Posts Tagged with 'Travel'

A Toddler's Advice on Race Relations

Posted Sunday, December 7, 2014
In light of the recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere, I have to question why so many full-grown adults have so much trouble with a basic concept that my toddler son was able to easily explain before he reached the age of 3.

Some 22 years ago, we were visiting a couple of the more-remote Caribbean islands for the first time with our young son. We had taken a puddle-jumper flight from Barbados to Grenada and booked a multi-night stay at a local bed and breakfast. The housekeeper was a charming black lady who took an immediate liking to our son, which resulted in him getting custom-made treats when we returned after a long day's exploration. Like moms everywhere, her first instinctive duty was to spoil the visiting little tykes temporarily under her care.

While chomping down on his late-afternoon snack, my son glanced around, at us, at his host and at his treat and noted: "It's really interesting. Some people are brown on the outside and pink on the inside. Other people are pink on the outside and brown on the inside."

Yes. Yet they will all treat you right if you just give them half the chance!

Tags: travel, education, Caribbean

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Is Third World Travel Dangerous?

Posted Monday, November 24, 2014
I've been asked this questions quite a few times over the years, mostly by people who, like me, also live in Chicago. The irony here is that Chicago has over 2000 shootings and 450 homicides in a typical year, so almost anywhere else outside of a war zone would be an improvement statistically.

This is not to say that Chicago is particularly dangerous for tourists: most violent crimes happen between drunken family members, rival gangs fighting for turf or drug deals gone bad. And these sorts of incidents almost never happen at places visitors frequent like the Art Institute or the Field Museum or atop the Tower-formerly-known-as-Sears.

Yet somehow my fellow Americans have gotten the impression that the only thing the fine people of South Africa ever do is riot, because that's the only time they ever seem to make the news. That Thailand is too dangerous because of the coups, Colombia too dangerous because of the drug lords, and Egypt too dangerous because all Arabs are potential terrorists.

As it happens, the first time I visited Thailand, a coup actually did take place while I was in the country; I didn't even know about it until I returned home. Colombia is full of friendly people and beautiful sites and is safe enough if you avoid the drug trade. I was in Egypt as an independent traveler during the First Gulf War and the greatest threat I encountered was to my wallet, being overcharged by the occasional taxi driver or offered fake gold jewelry or just-made-yesterday antiquities from the occasional shopkeeper. On the whole, the Arab world has a long tradition of providing warm receptions to visitors; just be prepared for buzz-inducing doses of syrupy-thick coffee when negotiating souvenir purchases.

Of course, a traveler still needs to remain aware of unfamiliar surroundings and use some common sense, like not walking around random neighborhoods while wearing a Rolex watch or carrying $10,000 in cash. The worst thing that's ever happened to me across 70 countries over three decades is being pick-pocketed -- and that was in Rome after being surrounded by a group of noisy 8-10-year-olds holding open newspapers.

Americans aren't the only ones mislead by their local media. I once got a call from my grandmother in Germany, asking me if my house had been damaged by the tornado. Of course, there had been no tornado in Chicago, but rather in rural Iowa 300 miles away. From the European prospective, Chicago was the nearest city anyone there was likely to have heard of.

And for many years, when I traveled abroad and people asked where I was from, the usual response was: "Chicago? Al Capone. Bang Bang." Thank goodness that eventually changed to "Chicago? Michael Jordan!" with the hand dribbling an invisible basketball!

Tags: travel, Chicago

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Where to Go on a 4-Week Vacation? Southeast Asia!

Posted Saturday, September 20, 2014
Singapore makes an excellent base to explore the region since it has what is often deemed the world's best airport and is a hub for regional discount airlines, including Air Asia and Jetstar. These airlines generally do not appear in standard search engines like Orbitz but can be much cheaper. One-way flights are usually half of round-trip flights, so you can buy a string of one-ways from destination to destination, perhaps as far as the Philippines or Hong Kong or Nepal before returning back to Singapore. Singapore has great food and is lush and green with inexpensive taxis, probably as cheap or cheaper than public transport if two or more are traveling together. I would recommend the Singapore Zoo, one of the world's finest, and the neighboring Night Safari which is only open after dark — when the animals are most active, which is the point. Also recommended is the Jurong Bird Park, where you can see thousands of Asia's most colorful birds up close.

From Singapore, it's a short flight to Malaysian Borneo. Kuching is a beautiful city with an attractive riverwalk. Day tours can include an Orangutan Sanctuary, and the Sarawak Museum started by Darwin contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace. A day or overnight trip to Bako National Park is highly recommended; there are beach walks, boardwalks and forest walks and you will see bearded pigs, tiny crabs and mudskippers on the beach and monkeys galore. Sit in the food area and you may see them steal food and sodas from unwary customers! You can arrange a multi-day trip upriver to visit the longhouses of former headhunting tribes (with woven bags of skulls still on display). You can also arrange a overnight stay including a short flight in a tiny plane to Gunung Mulu National Park. Gunung Mulu has spiked granite pinnacles in a primary rainforest setting. There are long boardwalks through the rainforest, leading to a variety of caves, the largest of which has a cathedral-like ceiling where millions of bats sleep. Walking through the caves and through the rainforest, especially at night (some plants glow) is an otherworldly experience you won't encounter in many places on earth. Be prepared for leeches, though!

Angkor Wat is not to be missed; 4-star hotels can be booked through Agoda for $30-$40 a night including breakfast; tuk-tuks cost a dollar or two and a taxi can be hired for the day to take you from point to point quite inexpensively (the ruins are massive!). Thailand is not as cheap as it use to be, but the people are friendly, and the street food can generally be trusted and is cheap. Phuket offers the island experience. Bangkok is chaotic but is great for bargain shopping, either street markets or the MBK shopping mall which has many floors containing little independent shops, places to eat Western food like pizza when you begin to miss it, and fancy first-run movie theaters with $3-$4 ticket prices; American blockbusters are in English with Thai subtitles. Chiang Mai is the jumping off point for visiting the hill tribes and riding an elephant through the forest. Bali is also within easy reach; the local art and the Hindu flower offerings are interesting and distinctive; all-day taxis are inexpensive and can take you to local temples, rice fields and the Monkey Forest and will stop whenever and wherever you'd like. I seem to recall a reptile sanctuary where you can see the Komodo dragon, adjacent to a nice bird sanctuary.

Tags: travel, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Bali

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