Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: What a year its been!

Hello Friends -

I can't believe 2012 is almost over.  Where has the year gone!?  Who knows... but I do know where I've gone during it!  I rang in the New Year in Bali, Indonesia and then went to Singapore in January, headed off to Guatemala for the most memorable Semana Santa/Holy Week that I've ever had, drove around Utah in May in an effort to understand another part of America, Mormons and Mitt Romney and see our famous wide open red rock landscapes.  Over the summer I visited friends in Greece, family in France and was able to attend the London Olympics, a long time dream for me, a person who loves events and happenings! The fall was all about politics, starting in Charlotte, North Carolina for the Democratic National Convention in September and then on to campaigning for Obama in Ohio and Virginia and ringing in 4 more years in Times Square.  Click the links to see my various blog posts and online photo albums from each trip and scroll down to see a few more images from my last 6 months.  

But, as I said, even with all that excitement, mostly I've been here in New York working, sharing my local point of view with tourists with Big Apple Greeters, taking classes at NYU and seeking out fresh new New York street art along the way everywhere I go.  Lately I've been grateful to have time to help with Hurricane Sandy clean up. Seeing the storms effects first hand has been an eye opening experience of the raw power of nature and being part of the clean up has connected me to the kind, generous spirit of New Yorkers and only makes me love New York more.

I hope 2012 has brought you closer to achieving your dreams and finding contentment with where you are now.

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

NASCAR Hall of Fame - Charlotte, North Carolina

The famous saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

So... when in Charlotte, do as the Charlotteans do and that means car racing.  North Carolina is NASCAR Country and The thing to do in Charlotte is to go to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  I was able to go explore it during one of the convention parties.  The whole experience was so fun.  They make it very interactive.  They taught us to drive and then sent us out into cars set up with simulators and we raced.  We got to play like we were in the pit and change tires and jack up cars.  There are also many cars on display.  All in all it gives a fun overview of NASCAR and a window into a world I don't know anything about.

Unfortunately September is not racing season so I couldn't actually go see a race.  I tried though as I do whenever I get into car racing country since its not something I can see in New York City.

2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina

Watching Michelle Obama's speech at the MSNBC telecast stage in Charlotte
from the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, NC

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I made it to the Olympics!

Attending the London 2012 Olympics was fantastic.  Better than I ever could have expected.  The symbolism of countries joining together in friendly competition opens up fans from nations all over the world to just the right amount of patriotism and lots of conversations about our different nations characteristics.  Its hard to explain why it felt so different, but somehow we were from our countries and eager to understand each other beyond rote politics.

People made me proud to be from the USA, because our athletes have a reputation as being so nice and always willing to stop for an autograph or photo. They showed off the best of American traits: friendliness and openness.  Also many athletes train in the US, because we have funding to subsidize facilities.  This meant I met athletes from other countries who were grateful for the opportunities my country offers.

For me a normal trip to Europe means that I try to suppress my Americanness as much as possible so I don't get the European anti-American wrath.  This time I proudly wore a USA hat and a flag sticker all over London because it was a conversation starter. London felt like a big party and we were all happy to be there representing our countries.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Photos from the London 2012 Olympics

I headed to the London Olympics to represent Team USA and meet others from all over the world

Meeting the Olympic Athletes

Gold Winning German Rowers
My favorite part of the Olympics so far has been meeting the athletes. One night I stumbled upon the door out of Athletes Village. Here most of the athletes come and go from public transit and the big mall that is an integral part of the Olympic Village. A swarming group of fans, autograph collectors, professional photographers, who try to get portraits of all the athletes, all whirl around trying to get pictures and a few friendly words.
Gold Winning British Long Jumper Greg Rutherford

For the athletes who enjoy it, this is their moment to be a star. No one cares what country or sport, they just worship equally. It's a complete international experience. It's also fun to see up close all the body types. Tall basketball players and rowers, tiny gymnasts, muscular shot put players, boxers with gnarly ears...
Gold winning USA Wrestler Jake Varner
As an American, a really nice part is many people have said the Team USA folks are the friendliest, taking time to talk to everyone. This isn't so for everyone. Somehow the Cubans, from the friendliest country I've ever been to, ignore everyone and run through the crowd. I wonder about the geopolitics of it all. Could it be that they are not allowed to talk to the outside world? I certainly haven't seen any North Koreans.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Athens, Greece - Summer 2012

When I first arrived in Athens, a man asked me where I was from.  When I said New York, he said "Well, New York might be the center of the universe now, but Athens was the center of the universe many years ago."  That framed my visit.  Interspersed with modern day Greece are stories of so many waves of history: the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire...  Christianity vs Islam.  It was all very powerful.  There is something so inspiring about standing on such historical ground and listening to the stories that are told in a matter of fact sort of way but capture important historical moments.  Plus in Athens history continues to be excavated.  

But Athens is also very much a living city.  As an avid, street art explorer, I was thrilled to see a vibrant colorful canvas.  Click here to see my Athens Street Art online album.  I also just enjoyed being with the direct and hard working Greeks who are slogging through this hard economic time, doing the best they can.  Greece is the center of the EU crisis these days, and getting personal insights adds depth to all the headlines in the beautiful way only first hand travel can.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Journeys in America: Utah

A mural of pioneers in the state capitol building
Utah?  You might be asking why?  Well, as much as I love going way off the beaten path as much as possible, I have also made a pledge to be sure to mix in trips to other parts of America along the way.  When I travel its hard to really understand the cultures I roam through.  There are language barriers and different histories and as a foreigner passing through I'm just never going to really see all the nuances. But all the travel really has refined the way I look at things and what I see.  With that wiser lens I find it interesting to travel around America, a place I should be able to understand a little better.  The world's differences make me more and more interested in what it means to be "American."  Where did that myth come from and who lives it in what way, what motivates them and what history defines them.

Visiting the Site of the 2002 Winter Olympics

Lately I have Olympic fever.  Walking through Beijing's Olympic Park last year filled me with the energy of the worldwide games and gave me the desire to learn more about what it takes to be an Olympic athlete, so a visit to Park City, Utah gave me the perfect chance.  Utah was the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics and Park City hosted the skiing, bobsled, luge and a few other events.  Now the site is a training facility where world class athletes train for future contests.  It also hosts international competitions every February. 

The most interesting thing I saw is that somehow even in the summer downhill skiers and ski jumpers can train at the facility.  Instead of snow covered slopes they speed down misted slopes and land in a big pool or just glide to a stop on the big slopes.  They wear their regular outfits and come out of the pool dripping in their big ski boots.

The young athletes also can go to high school there over the summer and meet their educational requirements so that they can travel the world and compete during the winter.

While I was there I got to watch the US Olympic Team practice. We were told it was one of only 14 facilities in the world and that athletes from far off places like Australia, South Korea, Jamaica and more also train here.

Photos from Utah

Friday, April 13, 2012

Guatemala - April 2012

Outside Santo Tomas Church in Chichicastenengo, Guatemala

Revisiting Guatemala 21 Years Later

Posters on the Guatemala City walls are reminder of those who "disappeared" during the civil war

Going back to Guatemala 21 years after my first visit brought back a lot of memories.

In 1991, me, a college student specializing in Central American human rights, went off to study Spanish in language school in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala's 2nd largest city.  At that time the country was deep in an ongoing civil way that began in 1960 and tore the country apart with opposition guerrilla fighters trying to take down a brutal military regime. Death squads killed "more than 200,000 people died and nearly 50,000 went missing." (  After having visited 6 months before Nicaragua and seeing their post-revolutionary society I had studied so much, I once again realized how much one can learn first hand in travel and headed to this other country that I was also learning so much about.
Ornate churches speckle the streets of Antigua, one of Guatemala's colonial capitols.

Semana Santa in Guatemala

Processions went from early mornings and to at night.
This year I decided to celebrate holy week in a totally different way.  I left Easter bunnies and baskets behind and headed to Guatemala where deep Catholic traditions reign and big festivities commemorate the significant events of the week.      
In Antigua, the well preserved colonial capitol, the week is filled with large religious processions.  Different churches and their congregations carry floats and effigies of Jesus, Mary and other saints through the streets.  1000s participate in each and walk for hours as they wind through all the streets.  Multiple processions happen each day.
The main floats weigh up to 7000 pounds
I had no idea what to expect and frankly am still overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all.  

In some processions, people act out the important scenes and on the first day, we arrived just in time to watch an elaborate reenactment of Jesus getting sentenced to death.  It was a pretty dramatic start and made me relive the other steps along Jesus' route to crucifixion and resurrection in a way I never have before in years of Easters in the US.

Christ has risen!
I woke up on Easter Sunday to the sound of church bells and anxiously waited for the Easter procession where a risen and glowing Christ would be paraded through the crowd as if he was really alive.  That procession did not disappoint.  Jesus was guided by brightly dressed kings and shepherds and a cheering crowd greeted them along the way.  Jesus was followed by a happy marching band that filled the air with joyous music which was a nice change from the somber marching music that accompanied processions on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Saw dust carpets like this covered the streets

Alfombras (carpets)
One component of the celebration that is different from anything I have ever seen before was the alfombras or carpets that local people make for the processions to walk on.  These carpets are made of colored saw dust or pine needles and covered with flowers, fruits and vegetables.  The patterns are elaborate and communities plan the designs throughout the year and get together to create the carpets in the 12 hours before a procession passes through. Some of them line full streets.  Many have religious designs.  All are colorful and a feast for the eyes and give tourists a locals a reason to wind through the streets all day every day and see what is being created.  It’s incredible to see the amount of work these temporary gifts to Jesus take to make and then to watch them get walked over in the processions and quickly swept up by the sanitation crew at the end of the procession.  I worked on one and felt proud to see it finished and pained to see it stomped on.

I kept thinking someone should start art festival in New York where people created sawdust carpets like these.  The art work was amazing in Guatemala so I can only imagine the creative ways my favorite New York street artists would design.

At the end of Semana Santa, I left Guatemala with the desire to learn more about these celebrations that exist all over Latin American and Spain.  Maybe my new Easter tradition will be following religious processions, wherever I can find them?

Photos from Guatemala

Thursday, April 12, 2012

One of the religious processions in Antigua during Semana Santa

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Singapore Zoo

I don't get to go to Madagascar this year but I did get to meet some lemurs

While I was in Singapore I got to visit the zoo.  Its a pretty incredible place all around.  They have managed to take down many of the usual fences that separate visitors from the animals so people can get really close to some of the animals.  This lemur was in the rainforest section.  He is used to being surrounded by humans and pretty much ignored me and let me look him right in the eyes from a few inches away.  Amazing!  Just amazing!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Short Indonesia Tutorial

I figure you all know about as much about Indonesia as I did before I left so I'm starting this off with a few basic details.

Indonesia is:

- the world's 4th most populous nation with 238 million people.

- the largest Islamic nation where 86% of its population is Muslim, though Christianity still has a strong hold on some of the islands that were colonized by the Dutch and Portuguese in the height of the spice trade.  Also Bali, the most popular tourist destination in the country, practices Hinduism.

- made up of over 17,000 islands, about 6,000 of which are inhabited.  As one flies over Indonesia's waterways, you look down and see speckled below lovely little spots of land wrapped with white white sand and a ring of deep blue water and dream about tropical paradise.  I visited Java, the central island, where over half of Indonesians live.  It’s the world's most densely populated island.  I also went to Sulawesi, Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. (Before I went everyone would ask, which islands I was going to and the question would seem overwhelming, but after a trip there the main islands roll off your tongue easily. One of my favorite outcomes of travel is the way the unusual becomes usual and then I can read and understand places and things so much better when I return home.)

- located, in simple terms, below South East Asia and above Australia, along the Equator.

Memories of Indonesia

Now that I have traveled to so many places, its hard to wow me.  Instead I try to enjoy the simple pleasures and slower paces of places.  In Indonesia, that means:

-hearing Islamic call to prayer echoing from multiple mosques over ripe lush green rice fields in Lombok as the sun sets

-seeing how coffee, cashews and cocoa are harvested in different villages sprinkled among other crops, trees and houses at different climates and altitudes than I've seen before

Monday, January 23, 2012

In Bali there are many little Hindu temples where people leave daily offerings to a variety of deities
In every village in Bali, there are several temples and at least one small one in each home. Most of these temples are shrines and might not be regarded as actual temples, but the number of walled compounds are believed to reach to a total of 10,000.  As you walk around you can enter the temples and admire the carvings and characters.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Beaches of Bali and Lombok

The beach at Gili Air
Sorry for the lack of updates or blog posts.  Honestly I'm not sure what to write.  It seems like bragging to say I spent this morning by a lovely pool after a breakfast of fresh juice and fruit and then had fresh seafood on the beach for lunch while watching fisherman bring in their catch.

Bali is lovely.  I'm not sure it is an untouched as I may have thought before.  There are plenty of tourists and hotels...  but the beach I just visited, Sanur, is smartly developed with a brick walkway all the way up the coast for perfect morning walks and enough, but not too many, bars along the way to get fresh juice or a Bintang depending the time of day.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Feeling like a Superstar in Indonesia

My white face sticks out in many of the places I travel to, but something special happens in Indonesia.  I was warned ahead of time but it happened even more than I suspected.  What, you ask? I was made feel like a glamorous beautiful superstar!  Yes, on a recent trip to Borobudur, a soaring ancient Buddhist temple I was constantly asked to be in photos.

I think the bombardment is more here because it seems like Indonesia has a swelling middle class and with that many many more people with cameras who want my moviestar like mug on them.

All I can say it is was loads of fun and now that I have reached touristy Bali where I am just another common looking face, I miss it.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The pharmacy ladies in Pangandaran.The people of Java have the biggest smiles I have ever seen in world.

Farewell 2011, its been great. - My 2011 Holiday Letter

Giraffe kisses in Kenya
Greetings from Indonesia!  

Yes, here as 2011 closes, I'm off on another travel adventure.  So far its great and filled with new experiences.  You can check out my blog to see my thoughts and photos.  

2011 has been a good year for me.  I got to travel for work to Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya and then for pleasure to China and North Korea (made even more interesting by Kim Jong-il's
recent passing.)  I got to spend time visiting friends in the US too and finally saw the much loved Asheville, NC, explored more of Detroit and revisited Martha's Vineyard after too long.