Summer in Beijing

I parked my bike and found a coffee shop just in time, as I look out the window and watch people scramble for shelter from the sudden downpour.  Beijing has been in unfathomably hot and humid for a few weeks, broken only recently by some rain. It’s the first Sunday in quite a while that it’s comfortable enough to get on my bicycle for a ride across town, look for streets I’ve never found before. It’s good to remember that Beijing is so much bigger than the diplomatic and business quarter of the eastern Chaoyang District. 


I did take a few days off last week to visit Penang, Malaysia. I still remember when, in fall 2004, new passport in hand, I left North America for the first time to spend a year there as an exchange student. It was incredible to go back, and striking how familiar it felt. 


I remember many walks through the tree lined streets of the campus of Univeritas Sains Malaysia,  and many bowls of noodles at the lively food courts, above. 

It’s wonderful that much of the downtown became a UNESCO heritage site a few years ago, so a lot of what makes the island state unique are still there. 


And of course, with its blend of Chinese, Indian, and Thai, Penang’s cuisine is famous. 

Building Walls 

A rare blue sky let in the afternoon sunlight, drawing long shadows off the old turrets. And the cold December air kept the crowds away too. 


China is good at building walls, now it’s working on its belts and roads. 

A Good Place to Get Stranded

The minibus from Rize, Turkey got me to Camlihensin, and in that wonderful little mountain town in the Firtina valley I jumped in a van whose driver was apparently accepting money for rides. (The music selection on the radio was all his, I soon discovered)
Finally, I made it to the day’s destination, the Middle Ages era castle Zil Kale, first a defense and lookout post for the Black Sea towns for eastern threats, later an important point along the trade route further west into today’s Turkey.

20140803-194640-71200640.jpg

20140803-194642-71202016.jpg

The trip from the coast south into the Kackars mountain range of northern Turkey would have been worth it in itself, but the castle was fantastic.
My next destination was the village of Ayder, further to the east in the mountains. This didn’t seem too over ambitious on the map, but doubts arose when there were no buses from the castle back to the main road, 13 kilometers down a cliff side road.
Luckily, two friendly local Turkish fellows found this strange lost American curious enough that they crammed me the back seat along with their fishing gear, a few watermelons from a mountainside farm, and a pile of freshly caught river fish.

20140803-195222-71542641.jpg

20140803-195221-71541631.jpg

To my surprise the driver broke out in fantastic English, explaining that he lived in southern Georgia, USA for about ten years at some point.

“I didn’t have a green card or anything, I was jus working in some Turkish restaurant there. But no one helped me out,” he trailed off, leaving me to assume he came home before he would have liked. “America is the greatest country on earth,” he concluded.

I made it to Ayder, an admittedly gorgeous valley town, but it has become such a tourist trap as to make it unpleasant, unfortunately.

20140803-195752-71872913.jpg

The town, with its majestic waterfall and full service hot springs spa, has for some reason become a favorite among tourists from the Middle East, many of the women and girls slowly swaying up the cobblestoned streets of Ayden in full black Burkas. The minibus back to Rize, my own “base camp,” was me and one large Saudi man, his three wives and seven children.

Cleveland Food Finds

Cleveland’s neighborhoods of note are scattered around the city and are separated by expansive chunks of urbanity that do not inspire the visitor to linger. But if you find the right Clevelander (probably the heavily tattooed bartender or barista) with the right directions, there are some wonderfully unexpected culinary delights to be had. Notable, for me, are Momoco in Ohio City, hole in the wall and hip contemporary Mexican that has a line out the door at 4:30 on any Saturday afternoon (adobe roasted wild boar taquitos with goat cheese guacamole?); Tommy’s in Coventry, from greasy comfort food to tempe and veggie burgers, very friendly to food allergy needs and awesome milkshakes; and Noodle Cat in east downtown, celebrity chad having way too much fun with Japanese noodles (manhattan clam chowder miso udon noodle soup?).

20140227-101707.jpg

20140227-101725.jpg

20140227-101743.jpg

20140227-101758.jpg

20140227-101814.jpg

20140227-101904.jpg

20140227-101921.jpg

20140227-101934.jpg

20140227-101952.jpg

20140227-102015.jpg

20140227-102024.jpg

20140227-102040.jpg

20140227-102054.jpg

20140227-102106.jpg

20140227-102116.jpg

20140227-102127.jpg

Jakarta – the humanity!

Apparently, one more person can ALWAYS get on the train, despite all conventions concerning safety, or common decency for that matter.

20131001-180635.jpg

Thankfully, my es buah at the market outside the train station helped calm my momentary distaste for all of humanity…

20131001-180840.jpg