November 12, 2011
I have been trying for months to get to Rwanda, to teach children in need of a little help. I still have the offer in China, but really, I want to go to Africa. The only thing keeping me from just going and teaching, is money. I am in need of $5,000 in order to cover supplies, transportation, visas, etc. I have set up an easy page where you can just click one button to donate. Any donation of any amount,no matter how large or how small, will be greatly appreciated, and will be used specifically for the purpose of teaching in Rwanda. Please feel free to contact me for details at email@example.com. The page I set up with the widget is: http://millerteachglobal.chipin.com/trip-to-teach-children-in-africa Thank you in advance for any help that you might be able to supply.
November 11, 2011
For the past several month, I have been attempting to find a teaching job overseas. I even obtained my Advanced TESOL certification. At first, it seemed like Africa would be the place to go. I received a couple of informal offers there, and I accepted them. However, as tends to be the way of things in this world, the situations changed, and now I am waiting again to hear from Africa.
However, I was officially offered a teaching position in Beijing, China. It is a full-time job, five days per week, with weekends off. The salary is very good for Beijing, and I will be provided a free apartment by the school. I will not be rich by any means, but the salary is enough to afford me to experience the real China, which is my goal anyway, and to spend the weekends traveling or touring a bit. I have been to Beijing before, and it really is a fabulous, cosmopolitan city. And, as a former, professionally trained chef, I can say that the food I had in China was among the best in the world.
If I accept this Chinese offer, I will need to learn some Mandarin quickly. As my specialty is languages, this is not a problem, but it will require hard work. Also, it is a bit daunting to fly across the world to live a year in a city and a country that is the polar opposite of the western ways that I am accustomed to. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Chinese are very friendly and hospitable, and their food and culture is vibrant, ancient, and colorful. I really see no downside, aside from the inevitable culture shock, and the language barrier.
So, in consideration, I am inclined to take the offer in Beijing. After all, if I really want to be a swashbuckling, international adventurer, I have to take some big risks! Stay tuned for more details on this saga, and be sure to stay adventurous!
November 4, 2011
Mr. K. Alm, who wishes to remain anonymous, was kind enough to send this guest article to Adventurematt. It is a farcical look at bad spending habits and travel. Enjoy!
Traveling is enjoyable to us all. In fact, most of us in the traveling community would be life-long vagabonds if we could, but unfortunately few, besides the independently wealthy, have that option. It is this dilemma which I will devote this entry to: how to maximize your traveling experiences while keeping an eye on spending.
The most important aspect that must be focused on when traveling is to always maintain a ubiquitous awareness of the local conversion rates for your native currency. It is easy to get carried away in any foreign land, even more so when you lack intuition on what prices are ‘expensive’ and cheap. This can be compounded by the fact that in some countries prices do not scale proportionately. Some commodities, such as food, may be disproportionately higher in other countries. Similarly, the price of alcohol is exceedingly variable across cultures. While drinking to excess might be considered “macho” or “manly” in some primitive societies, remember that not all cultures have such haphazard perceptions and that getting drunk will likely paint you as a fool or careless person in most first world countries. Many foreign restaurants cater to self-proclaimed culinary connoisseurs and gastronomists. You may think you are being cultured and sophisticated by dining in a city or town’s well-regarded restaurants, but the reality of the situation is that almost all of these establishments are seen quite differently in the eyes of the locals. These are the tourist traps which attract the snobbiest and low-brow tourists that all locals despise. It’s hard to find a way to empty your wallet and your public rapport than dining in places such as those.
Similar to the cultural differences pertaining to commodities and prices, the concept of money itself is likely to differ in many parts of the world. If you ever have the pleasant experience of staying for an extended period of time in a foreign culture, this especially becomes significant. In some societies, it is acceptable to take small loans from friends. In some situations, it is even acceptable to not worry about repaying them. However, in more financially responsible cultures, not repaying loans—especially ones between friends—is among the highest iconoclastic offenses possible. No matter which culture you prevail from, it is not acceptable morally or ethically leave a country until you have paid all of your personal debts. This is particularly true for debts from friends, even more so if you have few of them.
In conjunction with a keen eye to accepting loans, one must also be equally as cautious about making empty promises. In some limited situations, it may be funny to tell small lies for comedic effect. However, when the lies begin to encompass your every interaction with people and are repeated in an obsessive manner, it is likely to become offensive in many cultures. This is compounded by language differences.
Modesty is valued in any uncertain circumstance. It is never a prudent idea to be boastful in a foreign country or try and play yourself off as an expert or connoisseur, particularly regarding local delicacies such as wine or food. Western society often overlooks these personality flaws and even mental disorders which relate to unfounded confidence, but in many other societies pompousness (especially if unfounded) is not at all tolerated and may even rightfully result in violence.
Along with the advice of being modest—it is never acceptable to pretend that you are native to a foreign country. Holding citizenship to a country does not imply one is part of that same culture. Many children are born each day in countries foreign to the country they are raised in due to the mother traveling while pregnant, but those with any respect for foreign cultures do not boast this fact and claim citizenship as proof of being participant or equal in that foreign culture.
So in summary, always be mindful when it comes to money. Do not kid yourself thinking you are a connoisseur of local delicacies or try to convince others that you are an expert. Never try to pretend you are a native or speak the local language natively (particularly in France), and never abuse the hospitality of others by accepting loans which you cannot or have no intention of repaying—this goes for any country or culture. And never leave (“flee”) a country from which you owe friends money.
November 4, 2011
Jean Larkin is an online friend of mine. He is French (as is my own heritage and ethnicity), and he kindly agreed to write a guest article for the blog, in French. What he wrote is actually a wonderfully sarcastic homage to Kim Jong Il, replete with sarcasm and dark humor. Adventurematt does not necessarily endorse or condemn the content of guest articles: I am just happy to have contributors! So, enjoy!
Le grand Dirigeant Kim Jong Il est né le 16 février de l’an 31 du Juche au camp secret du mont Paektu , dans l’arrondissement de Samjiyon, province du Ryanggang, alors que la Révolution coréenne subissait de profondes mutations, parallèlement à la révolution mondiale.
Il est issu d’une famille de patriotes et de révolutionnaires sans égale dans l’histoire. Son père, Kim Il Sung1, est le Leader, le père vénéré du peuple coréen et le fondateur de la Corée socialiste. Penseur, théoricien, homme politique et stratège militaire éminent, qui a accompli des exploits exceptionnels pour la Révolution coréenne aussi bien que pour la révolution mondiale, il a fait grand honneur à son époque et à l’humanité progressiste.
Révéré et admiré par les grands de ce monde, le grand Dirigeant Kim Jong Il ne cesse d’impressionner le glorieux peuple nord-coréen de par sa bravoure et son génie. Assurément, son œuvre est la continuation de celle de son père et a mis la République Populaire et Démocratique de Corée à une place de choix sur le plan international. Le dévouement continu du grand Dirigeant Kim Jong Il n’a par ailleurs jamais eu de cesse d’améliorer la vie des citoyens de la République Populaire et Démocratique de Corée.
En effet, par l’accomplissement des travaux grandioses menés d’une main de maître par Kim Jong Il, cette fière nation coréenne n’a eu pas de cesse d’accumuler les succès et les réussites, comme en témoigne le lancement parfaitement réussi du satellite Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 il y a de cela deux ans2.
Contrairement à l’entité nippone colonisée par le démon de l’impérialisme américain et qui n’a de cesse de provoquer notre pacifique nation coréenne3, la République Populaire et Démocratique et Corée n’a eu de cesse de travail pour la paix à travers le monde et c’est d’ailleurs ce que reflète les accomplissements du grand Dirigeant Kim Jong Il.
Par ailleurs, le cher Guide Kim Jong Il n’a eu de cesse de travailler cœur et âme dans le bien-être et le bonheur de son peuple4, lui accordant ainsi une merveilleuse abondance5 et des équipements et magasins modernes qui feraient pâlir d’envie les hordes populaires affamées des nations capitalistes6. Une joie et un bonheur du peuple nord-coréen qui n’est que plus visible face aux souffrances et aux privations que subissent et contre lesquelles protestent les sud-coréens opprimés7.
Les nombreux et glorieux accomplissements du grand Dirigeant Kim Jong Il font de lui un homme qui sera respecté et admiré à travers les âges pour son esprit visionnaire.
October 16, 2011
I have always been a big fan of cotton canvas bags. They are rugged, they are naturally waterproof, and heck, even the military uses them. Their appearance is also the perfect combination of stylish, minimalist, rugged, and — let’s face it — hip. So when I was trying to decide which bag to use on my next adventure, I looked at every cotton canvas messenger bag that I could find. I prefer messengers for their size, portability, and versatility.
And then I ran across Saddleback Leather’s bags at http://www.saddlebackleather.com. I had never really considered leather, because I had always believed that it was overkill. It was too thick and heavy, it required too much oiling and maintenance, and it looked too rich and western, and might offend the locals in some places. But after reading about Saddleback, I changed my mind.
Not only is their website one of the best I have ever seen, but the sheer amount of information that they openly give you about their company, their process, and their products, earns a large amount of trust from the consumer from the start. They even link you to the products of their competitors! And a simple glance at those competitors’ products immediately demonstrates that they cannot compare to Saddleback.
So what is so great about Saddleback Leathers bags, that it converted a cotton-canvas fan? Well, first, it is the appearance. These bags look like they came out of an Indiana Jones movie, but that they could also be taken out for a night on the town. They look rugged but beautiful, elegant in a word. The leather is gorgeous, and the four colors available (Carbon Black, Chestnut, Dark Coffee Brown, and Tobacco Brown) are very nice choices. The colors cover a range from serious and business-like, to adventurous and tough. My favorite is Dark Coffee Brown, because it seems to be dark enough to seem serious, but not so dark as to seem like it belongs on Wall Street instead of the Outback.
Probably one of the immediate things that the consumer notices is the prices on these bags. They are not cheap. The messenger bag itself costs $347, while a full piece of luggage can run close to $1,000. So it is reasonable for a customer to expect great things of such a bag. After all, a cotton-canvas bag costs around $200, and that is for one of top quality. But keep examining Saddleback’s bags, and you will eventually see that the price is worth it.
Not only are they beautiful, but the leather used, and the construction process, are of the highest quality. First, Saddleback uses only full-gain leather for all of its products. Full-grain leather is the best and strongest part of the cow, better even than top-grain. Full-grain includes the complex, vertical fibers in the cow’s skin, and these fibers make that part of the skin much stronger than any other part. So this is the most expensive, and the best, part of the cow that a company can use.
Next, Saddleback uses one of the best tanneries in the world to do its tanning work. Tanning is a process whereby the leather, intentionally depleted of its natural oils, is re-nourished with oils, preservatives, and other products. Before tanning, the leather is blue, but tanning adds the color that is desired for the final product. Many leather companies only partially tan their leather, so that it appears good on the outside, but the inside is still malnourished and blue. But Saddleback insists on a long, expensive tanning process that ensures that the oils and ingredients penetrate the entire piece of leather. You can even see that this is the case, because Saddleback leaves the side edges of its leather unfinished so you can verify that the color penetrates the entire piece.
Next, Saddleback uses some of the thickest pieces of leather used by any bag company. Saddleback’s leather is 4-5 oz. leather, while competitors often use less than 4 oz. leather. So this leather is full-grain, tanned as well as leather can be, and the thickest. You can see that we already have a product that stands out from the rest. But keep looking, and you will see that the manner in which Saddleback constructs its pieces is also superior.
At every seam (of which there are few, which makes the bags even stronger), the leather is glued, then sewn, then riveted. The thread used for sewing is thick, marine-grade, industrial, polyester thread. It is weatherproof and long-lasting. The rivets are metal, hollow-end rivets, which not only provide more strength than you will ever need, but also look nice on both ends. The glue, thread, and rivets are all very nicely worked, so that everything is flush and straight. Although the website says that the occasional flaw only proves that these bags are handmade and adds to their character, I did not find a single flaw on mine. Also, at every point where the leather might be prone to stretching over the years, there is a hidden, nylon reinforcing strap between the layers of leather.
The hardware on the bag, referring to rings and attachments, is all nickel-plated metal. The bag comes with a great, double-thick shoulder strap with two very comfortable, neoprene shoulder pads. The shoulder strap can also make the bag into a backpack, simply by re-threading the strap through a large O-ring on the top-middle of the back of the bag. I tried converting it using the instructions, and it was fast and easy. There are eight extra D-rings — two on each corner of the bag — which can be used to attach any number of things. These metal rings also act as a buffer between the bag and the ground, making the bag that much more durable. There is also a handle on top of the bag, which makes it much more versatile, and easier to carry in some situations.
Finally, most of the inside of the bag is lined with pigskin, which, according to Saddleback, is the world’s second-strongest hide, second only to kangaroo hide. The pigskin is also nicely tanned and dyed. It is smooth and tough, and of a very high quality. The great leather, and its pigskin lining, virtually assure that the bag will last forever.
Speaking of lasting forever, Saddleback Leather offers a 100 year warranty. That’s right, 100 years! What that translates into, is that the bag is warranted for your entire life, unless you buy it at birth and live to 101. This is a great assurance for adventurers. It essentially means that, throughout your entire life, the company will repair the bag for free. So when you are deep in Africa, being chased by an angry village of Masai warriors, spears landing all around you, be assured that the bag will be alright. Or when you find yourself having been thrown by a squatter into a billabong surrounded by angry crocodiles, you can at least remain calm in the knowledge that the bag is covered.
So when my Dark Coffee Brown Messenger arrived, I was as giddy as a schoolboy. I looked at the box, and hesitated to open it. Would my joy ever be quite as great as this moment of anticipation? Is not the hunt greater than the capture? I carefully opened the box and saw it — the bag itself, carefully protected by some padding, and a plastic cover. I opened the plastic and took out the bag. Immediately the aroma of new leather wafted into my nostrils, and I was reminded of that moment when you buy a new car. I almost fainted from joy!
The messenger bag comes with two little gifts. First, you get a slide-in leather divider in case you want two separate compartments in the bag. Second, you get a key fob! The divider and key fob are made with the same top-quality leather as the bag, and both are glued, sewn, and riveted! I do not think I have ever been prouder of my keys.
Well, nothing in this life is perfect, so I would like to mention three things about the bag that I am not completely satisfied with. Understand that, overall, I love the bag, but I have to be honest. First, there is the price. Now obviously I was able to justify it, given the great construction and the lifetime warranty. But it is still a bit nauseating when you click that Submit button on the purchase! However, a large portion of the price of each bag is donated to a great project that helps impoverished Rwandans, so it is hard to complain in reality.
Second, the bag is heavy — really heavy. When I load up the bag with books and a computer, then it is really noticeably heavy. Granted it turns into a backpack, which is more comfortable, but weight is something to consider when you are out on an adventure. Of course, I am not sure how it could possibly be lighter given its materials and construction. So I am willing to live with this fact of physics.
Third, I was somewhat surprised that every part of the bag’s interior is lined with strong pigskin, except the sides and the bottom. I am fine with the sides, but the bottom of the bag is where the weight of the contents rest and push against, and it is just one piece of unlined leather. I doubt that I have to worry about the leather tearing or breaking open, but over the years it will stretch, and if I ever have anything sharp in the bag, I worry about it poking a hole through the bottom. Since Saddleback go out of their way to make an extremely high-quality, tough, strong product, why would they not just line the bags bottom? I do not understand this. I would like to find some solution, perhaps by finding some leather and making my own lining for the bottom. It seems like if any place inside the bag would need lining, this would be it. But, I digress.
Overall, this is really a wonderful bag. It is beautiful to look at, and as the leather is battered over the years, it should develop a great patina, and an adventurous look. The leather and construction are of the highest-quality, and I have yet to find any company that does better. It is solid and obviously rugged, and the warranty means that it is literally eternally rugged. The metal rings, buckles, and rivets give it a great, serious feel, and it can hold a good amount of things for its size. This is a bag that will be able to go around the world with you, anywhere, to the ends of the earth, and still stay in great shape. It will only look better as it gets beaten up. If I had to rate it out of 10, I would give it a 9.5. The only reason I would not give it a 10 is because of the lack of internal lining on the bottom, but that is only a trifle compared to the positive qualities. I highly recommend this bag for my fellow swashbuckling adventurers.
October 15, 2011
I recently earned my Advanced TESOL teacher certification. While I was excited, it is really just a step toward a goal. One of the things I have had to decide throughout the course, was where, ideally, I would like to teach English abroad. As Fortune would have it, I currently have two possible assignments: Tanzania, and Beijing, China. I have been trying to weigh the pros and cons of each, and I suppose this post is just me voicing my thoughts. Take it as you will.
First, Africa! It is the birthplace and origin of all of mankind. It is a vast continent that encompasses everything from snowy mountain, to sandy desert, to lush hill, to grassy plain. It s a land of animals, animals that run free and maze. It is a land of so many peoples, so many cultures, so much tradition and history. It is a land of great spirituality, with a different focus than the West has. In Africa are great spaces, great ideas, great contradictions. There are thousands of languages and just as many cultures. There is a vast cuisine. There is the wide sky, the cool nights, the trees, the lions, the rhinos, the elephants. There is a very open, warm, welcoming culture — people who would gladly take a stranger into their house without a thought. There are smiles, and humor, and dancing, and feasting, and celebrations. There are bright, varied colors that contrast with the Serengeti’s tan and green.
But China! To consider this vast, ancient civilization that has been in place since before most other countries even existed! There are dragons, and gods, and Buddha. There is a language that is as old as mankind, that is complex and rich and delicate. There, you find a smiling, shining, clever people who love food and puns. You find wide avenues flowing with bicycles; enormous open plazas with beautiful architecture; narrow back alleys with little shops and cafes here and there. China is a land of mountains: most people live on the outer rim because the middle is so mountainous. But even in the mountains are hidden farming villages. On the Wall, you can read Medieval inscriptions, while also looking down upon modern, thriving cities. And the Chinese are just as hospitable and kind as the Africans. They pride themselves in treating their guests.
How can I possibly choose? I am torn. I am just as eager to learn Swahili, as I am to learn Mandarin. I am just as keen to taste goat mat in peanut sauce, as I am to taste Beijing duck in Beijing. I am equally thrilled to learn the intricacies, the etiquette, the subtle mannerisms, of both cultures. So, for now, I will simply think.
October 11, 2011
Thank you for your patience, fellow swashbuckling adventurers! The blog will return on Wednesday!
July 28, 2011
For Westerners, and especially Americans, traveling to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, can be a baffling experience. Social customs can seem antiquated, inconsistent, or befuddling. People may take offense to something that is perfectly acceptable in, say, England. And one difficulty is that these customs offer differ from country to country. But I have noted that there is a sort of universal Eastern etiquette, in the same manner as Chomsky’s universal grammar. That is, there exists a set of basic principles that, while not necessarily dealing with every specific aspect of every country, will do much to help the traveler to be unoffensive, and even honored, in he East.
1. Greet everyone. In the USA, the land of individualism, people can pass by each other without so much as making eye contact. In fact, in some Northern European countries, eye contact with a stranger is considered impolite. This obviously cannot be done in a large city, but in most other cases, when you pass someone, you should pause, smile, shake hands as appropriate (or bow slightly), and ask how they are, in their language. In doing this, you will instantly stand above all other tourists.
2. When offered a compliment, a gift, a meal, etc., politely decline at least once, saying something like, “Oh, I couldn’t. That is too kind.” This is normal. But then you must take the gift or invitation! To refuse a gift or hospitality in most Eastern countries is a grave offense. This also applies to meals, especially ones that someone has cooked for you and invited you into their home. It is the height of rude arrogance, in their eyes, to refuse anything given you.
3. Respect elders. Whether it is with a bow, a handshake while holding your right arm with your left hand, standing when they enter, or whatever particular custom you see others doing, it is very important to respect elders.
4. Honor their religious customs. Usually they will not expect you to actually join them in worship, but be aware of some of their scruples. For example, in Southeast Asia, you should never touch someone else’s head, or show your soles to them. In Muslim countries, you should not touch women. Learn a little bit about these scruples to be a better visitor.
5. Be quiet and low-key. This is good advice for travel anywhere, actually. Do not barge in, talking loudly, and acting like you own the place. Be reserved.
6. Dress conservatively. One of the major problems that most Easterners have with the West, is how skimpy clothes are. Even if you personally have no problem with skimpy clothing, you should always dress conservatively and cover your body in the East. If you find the style there more relaxed, then dress more casually. But you cannot go wrong by starting off conservatively. Be especially aware at beaches, where a western bathing suit may even be illegal.
7. Finally, just be respectful and observant. Things may be very different, or seem outright bizarre, but we should always respect the fact that we are guests.
Sparrows are a common street and snack food. They are skewered, roasted and fried and served on sticks. They are often eaten bones and all between sips of beer in streetside stalls. In Beijing, you can get silkworms, grasshoppers, seahorses, and scorpions—with their stingers intact. Other weird food favorites include snakehead soup, duck feet marinated in blood, solidified duck blood, pork lungs, peacock and pig face. The latter is made by pouring hot tar in a pig head to remove the hair put not the skin.
Banquet specialties include cow’s lung soaked in chili sauce, goose stomachs, fish lips with celery, goat’s feet tendons in wheat noodles, shark’s stomach soup, chicken-feet soup, monkey’s head, ox forehead, turtle casserole, pigeon brain, deer ligament and snake venon, lily bulbs and deer’s penis.
A typical menu offers things like “goat genitals soup,” “pig hoof gruel,” “old vinegar jelly fish,” “fried goose intestines,” “know taste pork meat pie,” “chicken without sexual life,” “pockmarked old-lady’s tofu.” “fish smell like pork.” “spicy ducks heads” and “lover’s lung.” Some restaurant serve donkey and the entree “Explodes the Stomach, Slides the Tendon and Fires the Sheep’s Internal Organs.”
Some people in China eat dirt as a “famine food.” Analysis of samples of eating soil shows that it contains large amounts of iron, calcium, vanadium, magnesium, manganese and potassium—essential nutrients that are in short supply in times of famine.
Huangshan Stone Frog is a speciality of Anhui province. The black-skinned frogs found there are quite large and bear quite a bit of meat. The meat is said to have a light, sweet flavor. Frog fat is enjoyed as a desert. Eating frog is supposed to strengthen your bones and improve your eyesight.
drunken shrimp Weird fish and seafood dishes include fish lips and eyeballs and drunken shrimp, a delicacy in which live shrimp are dipped in alcohol, and their head is pinched off and eaten. Sweet-and-sour Yellow River fish is cooked while it is still alive and served while still breathing. Jellyfish is squeeze dried, processed with diluted acid and the dried in the sun. It can be kept for months without spoiling. Not all jellyfish can be eaten. Some lack the texture to be appetizing when dried.
Thousand-year-old eggs, a Guangdong delicacy, are made from duck eggs coated with lime, ashes and mud and soaked in horse urine for 100 days until the yolks turns green and the whites become gelatinous and dark brown. The eggs have a creamy, cheese-like flavor and a strong smell. Some are aged in black mud. These become partially hardened and are sold in markets as a seasoning for pork products. Thousand-year-old eggs are often served with rice congee or cut in chunks and eaten with slices of pickled ginger to soften the taste. Chinese also eat duck eggs that are packed in a pot and buried in the ground.
The Chinese considered many foods eaten by non-Chinese to be strange. They consider eating a plain cooked steak as primitive and unappetizing. Many regard eating cheese or butter as disgusting and find the French custom of eating snails to be strange.