architecture, Medicine and Forensics to name a few. It is this last application that recently caught my attention in the news.

GelSight, an amazing new soft optically transparent elastomer, coupled to a lighted macro lens produces the most amazing close-up images ever seen. Currently it is being perfected for marketing in the field of forensics, but after seeing the “youtube” demonstration below, I think everyone will see the endless potential for this amazing new technology.  As always claimed, a picture is worth a thousand words:


Total Reliance on Technology

Approximately two weeks ago, our community had a brief power outage that caused the local college computer servers to shut down.  Our campus is an extension to the main campus located some 31 miles away. Oddly enough, they too experienced a power outage that also caused a two-day shutdown.   This temporary shut-down lasted for two full days, bringing all online classes and services to a standstill, including telephone services. It is not my purpose here to question an IT department’s ability to resolve an issue in a timely manner, but wonder how it is that an institute of higher learning would not have planned for such occurrences, regardless of their infrequency.

To be fair to the college, this is not an isolated concern. There is no denying we have become totally reliant on technology to manage, operate and control, not only information systems, but mechanical systems as well. Damns, traffic lights, cell phones, GPS systems, public utilities, air traffic control, etc., all depend on the continuous operation of computer servers to maintain the functions they are in control of.

It is no surprise machines and systems break down or malfunction from time to time. What I do not understand is the seeming lack of planning and foresight for such occurrences. Many stores have back-up generators to restore power, but no manual system for checking people out if the servers controlling the cash registers fail. On several occasions, my bank and other financial institutes have claimed their computers were down so they were unable to help me. In today’s world of total reliance on technology, I think it is inexcusable that all major IT systems do not have instant back-up or crossover capabilities.  I would think that a good manager would automatically think-ahead for anything that would interfere with operations and production.

This brings me back to the ironic failure of an institute of higher learning being totally caught off-guard by such a predictable event. They said it was unprecedented. I say it was inevitable. Is it not their purpose in life to teach people to anticipate, plan and prepare? It makes it even more amusing having walked into a little Mom and Pop grocery store last winter during a power outage and seeing Coleman lanterns blazing away and the cashier writing out manual receipts with actual carbon paper! We should never forget how to stick to the basics.

Hobbies and Retirement

After dreaming about retirement for years, I found reality to be quite different than imagination. Retirement brings a new found freedom, one full of promise, but it also leaves you ……. wondering.

You see, when you are working, you fulfill a purpose, people need your services and appreciate your talents. Most of our waking day is spent in the support of our jobs, it becomes your extension, part of your identity. One that many look forward to putting behind them while others are lost and lack direction without. At some point you realize that retirement becomes your new existence, one that must be filled with interest, anticipation and excitement. Finding an interesting, challenging hobby is just what you need.

I found mine in lapidary – finding, cutting, grinding, and polishing precious stones for making crafts and jewelery. Actually, they don’t even need to be precious. Some of the most interesting and entertaining art and jewelry has been made from common beach stone, broken glass, shells and many other medium. Make a search on Google Images for precious stone jewelry or beach stone jewelry or just plain lapidary, you’ll be amazed.

The image above is a  free-formed (shaped without use of a template) cabochon (a gem cut in convex and highly polished) most likely to be used as a single pendant necklace. This particular cabochon was formed by Ahana White, more of her work is available in Google Images.

I am new to this hobby, but find it very relaxing and rewarding to walk along the beach in search for “the perfect stone” or go hiking in the mountains looking for unusual rock formations that can be cut and polished to bring out their incredible hidden beauty. It also ties perfectly into my love for travel. Their are several books available that site locations throughout the U.S. and the world where precious stones and gems are located. I have bought several from Amazon.com.

Whatever you decide to do in your retirement, pursue it with passion and purpose, if for only to satisfy your own pleasure. Life is a precious commodity, setting around watching television or spending all your time reading will lead you to an early disability. Be adventurous, stay youthful, and most importantly, engage in something that will challenge your creativity and expand your mind. I also love going to art museums. I find it very rewarding to view others interpretation of art and while I may not be particularly impressed, I try to imagine their thoughts while creating it.

Would you ever seek or share free accomodations?

In my opening blog, titled “No Vacancy,” I discuss hospitality exchange services such as couchsurfing.com that involve accommodation sharing through home stay networks, also referred to at times as hospex. After more in-depth thought and review of a very comprehensive blog: http://allthatiswrong.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/a-criticism-of-couchsurfing-and-review-of-alternatives/, I am a bit torn with this concept.

While hospitality exchange services provide a social network for world travelers to save money on lodging and the perfect opportunity to interface with different cultures worldwide, it appears, as happens to many things in life, to have become a target of scams, misrepresentation, and corruption. This is in addition to the obvious concern for personal safety and the potential predator – prey threat that accompanies this activity. The blog by allthatiswrong.com criticizes the content, fee-based services, staff members and management of couchsurfing.com, but not the activity itself. While this may sound like a personal vendetta from a dissatisfied customer, it ultimately proves to be a very thorough examination of the entire concept.

As I attempt to construct a comprehensive traveler’s connection site, I want to hear what others feel and think. Many of us would be willing to brave the obvious concerns with this activity for the opportunity to experience the world and its wonders on a meager budget or welcome someone in, just to share their adventure. Some sites, like homeexchange50plus.com advocate exactly what their title infers, no personal social interaction, only a temporary living site exchange.  Whatever the case may be, give me your thoughts. Should I stay focused on connecting RV’ers to homeowners willing to share a space on their property or include both, regardless of the potential dangers and controversy?

Partial list of Hospitality Exchange Service Sites mentioned in the allthatiswrong.com blog:

Camping VS Motel

This decision is a thorny one. I recently read an article in the Detroit Free Press http://www.freep.com/article/20111004/SPORTS10/110040439/Experience-outdoors-Camper-RV-Take-look that claims that the RV industry is set to increase more than 7% and you can save up to 60% camping over moteling. I wasn’t convinced so I decided to do some quick calculations and comparisons for myself.

My husband and I pay about $370 per month (including insurance) for our 26’ Travel Trailer that we purchased new in 2009. Considering that “camping season” is traditionally reserved for the 90 days that the kids are out of school I felt it only fitting to use that as the annual budgeting factor. So, $370 X 12 months is $4440 divided by 90 days comes to $49.33 per day….oh, don’t forget the new Discovery Pass Fee (in Washington State anyway), brings it up to $49.66. Washington State Parks camping fees range from $22 to $28 per night depending on whether you want full hookups (water, power, septic) or just a plain-Jane, no amenities site. I opted for the full meal deal, so that brings the total nights average stay up to $77.66. That sounds pretty good compared to the fees decent motel rooms run for two or more people and you get the added reassurance of clean sheets and no bed bugs. However, don’t forget about fuel costs.

I found a handy site called gas buddy.com http://gasbuddy.com/GB_Price_List.aspx?cntry=USA that lists average fuel costs by state and city. The average for Washington, for those who haven’t figured out where I live yet, is $3.80 per gallon. Pulling our trailer, we might average 10 miles per gallon (when we are not driving over mountains), so a round trip of say, 600 miles would cost us about $228 versus driving our car that gets about 25MPG, which would cost only $91.20 in the same distance.

Anyway, there you have it. The decision is yours, but it really boils down to preferences. Some people like the quick, clean (?), uncomplicated motel experience, while others like braving the out of doors, setting by a campfire, breathing the fresh air and trying to make peace with the mosquitoes. My husband and I temper our decision to time and destination. If we want to run up to Victoria and take in the colonial sites of their beautiful city, we grit our teeth and pay the inflated tourist-season motel/hotel rates. If we want an out-of-doors adventure and plan on spending a couple or more nights, our home-away-from-home is the only way to travel.

No Vacancy!

Tired of full campgrounds, expensive resorts, long range reservation planning? Most summers are lucky if they last 12 weekends (weather permitting).  With 312 million potential travelers in the U.S. alone, competing for prime camping sites is getting more and more aggravating every year.

During these stressful times, getting away for the weekend is important. Finding out you thought about the idea late and no vacancies are available is disappointing. My husband and I like to be spontaneous. We dread having to plan ahead for months to reserve a camping spot at our favorite get-aways. Invariably, some last minute issue causes a change of plans and we have to cancel our reservation, knowing that another spot is unlikely to come available for weeks, if at all, for the season. With more and more baby-boomers retiring, along with the general increase in our population, the current amount of camping sites at State Parks, National Parks and even public and private resorts are very limited.

Often times we have family and friends that want to come over and visit. Our house is rather small, but fortunately, we have room in our yard to accommodate a visiting RV (or two). We just run an electrical extension and hose out and we even have a long coax so they can watch television. It was after one such visit that we began thinking about how to extend this arrangement to others.  In these difficult economic times, reasonable compensation for such amenities could be advantageous to the travelers as well as a homeowner, but how do you start such a process? Get people talking. Provide a forum and let them be creative. I am sure there are plenty of homeowners along the way to Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Disneyworld and the Smithsonian, to name a few, willing to share a comfortable spot for a reasonable fee.

From interstate travel, we expanded our thoughts internationally. I am from the Philippines. When my husband came to visit me before we were married, he made traditional reservations ahead of time. At that time, the exchange rate was 52 Filipino Pesos to 1 American dollar. Using the Internet my husband reserved a room at an advertised hotel in the area and paid the tourist rate (much higher than the local rate). I quite easily found him suitable accommodations in the spare bedroom of a very nice home at a fraction of the cost. This made us think about all the students out there that would love to travel, but have limited funds for food and lodging. It would be quite simple to arrange bed-and-breakfast type accommodations through a social connection site. After all, life is all about socializing, all we need to do is provide the appropriate venue.

Please share your thoughts. We would like this site to evolve into a useful tool to world travelers. There is already a site called CouchSurfing.com and probably others that promote the theme of hospitality hosting. However, we would like to combine interstate RV/camping alternatives with the more personal international hospitality service, onto one connective site.