You guys, I have not perished, joined a cult, been in captivity, or gotten trapped under something heavy. I just caught a nasty cold basically the second I landed in Europe last Fall, and I couldn’t shake it the whole time I was there. Writing while feeling lousy just felt like an extra chore I didn’t have the energy for. I apparently need clear sinuses to hear the muse! Anyhoo, I am fine now, still on the road, and will get back to my blog once I untangle my thoughts. A lot has happened!
As I travel around East Asia, I am so thankful I did not happen to be even closer to the mind-boggling devastation that is still unfolding in the Philippines as a result of Typhoon Haiyan. The news coverage I have seen of the disaster while I was in Korea, and am now seeing here in Taiwan, is just breaking my heart on a daily basis. At times like these, it feels as though nothing I could do or contribute would make even the tiniest difference. Yet, I know that the aggregate of donations that people like me can make could mean the difference between a truckload of bottled water reaching a remote village or not, or a rural medical clinic getting medicines or not. So, I throw my paltry coins in the pot, and hope.
For any travelers among you who care to do the same, United Airlines is now matching customer donations to AmeriCares, The American Red Cross and Operation USA for Typhoon Haiyan relief, as well as offering to give Mileage Plus members up to 1,000 extra bonus miles for making donations of $50 or more, as a thank you for your generosity. So, if you fly United, and you want to make a donation to help typhoon victims, do it through United’s donation website, here, in order to take advantage of the matching program, and to claim your bonus miles.
Hey there, dear readers! If you get my posts by email, I just wanted to let you know that, for some reason that I still don’t completely understand, the email versions of my posts often don’t include embedded videos. Until I figure out how to correct the problem, you can see the videos by clicking through to view the post on my site. If it’s a video I created, it’s also viewable on my QTube channel, here. Thanks for your patience!
In anticipation of my world tour departure, I wanted to get you a little something special to remember me by; something that you could think of once in a while, and maybe laugh a quiet little private laugh to yourself that would be too much trouble to explain to anyone who asked what was so funny. So, I went to peruse the wide and varied options on Fiverr.
Do you know about Fiverr? Fiverr is an online marketplace, where folks all over the world offer up all manner of goods or services for the whopping asking price of $5. Everything on Fiverr is five dollars—no more, no less. Hence the name. Most of it is kind of stupid, but some of it is good, and some of it is just plain hilarious. People offering serious things, like business plans, budgets, ad jingles, logo designs, weight loss menus or training plans, are clearly doing it as a loss leader, hoping that future business worth more than five bucks will follow. Others are indulging hobbies, such as writing things on a piece of rice, or spelling out messages on a Scrabble board in stop-motion film. Still others are just wackadoolery. Those are my favorite. I had an ad up on Fiverr for a while, offering to go hug the elderly relative of your choice, within 25 miles of San Francisco, for $5. Nice, right? Your Aunt Millicent is in a home in Colma, and you can’t get there for her 93rd birthday? Fiverr to the rescue. Half a sawbuck through Paypal, and Miz Quin is on her way to deliver the big, warm, squishy hug you can’t. I even offered a “fragrance free” option, where I would promise not to wear perfume or the fruity, girly lotions I am so fond of, if there were scent-sitivities to be considered. But, it proved impractical, because even though I was clear about the “elderly” part in the ad, apparently, that’s not as unambiguous as I had thought, and I kept getting requests from young guys trying to send me to hug their “cousins” or “uncles,” and Fernando was categorically unwilling to go along and be my bodyguard on hug patrol, so, yeah…. My Fiverr career died before it ever got off the ground, and everyone’s Bay Area old folks are now going unhugged, all because of some horny teenagers with nothing better to do than cruise Fiverr. But I digress. Back to your gift.
So, via Fiverr, I found this lovely gentleman– who calls himself “Crazzy Man”–operating in a small village somewhere in India, who, for the aforementioned five dollars, will put any message you want on a sign, and videotape himself dancing around with it in what looks like a faux grass or banana leaf skirt. “Ooh, perfect,” I thought. So, I sent him a request for such a video, and five dollars, and asked that the sign read “Quin says: Ciao, Bitches!” Saucy, but fun. Just what I wanted. Crazzy Man turned the order around fast; a day later, the following video was in my email inbox:
Seee-yowwww, Beeches!! Awesome! He really put his heart into that performance! But, he left off the “Quin says” part, and I know there are a few of you, who shall remain nameless, who wouldn’t believe that I hadn’t just swiped this off YouTube from someone else and claimed to have commissioned it myself. And I want the credit, fair and square. So, I wrote to Crazzy, and said how much I loved the video, and it was so wonderful, and thanks so much, but please, could he do it again, and put “Quin says” on the sign. Of course, I said I would pay another five dollars, no problem. I said he could even write it on the other side of the same paper, and just flip it around. “Okay,” says Crazzy, “no problem.” Then, the next day, this video comes:
Well…not quite. I mean, I love that the whole village is getting involved in my project, and the ladies are sure lovely, but now I have one video with the girls and the “Quin Says” sign, and another with Crazzy himself and the “Ciao, Bitches!” sign, and that doesn’t really solve my problem. So, I wrote him back, thanked him profusely again, extolled the beauty of the women in the new video, praised their dancing and the fantastic sign, and then asked him to, pretty please, do it again—for another five dollars, of course—with BOTH signs. I figured, since they had both signs made now, the third time would be the charm. I can just picture them all sitting there in their village, saying “What does she want now, and why does she keep changing it?” and “who else can we get in on the performance?” But, to me, he just said okay, sure. And then this video showed up a short time later:
So close! Well, not exactly. But, look how much work they put into this, with their little choreographed dance routine and everything. How sweet are they? Still, I actually wanted Mr. Crazzy rockin’ out in his green manskirt, and I don’t know what “Bilches” are, but they sound painful and possibly contagious. So, once again, I wrote back to Team Crazzy and gushed about how fabulous the video was, and how graceful the dancing was, and thanked them to the heavens for their helpfulness, etc., and then pointed out that “Bitches” was, unfortunately, spelled wrong, and would he please, with sugar on top, do it again, himself this time, and be careful to spell it right—for another $5, it goes without saying. “Okay,” he said, still ever-helpful, but with somewhat less alacrity than before. I could tell he was kinda over my shit by now. Still, five more bucks is five more bucks, and that goes a lot farther in India than it does here, so a couple days later, Crazzy sends me this video:
Oh, sweet JesusMaryAndJoseph! “Bictches? Is he messing with me now?!” No, I don’t think he was, actually. I think they were probably just so careful to copy the letters just so this time after the preceding error, and they aren’t used to a Romanized alphabet, and to them, it probably looks exactly like what I wrote. I laughed so hard when I opened this video that I almost fell off the couch, and my houseguest got out of bed and came out to the living room to see what was the matter. Doesn’t it look like how you would spell that percussion flourish in the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off theme music? You know, it goes: “Ohhhhh yeahhhhhh, donk-donk, Bictchaaaahs.” Okay, maybe not. Anyway, this is the best I could do. I just didn’t have the heart to go back and ask Crazzy Man and the Village People to do yet a fifth video dedicated to my attempt at a sassy sendoff message.
So, yeah, ciao, bilches bictches gentle friends! As I write this, I am in seat 8B of United Airlines flight 893, one-way from San Francisco to Seoul, with my Woobie Frog tucked ever so supportively behind my neck. I can hardly believe it. Not only has Day 1 of my grand adventure arrived, at last, but all my worldly belongings now fit into these three bags. What have I done? There are only four pairs of shoes in there, and only one of those pairs has high heels, and they aren’t even really all that high. Breathe…breathe…okay, it’s fine. Something had to go to make room for a year’s supply of contact lenses and thyroid pills. I thought I was pretty Spartan in my packing, but one thing I’ve learned, is that all those cute miniature, travel sized gadgets and bottles of goop, when thrown together in one bag, are really frickin’ heavy.
I’m going to have to weed out some of the stuff I’ve packed here, or I’m going to fracture my Groove Thang schlepping all this crap around. Also, it just dawned on me that I’m probably not going anywhere that doesn’t have shampoo and toothpaste already, and if I do, we’ll all have greasy hair and halitosis together, so….I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sure many adjustments will be made along the way as I figure things out. Cross your fingers for me.
Speaking of sendoff messages, yesterday, I was walking down the street, preoccupied, running some last minute errands, trying to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything important, and I literally ran across this bit of street art on the sidewalk. So apropos, it’s hard not to believe it was put there just for me, personally. Let’s just say that it was. Adios to you too, San Francisco. I am taking my heart with me, but I’ll leave my pancreas or my spleen with you, just for safekeeping. That doesn’t make for nearly as romantic a song, though. Perhaps an interpretive dance would be more fitting. Maybe we can get Crazzy Man and his village to work on it for us. For another five bucks, of course.
You know what that means!
Yesterday, I had a senior moment and accidentally overflowed my bathtub and flooded the bathroom, and caused a Niagara Falls of delicious lemony bubble bath foam to cascade down into the downstairs neighbor’s unit. It wasn’t a shining moment. By the time I got everything cleaned up, and made sure everything was okay downstairs, I seriously needed that bubble bath–for olfactory as well as nerve-related reasons–but alas, I didn’t have a dry towel left in the house. So, I threw a load of soaked towels in the wash, poured myself a drink, and watched Bridget Jones’ Diary while I waited for the towels to be done. When I finally was able to get in the tub, I couldn’t bear the sight of any more bubbles, so I opted for this vivid blue-green jasmine scented stuff, and a mystery face mask, both of which I found at the Nijiya Market in Japantown.
I love going there and buying something that I have no idea what it is, and bringing it home and figuring it out; is it food or furniture polish? You never know until you try! I have had some interesting trials and errors on these expeditions. But, I figured this one was probably not food, given the color and scent, but you can’t ever be sure in that place, particularly since they tend to stock cleaning products, cat food and marmalade right next to each other on the same shelf. Anyhoo, I’m pretty confident this one is actually a bath soak, but it could be carpet freshener, I don’t really know for sure. But doesn’t it make pretty bath water? So far, it hasn’t given me a rash, so I’m going with bath salt. We shall see. Cross your fingers.
Today is Mother’s Day here in the U.S. of A., and this year, I’m more grateful than usual to have had the mom that I did. My mom was a hoot and a half. She had spirit, and presence, and she sure knew how to have fun. She was tirelessly curious, and never afraid to look foolish in the name of fun or adventure — which is why we had so much of both.
She always said she was happiest when she was “eatin’ or goin’ somewhere, or, better yet, goin’ somewhere to eat.” We definitely have that in common! Mom and I had our mother-daughter issues, of course, like everyone else, mostly because we were so similar, but I can sincerely say that, the older I got, the better friends we became. By the time she passed in 2006, my mom really was my best friend.
These days, as I clean out my house, getting ready to sell it so I can hit the road indefinitely, my mom is in my mind so much. You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. One night, in 1976, when I was nine years old, my mom came into my room and woke me up and said “Hey Quinnie, how would you like to spend your birthday with the eskimos?” I blinked at her in the dark and said “Okay,” and went back to sleep. Shortly thereafter, there was a For Sale sign in our front yard. My folks sold our house, got rid of all our junk, bought a big Dodge van and a travel trailer, took my sisters and me out of school, and the five of us–along with Ruby the dog–hit the open road and explored the whole North American continent for a year. People said they were crazy. An endless road trip in a gas guzzling van, when there’s a gas crisis on? Take your kids out of school? Sell your house and leave your job, in this economy? You can’t do that! Well…Mom knew better. And thank God she did. That year was wonderfully life changing. (Although, I didn’t get to spend my birthday with the eskimos — we spent it in a KOA campground in Del Rio, Texas. I remember I was so intent on going swimming on my birthday–which is in January–that I insisted that my mom let me jump in the campground’s pool, which had a paper-thin sheet of ice on it at the time. She knew me well enough to know it was easier to just let me do it, and learn my lesson. Which I did.)
There was no place my mom didn’t want to go. No different culture she didn’t find fascinating. No people she didn’t want to talk to. No new cuisine she didn’t want to try. No wild critters she didn’t want to see, pet and feed. I inherited all of that from her. She would start planning her next adventure before she even unpacked from the last one. She dragged my poor dad all over the world, and her enthusiasm for discovery made even a cranky old homebody like him happy to accompany her anywhere she wanted to go. It didn’t matter if it was a day trip from home, or a long-haul flight to the far corners of the earth, my mom was most happy and at peace when she was going someplace new and different.
Somehow, she just knew that a change of scenery, shaking things up a little, was the cure for most anything that could ail ya. I was a pretty good kid, for the most part, but in my latter years of high school, I was bored, unchallenged, and ditching school a lot, hanging out with my boyfriend, but still getting good grades, so the school was sort of at a loss as to what to do with me. My mom was so smart about the way she handled the situation. Rather than engage me in a futile contest of wills, she packed my truant ass off to Germany as an exchange student for my senior year! She even founded our local chapter of the American Field Service, so I could be eligible to go through that organization. The day she put me on the plane to Frankfurt, when I was 17, was the first time I ever saw her cry. But she knew what she was doing. That year abroad was wonderfully life changing for me, as well. Horizon broadening doesn’t even begin to cover it. What a visionary she was, my mom.
I always said my mom’s house looked like the gift shop at the zoo. The walls were covered with interesting masks and folk art that she collected in her travels. She bought a hand-embroidered Mola in Panama that had the city name–Colon–featured in the pattern. She framed it in a shadow box and hung it in…the bathroom. Of course! Where else would you hang Colon-related art?
My mom had a lifelong fascination with China, and was very disappointed when she planned a trip there in 1989 that had to be cancelled as a result of the June Fourth Incident in Tiananmen Square. She was so upset about what happened there, but never stopped wanting to go. So, she and I planned a trip to China together in 2006, just the two of us. We had the best time, planning our itinerary…Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin, Hong Kong….it was going to be epic. We were both so excited.
Then, not long before we were supposed to leave, we found out she had terminal lung cancer, and the doctors said she might not last through the trip. She told me she still wanted to go, but she didn’t feel right about putting that kind of pressure on me, under the circumstances. I didn’t even hesitate. “Mom, we’re going, and that’s that.” It was unthinkable to me to deny her this last wish out of fear. “Are you sure?” she asked, knowing very well that she might not make it back, and I would be the one to have to deal with anything bad that went down while we were there. “Of course,” I said. “I can manage having to get your body home from China if you drop dead on me during the trip, but I can’t handle living my life knowing I could have made this happen for you and didn’t because it was too scary.” And she totally understood. So, off we went.
It was a phenomenal trip. We had a pretty ambitious itinerary, and she was getting kind of weak, but her spirit never flagged. We walked our behinds off, all over every city we visited, up the steps of countless temples, down the Great Wall, into the rainy canyons of the panda refuge, and up and down the aisles of every supermarket we encountered (exploring foreign supermarkets is my travel obsession), and she never complained. Her joints and bones were affected by the cancer at that point, and she had trouble walking, so I found her an acupuncturist in every place we stopped, and it kept her on her feet and on the go.
I remember, once, outside of Hong Kong, the doctor was so sweet, he was concerned about me sitting in the waiting room for so long while my mom was being treated, that he brought out a VHS copy of The Sound of Music and put it on the TV in the waiting room for me to watch! It was dubbed in Mandarin and subtitled in Cantonese, but the songs were in English.
It was such a poignant time to spend with her, and I’m so grateful for it. I could see her soaking in every detail, registering in her mind that this was her last trip, savoring it like a last meal. It was sad, but beautiful, too. She didn’t waste a moment of her life feeling sorry for its impermanence. I hope I am fortunate enough to have that kind of wisdom when it’s my turn.
When the wheels of our flight home touched down at SFO, we both exhaled loudly, tired from the trip, relieved to have made it back in one piece, and bracing ourselves for what we both knew was ahead. And it wasn’t long before she left us. But I feel her presence all the time, especially, like now, when I’m embarking on a travel adventure. That day a few months ago, when I was notified that I was being laid off from my firm, instead of the wave of panicked nausea that I expected to experience, I felt like an angel flew through my head–in one ear and out the other–and sprinkled across my brain the glittery idea that I could use this change in circumstance as the opportunity it is, and do what I have been dreaming about doing for so long: travel the world. I don’t have to think too hard about who that angel might have been. I know it was my mom. I feel her approval in every step I take toward this upcoming grand adventure, and it gives me comfort and certainty that I am doing the right thing. I expect it to be wonderfully life changing, just like every adventure she created for me in the past. And, I know she can’t wait to go with me, in spirit, in my heart, everywhere I may go.
I had a bunch of errands to run and chores to do today, but I think it’s safe to say none of that is going to get done now, because, look what I just discovered: Kayak Explorer Tool. Oh yeah, if the OneWorld Round-The-World Ticket Planner incident is any indication, this is going to suck up most of my day, daydreaming about where I could go. The Kayak Explorer Tool is tucked away in the interior pages on the Kayak.com website, behind that unlabeled east-pointing bird beak on the home page, to the right of the main Flights/Hotels/Cars/Deals/Vacations menus. You just plug in your home airport (or whatever airport you would be flying from), and, if you want to, select a month or season, and set a flight price cap (or not), and the Explorer Tool shows you everywhere you can fly within your budget. Look!
Well, actually, it shows the results of other searches for those flights, so if no one has searched for the place you want to go, it won’t show up. Like, I looked to see what it would cost to fly from SFO to Nuuk, Greenland, and apparently I’m the only one who wants to go there, so there was no flag on that spot on these results. But, for the rest of the world, it’s a good way to get an idea what the airfare is going to be. Or, if you always wanted to wake up one morning and just walk into the airport and buy a ticket to wherever, this is an awesome way to see where wherever might be, given your budget. It also has a tool to see where you can fly non-stop from any given airport, although I noticed it doesn’t include flights on certain local or discount carriers, which I think would be required to make it complete. Anyway, it’s a great idea generator!
Thanks (or blame) to Nomadic Matt (www.nomadicmatt.com) for turning me on to this dream machine!