Asia is best experienced as much with the eyes as is with the stomach

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” ~ Buddha

I’ve just returned from my Southeast Asia trip – all be it, 3 days returned. It’s taken me some time to adjust to the 12 hr time difference. This was an amazing trip for the adventure, history, experience and that it was my first major trip with my new wife (our honeymoon) and as Buddha has said, I spent it all concentrating on the present moments during my trip.

I’ve taken 1000s of pictures during the nearly 3 week trek and already looking through some of them, there’s about 10% gems amongst the rushed pictures, improperly cropped and poorly exposed scenes. I realize that photography is as much about being in the moment as it is, being patient for that moment. When traveling like I did with my wife, where the focus of our trip was to get as much out of the places and people we saw as it was getting as much out of being with each other, our situations did not lend themselves to the patience and timing required for great travel photography. I was torn between the modes of relaxation and enjoyment of the scenes with my wife and capturing them with my camera and in my situation. I wasn’t able to effectively capture both – so I spent more time enjoying the moments with my wife sans lens to my face – and my wife thanks me for this decision.

In doing so, I experienced wonderful cultures, foods, people and history of Vietnam, Thailand, and even Hong Kong. We spent just under 2 weeks in Saigon and Hoi Ann, Vietnam, under 1 week in Koh Lanta, Railay Beach and Bangkok Thailand, and 5 hours in Hong Kong. Within that time, I ate some wonderful street food in Hoi an, experienced the daily life first hand in Saigon with my wife’s family, smiled widely at the sunset over Andaman sea at Railay Beach West, had dim sum in Hong Kong, shot live ammo from an M30 machine gun at the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, boated down the Mekong River eating mud fish and drinking snake whiskey, and experienced first hand the chaos of street travel in Saigon white-knuckled in a cyclo.

I’ll be sorting through my photos to find the best of the lot, but my experiences and memories will carry me farther than my photos of this trip – I’ll hopefully will be posting these quicker than my wedding albums went up. Much thanks to my wife’s family and all the people that we met that made this trip wonderful. I hope to return sooner than later.

Airline Fee Chart – a must bookmark

air-travelAs much as I travel for business, you would think I know the ins and outs of airline fees etc. However, unlikely in my case, as I just call up the corporate travel secretary and give the details of where and when, and my travel is booked.

So when I’m traveling for personal, I need to know where the deals are and Airfare Watchdog’s updated Airline Fee chart is a must when figuring out your next flight plan in the US. Matching that up with your flight search on travel aggregators like Kayak.com, you’ll find the best deals for your holiday flights or even your next vacation.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I took a break with my former roommate in NOHO (that’s North Hollywood for the real estate marketer impaired), to help him shop for groceries at the local Ralph’s. I usually try to find some random items in new stores I venture into, like an antique Buddha, made in Japan I found at the Salvation Army in San Diego for $2. This Ralph’s I found in the Mexican food section only a few Dulce de tamarindo candies but I picked up a box of Pulparindo for $2 to share. Good Stuff!

The picture above I found reviewing travel items as I was missing the long over due of eargasam pleasure the deep twisting of cotton and ear canal creates in my head… One of the items above is definitely not designed for travel.

Why I’m not going to WMC

There’s a whole lot of reasons I’m not going this year…. Here’s a few in no particular order:

There’s going to be an over saturation of rock artists and djs this year (Tommy Lee and DJ Aero, Dave Navarro with DJ Skribble)

Ultra Music Festival is and will be a waste of time… again.

Diddy is going because he wasn’t happy with the event the last year and he want’s to bring this “new” electro-tech music that’s all new and not all mutha fuckin commercial ya’ll. I’ll give you a nickel if you can get through watching this whole trash… Sit up straight foo’!

Ok, I just can’t afford discretionary spending for this trip… maybe next year.

Things you should have been told before you moved to NYC

The way the French will critically discuss a meal while eating it is similar to the way New Yorkers will complain about everything wrong with the city while loving it!

If you do not live in Manhattan you are known as “bridge and tunnel” and it is meant derogatory

Manhattan is an island built on solid rock and landfill

Do not live on an block with a Fire house or Ambulance station or be warned of ridiculous sleep hours.

You pay for what neighborhood you live in, not what kind of apartment you live in.

“Fuhgettaboutit” is pretty much only said in Brooklyn

“Downtown” means below 14th Street on Manhattan

People from Manhattan do not have a NY accent; Long Islanders and Jerseyites do.

People here care more about how you look in your clothes than out of them (as opposed to L.A. or Miami). Dress to impress, baby!

The only time New York city is quiet: At night during a snow storm

You’re going to spend more than you think here

That head-turner you just saw? – there are a million more straight ahead. Keep walking.

Wearing stilettos to the Meatpacking District clubs/bars, expect to get caught and teeter around in the cobblestone streets at least once every time you go.

When you meet someone out at night, one of the first questions you should ask them to get a sense of how this person is, is what part of town he hangs out in. It will tell a lot about style, substance and sexuality.

Get the most out of your neighborhood but get out to all other boughs as well to see all of New York.

Subway transportation to and from Queens while it is raining is a figment of your imagination

Have a good idea of how to get where you’re going when you hop in a cab. Tell them the streets or direction you want to go even.

Forget dining in touristy areas (times square mainly) and avoid the chain restaurants, there are 100 times better food at a corner deli than at TGI Fridays.

The city is not handicapped friendly.

Good customer service is rare; cherish it and tip accordingly

NYC is no longer such a tough place that the simple act of living here gives you instant cred as a badass.

Shopping at your average bodega is like shopping at a gas station – do it if you have to, or you need one or two last minute items. Get used to getting your produce from the produce guy, your meat from the butcher, your fish from the fish monger, your cheese from a cheese shop, your pasta from an Italian shop, your cosmetics and drugs from the drug store, and so on.

It’s 6th Avenue, not Avenue of the Americas. Don’t use the latter or cabbies and locals will assume you’re a tourist.

70% of the restaurants in Brooklyn (and random places in Manhattan) are cash-only (but there’s usually a bodega with ATM close by; bring cash when you go out!)

Refills are not free

There are no public bathrooms. Aside from being a customer of some restaurant, bar or coffee shop, find a local Hotel or larger department store for a pit stop.

Do not bring your car. Though our subway system does have its issues, it’s one of the best in the world – you can get anywhere in the city with public transport. Learn the bus system, it’s invaluable on the weekends.

There are endless amounts of activities, organizations, cultural venues, events, bars etc. You should not be bored ever.

Slices of pizza are meant to be folded.

Construction is everywhere all the time as is scaffolding and the scaffolding exists sometimes for no apparent reason.

Get used to other people doing your laundry: drop off wash and fold laundry service is fantastic (but expensive).

You’ll end up incorporating 1 or more Yiddish words in your everyday conversation and not realize it until a friend from back home asks you what “schlep” means.

Feeling like a newbie and staring at the subway map is better than getting lost for an hour or taking the express line when you should have just stayed local.

Master the art that is “pre-walking” – plan out which subway car is closest to the exit at your stop. While you’re waiting, you walk down the platform to the right car so that you don’t have any wasted steps at the other end.

The kids selling candy on the subway are not on a basketball team raising money; but at least they aren’t selling drugs.

Don’t ever stop in the stairwell, at the top or bottom of the stairs for a subway entrance/exit.

Tipping in restaurants: Cash is best. Give at least 15% no matter what (servers typically get paid on tips alone) – If you don’t like the service, tell them and or the manager before you leave. Keeping up with inflation it’s usually 18-20% now, and for parties of 5 or more tip at least 18%.

Cabs cannot refuse rides to boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, S.I., Bronx); you must pay the tolls. Report them if they refuse.

Stay to the right when you walk down the street (DO NOT take up the whole sidewalk with your fat ass, there are other people in the city that “commute” too). Stand on the right when on the escalator and walk by on the left.

Master the art of fast walking while dodging the slower lost/roaming tourists.

Shopping on 5th avenue around Christmas is the worst idea. Ever.

Expect to build an extensive booger collection as living here guarantees more junk caught up in the nose than living pre-NYC

Expect to get sick 5 times more than anywhere else, unless you learn to wash your hands more frequently.

With all the hand washing and dry winters, moisturize, moisturize and moisturize.

Don’t pick up “females” prostitutes between 14th and 30th Streets on the Westside.

That isn’t mud on your shoe. Ever.

In the summer it’s not raining on a clear day; the air conditioner condensation will leak on you if you walk too close to the buildings.

Learn the cabbie lights: when the number on top is lit up – it’s empty, when it’s not – someone is in there, and when the whole thing is on – it’s off duty (they may negotiate your ride though)

When a subway car is significantly emptier during rush hour than all the others, it’s for one of three reasons: There is a smelly bum stinking up the place, an irate psycho harassing passengers or the AC is broken.

5 dollars for a pint of domestic beer is totally reasonable.

Existing the subway, you can know what direction to head by the corner you are standing on and direction you exit the subway from, by paying attention to the SW-NW-SE-NE directional signs near the exits.

You still have to look both ways when crossing a 1-way street – watch out for delivery or messenger bikers. They will take you out.

Even numbered streets go east, the odd numbered ones go west. For numbered streets, 20 blocks = 1 mile. For the avenues, a “short” avenue block = 2 street blocks, and a “long” avenue block = 4 street blocks. “Short” blocks include Fifth Ave to Madison, Mad to Park, Park to Lex, and Lex to Third. The rest are “long”.

If a restaurant or store special is too good to be true, it probably is.

Stores will go out of business or have 60% off this week sales for years. Don’t believe the hype.

A $37+ steak in a Manhattan steak house doesn’t not come with a side.

Happy hours do exist on Saturdays. Ask knowledgeable NY’ers to know where.

A MP3 player and a good playlist is a great soundtrack for moving around the city. Bring one regardless of business or personal agendas.

It’s totally acceptable to make plans to meet someone somewhere at 1 am, “just when it’s starting to get a little busy”.

Dinner starts anytime after 8 pm or when happy hour ends.

Pre-war means your building was built before World War II

Everything in Manhattan has a Manhattan tax of at least $1.00 more than the rest of NYC and several more dollars than outside NY.

Walking 10 (street) blocks is not a lot, in fact if your subway stop is less than two stops, then walk it.

People you don’t want to talk to you, won’t if you don’t look at them.

People you WANT to talk to you won’t (automatically or with out bringing your A game).

If you wear flip flops expect to have sickly gross feet within the hour of walking this city.

Do not turn on a Red light in the City – it’s illegal and you could hit a pedestrian.

Don’t expect people to have manners but encourage others to have them by using proper manners yourself. Contrary to believe NYers are cordial people when they want to be.

No matter how expensive consumer goods are in the city, there are always cheaper alternatives if you’re willing to look and hunt them down (groceries in Chinatown, furniture in jersey etc.)

9th Ave becomes Columbus, 10th Ave becomes Amsterdam, and 11th becomes West End – very useful when traveling by cab between Hell’s Kitchen and the UWS.

Look up once in a while, there’s some great architecture here.

Best cities in America?

Travel & Leisure has surveyed 60,000+ respondents and the results are in for what’s the best city, it’s best and worst features etc. Here’s the original link and my interests are below.

Clubbing – At one point, New York was the clubbing capital of the world. And now, even being relegated to 3rd in America (according to this list), it’s definitely lost it’s luster and still doesn’t compare to the UK, Japan, Spain, Russia, Germany and well much of the EU. The Guliani and Bloomberg campaigns against nightlife in the city have killed the nocturnal nature of the clubs. They are no longer mysterious, dark and exciting as they once were. Even the promoters have played it safe with their music, opting for more bedroom DJs (CDJ, iPod and Serato mixers) than national & international superstars with deck skills and proper music selection. Seeing Austin and especially New Orleans on this list, I know there were some ballet suffers in the category. My list would be more like:

  • Miami
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • New York
  • Chicago
  • Atlanta

Culture (over all)… you can’t compare to New York and I think the next best city really should start at #3. I hardly think Boston and Philly have nearly as much culture as SF. Do people even understand this question. I mean how are Charleston and Santa Fe in the top 10?

People (Overall). There is no doubt SF is tops on this one. But I’ve been to Seattle and there’s no comparison to the people in NY. NYC should be the easy #2. Something note worthy about the sub categories of this – Attractive tops were: Miami, San Diego, Charleston, Austin, Honolulu, LA, SF, St.Paul/Minneapolis, New York, then Denver….again another WHAT?!? There are a lot of lesser known places in the south that missed the list and NY near the bottom of the 10 – that’s ridiculous. Stylish fit the norm – NY, Miami, SF, LA (even though I think Miami should be # 4 on that list) but I guess the more stylish you [think you] are, the less Friendly. I think we know from Katrina that New Orleans is not Diverse and need not be in the top 10.

After Dark (Overall) – I really can’t say from experience that New Orleans is the best place for after dark, however, I can not see how New York & Las Vegas are not tops above NO.

It’s hard to say what are the best citys by “Characteristics (Overall)” – but apparently Portland Oregon has it. The most affordable spots are really all placed I don’t want to live and my top three (New York, SF and San Diego) are all on the bottom. The best weather is also my pick (San Diego) and except for Denver, all the top ten are southern cities that don’t get a winter. I found it interesting that the most unsafe city was New Orleans (Safety) but the perception is still there that New York is not the safest city, even though I feel easier moving around the boughs here than I do in parts of Chicago, SF, Las Vegas, even Austin, TX.

Wow –Pedestrian friendliness? Except for the snow, how is New York not more ped friendly than the hilly SF, the expansive DC and Austin cities, and the wet Seattle?

Food/Dining (Overall) – again, I’ve never been to Austin, but how can down home cookin in Austin even compare to the diversity and range in food in NY or SF for that matter? I don’t understand this one. Seattle, Portland, St. Paul and Charleston again are too high on this list. Notables, Chicago beat NY for best pizza, Seattle tops the coffee market of course, NY and SF are the most ethnic (there’s no Asian food in New Orleans people come on!), the south has the BBQ with Austin, San Antonio, Nashville and Charleston (but hello Memphis Que? didn’t even get to the list), and Big name restaurants topped the bill in NY (but again some ballot stuffing with New Orleans).

Shopping (overall) of course went to NY but I had no idea people are destine to go to Charleston over LA for shopping… wonderment.

Best Type of trip (Overall) goes to: San Diego, Honolulu, SF, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Charleston, New Orleans, San Antonio and Miami… Boston, Austin and NY are close behind but definitely don’t deserve that following.

So what this survey tells us about some of my favorite cites is people think New York is best in shopping, culture, people-watching, and big-name restaurants but if only it were affordable (worst on list). SF is ranked best in gay oops I mean people overall and fantastic neighborhoods,yet again is unaffordable compared to most. Miami has great nightlife and hot sexy people but has the worst drivers and transportation. LA has great luxury shops but some of the worst people and traffic is a nightmare (no there is no viable public transportation). Las Vegas is a great travel destination, for big weekends but don’t expect the best produce; besides who needs a salad when you’re drinking bottle service all weekend. New Orleans gets away with best live music, drinks and cheap eats but you’ll get robbed, stabbed or worse ; more than any other major town. DC has the best history but still wouldn’t want to pay THAT much to live there. Chicago gets marks for eats, city sites and some of the worst weather. Austin is great for the single person, hearing live music and BBQ but getting around is a pain, and bring your own style out because they don’t have much to offer.

I was quite disappointed in the amount of positive attributes selected to New Orleans and Charleston but quite pleased to find my top places to be in the top SF and NY.

Airline Security over reacting = Don’t Fly

How fucking stupid is the forcing of passengers to exclude potential items (specifically liquids) from carrying onto their flights because of abatement risk. No food, no bottles of water, no shampoo, no cologne, and no contact solution?

When the shoe bomber was discovered, they didn’t ban shoes did they? No, now they make us take our shoes off to be scanned.

So then the latest is our laptops… Another Airline Grounds Dell, Apple Laptops

Why even fly? If a carrier is not going to allow my business tools to be transported with me, then why even consider using that carrier for business. Many have chosen JetBlue because they offer better snacks than the “meals” traditional flight carriers offered (ok yeah TVs help too). And as fuel prices go up, airlines bumping our seats, loosing our luggage and the service has goes into the toilet… what are we actually getting here?

If it’s not service, or costs we are worrying about, it’s now safety too… The economics of flight have forced carriers to stretch the time lines for maintenance and extending part usage to an unsafe levels of use.

My suggestion – don’t fly! Take the train, drive, boat, or walk but just don’t give airlines your money. Unfortunately easier said in done when I’m forced to fly every month. Yeah and my next vacation will be at the Jersey shore… uh well I’ll have to suck it up and roll the dice when I’m flying out to Costa Rica…