Travel Letters

Vientiane: "Visa Run"

Vientiane, Laos

January 12-16, 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
Sabai Dee,

Here's a good one:

"The reason I didn't recognize you, Jan, is because when we met six years ago, you were fat. Now you are slim and younger looking."

So said my friend Kia, a lovely Laotian woman, who with her husband Wisai, runs a small restaurant in Vientiane.

So what am I doing in Vientiane?

{C}

Hong Kong: "Lovely 可爱"

Hong Kong 香港
Special Administrative Region
April 13, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Their answers were always the same.

Whenever I asked other tourists what they liked best about Hong Kong, they responded heartily:

"Hong Kong is safe and clean. Transportation is excellent. Service is efficient. Shopping is supreme. The streets are buzzing. The food is good. The sights are impressive."

As one Aussie couple explained, "Hong Kong is lovely."

Macau: "Não!"

Macau 澳門

SAR

April 16, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I know what you are wondering. And the answer is "Não!"

I resisted the temptation to enter one of those grotesque monuments to avarice and addiction.

Don’t get me wrong. I'm no prude. I adore a hand of Blackjack. I savor the action of Craps. But with limited time, and a retiree’s budget, I just said "No!".

{C}

Hong Kong: "The Giant, The Peak, The Park"

Hong Kong
April 16, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

It's about an hour's ferry ride from Central Ferry Pier to Lantau Island, the largest of all of the Hong Kong islands. The ferry is filled with pilgrims to Tian Tan Buddha.

The impressive Giant Buddha, the world's largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha is 30m (98 ft) tall and weighs 250 tons. To reach the terraces surrounding the Buddha, there's a climb of 260 steps. And the stairs are crowded. Everyone and every group poses for a photo or two. Or three.

Uzbekistan: "What's in a name? Everything!"

Bangkok, Thailand

May 15th, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Have you ever wanted to go to a place just because you liked the sound of its name?

Lake Titicaca?  How about The Transvaal? Timbuktu?

Timbuktu. Say it quietly, "Tim....buk....tooo." Doesn't that sound enchanting? Lake Titicaca? The Transvaal? Do we even know where these places are? Do we care? Don't the names themselves make you want to buy a ticket?

What about Sevastopol? Sounds so exotic.

Patagonia? Sounds so spacious.

I do have a long "To See" list.

Many years ago I did indulge my sonant fantasy. For no other reason than its sound, I wanted to see Sicily. I flew to Rome, rented a car, drove down the Amalfi Coast, and took the ferry across the Strait of Messina.

What a surprise! I had no idea that I would find Greek temples in Agrigento, and medieval churches in Cefalù. The homes of Archimedes, Pindar and Aeschylus are in Siracusa. There really is a town called Corleone. On the Aeolian Island of Vulcano, I took a bubbling-hot volcanic mud-bath followed by a boiling-salt-water-rinse in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In Agrigento, the grilled swordfish on my luncheon plate swam that very morning in the Mediterranean Sea. At least that's what the waiter told me as he gazed beyond the window of the hilltop Ristorante Caprice. He nodded to the sea and proclaimed, "Pesce spada, la mattina, la!"

A few years ago, my acoustic-self flew south to "Mah Choo Pee Choo." Now admit it, doesn't that sound positively seductive? My friends in America, especially you Floridians, indulge yourselves and you will be seduced. Machu Picchu is a dream trip and Peru is closer than you think. ***

Tashkent was another place I always wanted to see. Tashkent? Where was it anyway? I didn't know and I didn't care. Tashkent sounds so ancient! So distant! So daring!

Tashkent: 400,000

Tashkent, Uzbekistan
May 22, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Now here's a delightful stroll:

The broad, shady walkways around Independence Park are lined with university halls, government buildings, flower gardens and rose bushes. A statue of Marx has been replaced by a suitably patriotic statue of Amir Timur on horseback. At Independence Square, the new senate building is guarded by a tall gate with good-luck pelicans at the top. Near the gate, Lenin gave way to a large statue of a seated Uzbek woman gazing into the eyes of her infant child.

At the far side of the park is another woman, The Crying Mother Monument. The monument was built in 1999 to honor the four hundred thousand Uzbek soldiers who died fighting for The Soviet Union in World War II. In front of the statue is an eternal flame. *

The names of the fallen soldiers are engraved on brass plaques that swing like pages of a book. Many, many books. These books of the dead are attached to the walls of two parallel arcades. The Crying Mother cannot bear to face these pages...

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