Bienvenidos a la Boda!

POSTED IN | 11:22 PM
On the morrow I will board a plane in OKC and after a couple of eight hours (without delay, hopefully) I'll be in Costa Rica. I'm going for my friend Diana's wedding. She lives in Tulsa, OK (though she used to be a Normanite) but her dad, Rudy (a swell hombre by all accounts), is from Cartago, Costa Rica. And thus, when your father is from CR and has a house there, why not get married there? Yes, why not indeed.

So she's getting married to Josh, a strapping lad from Orlando. It should be a good time. The wedding list reads about 70 names long. My old youth pastor from high school will be there and a few other peeps from my old church in Norman, so it should be good to catch up.

All the wedding guests have been given bright lime-green (eesh) t-shirts to travel in that read JOSH AND DIANA'S WEDDING so as to be easily spotted once in CR (read: blatant tourist entourage). But it should be an enjoyable week hanging with some old amigos and meeting some new ones, and I've been enlisted as the videographer for all pre-wedding events because the video dude bailed on them last minute. What a fool. You don't pass up wedding gigs like this. But I'm happy to roll some riveting footage. And don't worry, I'll have plenty of stills to show off too.

And once Diana and Josh are married they will be living in Cartago (in her rents' house) and will only be a half-hour bus ride (cost: 30 cents) from where I'll live in San Jose. So it will be nice to have some familiar faces not too far away, especially over Christmas as I'll not be venturing Oklahoma-side for the holidays.

Diana (middle) and Josh (left) and another friend on a balcony of the Cartago house. What a nice house you might say. Yes. Quite. And the cost of this entire house? $50k USD. How about let's all move there together?

CR countryside shot by Diana. Looks like my kind of terrain.

A little bike ride

POSTED IN | 12:46 PM

If you know me then you know I'm an idea man. A bit of a romantic idealist perhaps (though I don't like to be painted with that brush) whose always up for entertaining a new perspective on things (at least for a while) and contributing my own thoughts to the proverbial marketplace of ideas.

And if you've talked to me for an amount of time then you've probably endured my throwing about of an assortment of future potential life plans. (And thanks for nodding and saying uh huh while I'm talking even though you know things will probably change with the next high tide.)

But I've got one idea I've been simmering that tastes pretty good I think, and is relatively short-term, though certainly guaranteed to be a smidge arduous.

In August I will go to Costa Rica. And I will return Oklahoma-side at the end of February '08.

In the summer of '08 I will have my requisite military duty, starting in June or July.

So sometime between April and mid-June I would like to take a little bike ride. Inspired by some friends, the Beeses, Normanites who are biking to the geographic center of all fifty states in two years, I am proposing a trip across just a few of our states. Namely, I want to ride from Norman, Oklahoma to Portland, Maine. A scant 2,000 miles by my estimate.

I know people in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and finally, Maine. I'm envisioning about a month or month and a half journey, with a mixture of camping out while en route and also staying with people I know. Then, once arriving in Portland (where I'll stay with my uncle, hopefully in the bed and breakfast he is partial owner of there), I'll ship my trusty two-wheeler home and fly back to Oklahoma, saddle sore but with innumerable memories.

So. A little bike ride indeed. And it would be nice if I had a sidekick(s). Anyone wanna see some of the eastern US on bikeback? I think it would be worthwhile.

For other stimulating books (and ones that have been personally enjoyable if not influencial) see: Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, A Walk Across America, A Walk Across America 2: The Walk West, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, We Took to the Woods, and At Home in the Woods.)

New bike and the nephews

POSTED IN | 10:41 PM
Twenty six hours of surprisingly agreeable travel time saw me safely back in the Motherland on Thursday evening. And since I flew to Dallas, I decided to hangout with my bro and fam for a few days before heading north to N-town. A good decision. On Friday my heart warmed when Aaron said the magic words: "Hey, let's go to the bike store."

"YES. Let us do this," answered I.

And so it was he came into the possession of a '07 Specialized Rockhopper he'd been eyeing. A fine steed by all accounts. And then we rode it about the hood for a christening venture. The birds were singing, the bike tires humming contentedly, the Mid-Western breeze upon our skin. A fine tour by all measures, and I was just glad to be riding again, though I had to pilot the old bike.

Cruisin'. We were breaking a lot of rules with this setup, namely using a hiking child-porter for cycling purposes, and the overall absence of helmets. Shame on us for not having any. Please, if you ride, wear one. I've repented and seen the light myself. You might also point out that I was taking pictures while riding, but this is decidedly a legal undertaking. Two-handed riding is overrated.

Oldest nephew's costume for his friend's pirate birthday party. "Swashbuckling Sam."

The Connect Four game face.

Younger nephew goes for a swing.

Farewell, Island City

POSTED IN | 11:16 AM

Tonight I write my last installment from this majestic little outpost in the sea. And for a closer, Dan and I attended what we thought would be a really jive jazz concert at the Esplanade, Singapore's class A performance hall. We had great tickets to the show and they were actually free. But sadly the five piece group proved seriously lackluster and we spent the 45 minutes home on the train heatedly discussing the numerous lesser points of the show.

The only thing that kept it from getting a suck rating was that the drummer for the show was truly STUNNING. And he should be. He's Jimmy Cobb and at 78 years old he helped make jazz into what it is today. He played with Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the slightly popular album, Kind of Blue, that holds the quiet distinction of being the highest selling jazz album in history. So yeah, anyway, Jimmy held it together even though the seeming Vulcan pure-blood singer did all she could to ensure we left the auditorium hating her, the country of Italy (where she claims she's from) and the jazz genre at large (100 scat solos in a concert is NOT tasteful).

But here's to hearing an all-time jazz great. No doubt I'll look back and relish the privilege of saying I heard the great Jimmy Cobb.

And as I head back toward the home of bannered star spangles, I can only think that I made a pretty good mark on this asian land:

-I spit on the sidewalk and didn't get caught
-I jaywalked (avoided penalty here too)
-I willfully ingested fish eyes
-I said the words "uni," "petrol station," "top-up," "lorry," and "at loggerheads"
-I spoke in Chinese
-I spoke in Malay
-I tried my best to endure the mall-shopping stamina of the Singaporian populace (holy moses these people can shop!)
-I drank local beer
-I bravely weilded two small sticks to feed myself
-I sweated in an entirely new and altogether more funky aroma (it's gotta be linked to the food)
-I drank authentic Chinese tea and learned the art and relaxing powers of serving it
-I peed in a hole that was actually a toilet
-I observed a maid clean my underpants (and iron them too!), tidy up my room, cook me meals, tote my bags about, and then ask what else she could do for me (and all in a very mannerly fashion)
-I learned more geography of Asia
-I discovered my new love for mangos and ate more than 20 of them while here
-I remembered that visiting a place is about more than the sights, smells and tastes. It's about people. And this trip has been no exception. Nary an Okie has received the smattering of warm hospitality and genuine generosity as I have in this town. I couldn't have envisioned a better experience than what the Ling fam provided. And it's just been really great to visit a good friend on his home turf (a turf that happens to grow 10,000 miles away from mine), and interact with some of the most important people in his life.

It's been odd at certain times during these past days to step out of the flow of activities and remember why I'm here, how I got here and how random it is that Dan and I are even friends. But then I remember January of '05 when Mister D. Ling and I met and how we talked from the beginning about my coming to visit his homeland.

"Hey, you should come visit me in Singapore sometime."

"Singapore? Where the heck is that?"

And I feel thankful to come experience so much in my 13 days here, expanding my global outlook, and enjoying some unique moments in a foreign place with quality company.

Majulah, Singapura!

Birds and Singlish

Today we went to the Jurong Bird Park on the east side of the island. It's really well known and basically it features bookoo species of wing'ed creatures (600, actually) and some really well planned and even picturesque grounds for being in the heart of a dense urban area. And Dan's mom is the head-honcho executive director there, so we basically got to do whatever we wanted and all for free. We donned badges that boldly said GUEST and traipsed about like we owned the place. Thanks, Auntie Daisy!

We also got behind-the-scenes info about the park (number of tourism awards the park has won, upkeep costs, which birds are dating which other birds -- apparently a Blue Footed Booby over in Rare Aquatics has his eye on a Toucan in Colorful Tropicals). We also learned that the park spends about two grand each year vaccinating their 8,000 birds against the Avian Flu. No birds have been infected to date. I can only think this is a good thing.

One of the exhibits is a huge caged-in area with free flying birdies. You enter through an entryway covered with cool hippie-style beads (they keep the birds from flying out) and walk out onto a suspended platform in the middle, about 40 feet above the densely forested ground below.

And as I stood on the precipiece, I realized suddenly that it was like being in Jurassic Park. I looked for Compys darting below in the shaded tropical underbrush and actually wondered, if the enclosement were to contain Velociraptors, if I would be safe from my little perch and how exactly I would get away from them if they tried to attack! My, how the imagination it bad that I have a fear of extinct animals? Maybe it's the tropical heat that's getting to me...but a really neat bird park nonetheless. I like the advent of once again seeing creatures larger than a cockroach. It seems that tiny island-cities don't have much in terms of wildlife, and understandably so.

And I also encountered Singlish first hand this past week. We've been hanging out with some of Dan's friends and it's been interesting and amusing to hear English being spoken in such a different flavor.

Basically these Singaporeans are kind of low-talkers, and speak quickly and sorta mumble. I had to remind myself several times that yes, I too speak this language.

And to really blend in, you gotta add the word "la" after some phrases, and also the word "one."

For example:

"Okay, la, I heard you..."


"Don't do it like that, one..."

But I've also had to catch myself using American slangs and opt for more generic language instead for ease of communication. I dropped the word shenanigans into casual conversation and got some stares. And Dan used the phrase "hitting it up" and received a similar response.

But such is part of the fun of speaking the same, and yet different, language. As the Britons would say to their American friends, "We're two nations divided by a common language."

Indeed, indeed.

A swell day overall.


They have a Birds of Prey show at the park. It's pretty cool. They have all manner of falcons, hawks and other taloned flying things. I think I'd enjoy falconry as a hobby.

"Falcon, scratch his eyes out..."

Part of the show included birds swooping about and grabbing various things with their spikes. This cute little kid from India held out chopsticks with meat on the end and a hawk swooped in and picked it off.

Behold, the king of the American skies. This made me think about Marty Stouffer. Then I wondered what Marty would look like if he were asian...

Oh, and a few bonus interlude shots we got at the park...

This is Tuma, a Malaysian Fish Owl.

We got to pet a penguin too. Dan gave it a pet and it started trumpeting and waddling off. The handler invervened and set things straight. The little bird was cooing rather unhappily. The fur is surprisingly fluffy and yet firm. I was expecting wet and smooth.

A random shot that made me happy. How I do miss my Trek at home though...
The Malaysia adventure is old news by now, but I thought these pics were noteworthy enough to share in a separate post.

When you reach the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur you immediately notice the tall buildings. And the Petronas Towers certainly spice up the KL cityscape. But it's not till you get up close that you realize how impressive the towers are. And if you're from Oklahoma, anything taller than a red-ant hill or spiro mound is rather exciteable. So here are some shots and figures about the 1,483 ft. twin structures. I like random facts and numbers, so perhaps you can find some of these stats of interest as well. Sadly we didn't get to go up in the towers because apparently they have a finite number of tickets per day for tourists. Lame.

Number of floors: 88
Total concrete used: 196,000 tons
Reinforcement: 10,955 tons
Structural steel: 7,500 tons of beams and trusses
Total steel used: 36,910 tons
Doors: 1,800 numbers
Stairs: 765 flights
Total sq. feet: 4,251,780
Depth of foundation: 150 meters
Weight per tower: 300,000 tons

And this amusing fact I found on wikipedia:

"On March 20th, 1997, French urban climber, Alain "Spiderman" Robert, using only his bare hands and feet and with no safety devices, scaled the building's exterior glass and steel wall. Police arrested him at the 60th floor, 28 floors away from the "summit". He made a second attempt on March 20th 2007, exactly 10 years later, and was stopped once again on the same floor (though on the other tower)."

Quite the present-day Jacques Cousteau type. I think the Malays should have let him climb to the top. He did 60 stories, what's another 28?

A cutting-edge KL fashion statement. I don't think the Malays were ready for it. I pulled in some stares from passersby, but you only get a shot like this once in a lifetime so I couldn't resist. As a side note, I found polyester doesn't jive well with a tropical climate. So unless you need some serious head-turning garment power, you're better off leaving the cruisewear at home.

Where's Dan-O?


Malaysia with some pictures

Well, we made it back to Singapore today, as sound as a kilogram. And it's actually nice to be back. Malaysia is a wonderful place with fascinating sights, sounds, smells and the like. BUT, it's also kind of wheels off. Kind of Wild West style. I got the distinct feeling that it's a place where people might approach you in a less-than-mannerly fashion and strongly suggest you donate your valuables to them with not so much as a tax write-off slip in return. And certainly this type of ruffianish activity is present everywhere, but I kept a short leash on my rupples and gold pieces just to be sure.

As evidence of this, the lovely older woman we stayed with one night in Klang was robbed while walking to her neighborhood market. A strung out and desperate drugie was presumably the perpetrator...

But at any rate, we met some great folks in Malaysia(see below) and I mangaged to pick up a few new Malay and Chinese phrases for the road. For instance:

A Chinese saying commending the benefits of traveling, translated: "It is better for a man to travel 1,000 miles than for a man to read 10,000 books."

Ching Ching Yo Wei = an idiom for "this meal was delicious." I think it's kind of like saying "Hot Damn! Good cookin' mama!" Either way it gets laughs from the locals when I say it after a meal. Uncle Stanley has me whip it out on cue for the collective enjoyment of the whole dinner table. I told Uncle Stanley we should go on the road with our act, but he thought our repertoire is a bit limited. But it's a good time. A good cross-cultural connection...

And some Malay action:

Terima Kasih = "Thank You"
Sangat Sedap = "Very Delicious"

And a rather interesting Chinese phrase:

Xiang Pi Bu Cou, Cou Pi Bu Xiang
= roughly "A loud fart never skinks, and a quiet fart always skinks."

Educational through and through for sure...

And on a different note, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Uncle Stanley about sunscreen before we hit the beach in Port Gibson.

Uncle Stanley (knocking on the door): Okay, let's go to the beach now, you boys up from your nap?
Me: Yeah, we're awake but I'll need some sunscreen.
Uncle Stan: Oh, you won't need any sunscreen, the sun is not intense at this time of day.
Me: Uh, yeah I think I'm going to need some. Look at me (gesturing at relative skin tone).
Uncle Stan (laughing): Oh yeah, you better get some cause you don't have any pigments...
Dan (suddenly interested and amused by the convo): OH, you got dissed!

It was the Pigments vs. the Pigmentless and I was outnumbered 2-1. Sheesh, and you always call OTHERS racist, Dan. Unbelievable...unbelievable.

Gotta love that Uncle Stan though...he's a tricky one. Always with the jokes...

Ok. Enough. The photos:

It's good to know that construction workers are lazy the world round.

Uncle Stan displaying a prized Durian fruit. We searched high and low for a fruit stand that had some. And I must say it's quite funky. It's really (oddly) creamy and almost garlicky, but to its benefit it finishes smoothly. But gosh, I don't think it's worth the gaseous revolution brought about by its presence in the belly. Quite odeous indeed.

Man and Durian.

Bahkud Teh - "pork rib and tea" in Malay. It's a traditional dish from the city of Klang, Malaysia. That's pork rib in the soup along with tasty herbs and pig stomach. It's quite agreable served over the requisite rice pilaf.

Uncle Stanley is the regional director for SIM (Serving in Missions), a global, multi-denominational mission organization. He had a meeting in Klang with some of the other Malaysian pastors with SIM (hence our trip to Malaysia). It was great to chat with these folks (their English was excellent and most of them also speak Malay and Mandarin). It's neat to see God at work in other parts of the world. I was treated like an old friend amongst these people and I couldn't help but feel a part of the team as Uncle Stanley introduced me as "John, a dear brother." Good people, this lot. And the guy on the far left went to seminary at Westminster in Philadephia.

This is Lily who we stayed with in Klang (the one who got robbed by the druggie). She's a very warm and compassionate lady. She and her late husband were missionaries in Ethiopia and Nigeria before working with SIM in Singapore. She retired and moved to Klang a few years ago.

Proper travel attire.

I rode in one of the Malaysian pastor's vehicles. I got in and immediately banged my head on the LOW roof. Ouch. There were also no seatbelts to be found. Just had to crouch down and hope for the best.

For the Brits.

Uncle Stan with my sunglasses.

Dan's "Jean-Claude" look.

The Ling family on the beach in Port Gibson.

Malacca, Malaysia.

Always a classic shot.

The church of St. Francis Xavier in Malacca.

Malaysian countryside.

Islam has a huge presence among the Malaysian populace. Mosque spires permeate the cityscapes and Hijabs and Kufi hats are the norm. And I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore when the morning call to prayer roused me from sleep at 5:30 one morning as it blared from a nearby Mosque loudspeaker. You won't get these religious elements in the cultural mainstream of Oklahoma. That's for certain.

Rain in Malacca.

Curried laksa with wintermelon juice. Powerfully delicious. OMG.


The Ling family and I tossed the rice cooker in the family sedan on Monday along with some luggage and headed north for a little get-away. We passed through the checkpoints out of Singapore and into Malaysia uneveventfully albeit being pillaged in the pocketbook, and I happily got two fresh stamps in the 'Port for show and tell. Beauty.

I enjoyed seeing open terrain again as we ventured into the Malay countryside. This Okie does enjoy his open spaces. The rolling greenery gave way to distant low mountains and the palm oil trees stretched as far as the eye could see before the eye fell asleep in the back seat. I'm still not over the weighty 11 hour time change yet, methinks.

So basically our trip to Malaysia will highlight several cities: Malacca, Port Gibson and finally the majestic capital, Kuala Lumpur. We "did" Malacca yesterday, staying in a pretty boss hotel with a free sushi buffet and comped booze. Rockin. Dan's dad warned him to "not drink too much of that, cause you are only eighteen." Indeed. Indeed. There'll be plenty of time for that, Dan Yao.

A couple of things stand out from Malacca. In the mid-1550s, St. Francis Xavier was buried here, having spent a good amount of his life converting the Malay fishermen to Catholicism. This isn't so interesting except that we have a university named after him, and that university has a pretty upstanding D-1 basketball program. Some portugese saint who died in small-town Malaysia after a life of celebacy and absolute devotion? Pshaw...turn it to ESPN II, Xavier's playing Duke. Seriously.

I also got my first taste of curried laksa yesterday. Sweet mother of coconut curries! The spicy, curried, noodly, soupy goodness burned all the way down and warmed my spririts aplenty. We ate at a local place in Malacca, the closest thing to a hole-in-the wall "Joe's Burger Joint" back in the 'States, I'd say. The toilet was a hole in the ground.

You just gotta lock on target and get your feet out-the-way and hope for the best, you know? And really, what option did I have? I could ask for another toileting option, but no one would understand. They would just stare as is their custom when stumbling upon The Great White Gringo (TGWG). This isn't SO much of a tourist area you see, and to some the ol' White Skin is still somewhat of a novelty. Lucky for me...

Regardless, the beautiful Laksa cost 3 Malay dollars, or "Ringgit." And I did the math. With the current exchange rate for the USD, the meal cost me negative 60 cents. I actually should have been paid to eat it. I graciously explained this to the locals and they agreed to put it on my tab for my next visit this way. Fair enough I thought.

But all-in-all it's been a grand ole time with Uncle Stanley, Auntie Daisy and Dan-O. Mainly we walk or drive about until we bump into something. Then we either eat it or take a picture of it, depending on the societal norms. And sometimes we do both.

But I'm definitely thinking that this trip will give me more than just an irreplacable cultural experience. Rather, I'll no doubt come home with a few extra kilograms around the waistline as a souvenir. But golly, I've never had so many fine vittles. Uncle Stanley suggested that I pick up a Chinese wife whilst over here to give me a lifetime of quality cooking. We'll see. So far no prospects...

So, you'll notice there are no photos. Sadly I left my camera cable back in Singapore, so no pics until Thursday. *Sigh* I assure you I'm taking them though, so there'll be no gap in the documentation.

Until then, good day and

More Culture from the Lion City

POSTED IN | 11:04 PM
Some more shots of food and various things around town. I'm learning a few Chinese sayings and learning how insanely difficult the language is to learn for a honky like me. I'll repeat something back to Dan exactly like he says it and he just shakes his head. Oye vey. And I find my initial reaction when spoken to in Chinese is to answer in Spanish. Like that's going to do a lot of good here...

It's also RATHER hot here and the humidity readily apparent, but Singapore is really a beautiful city. For being such a densely populated place it is quite peaceful, stragely quiet and oddly clean. And I've not felt at all unsafe in any of the places we've ventured. Pretty remarkable for a big city.

And I'm still trying to process the idea of people having live-in "domestic helpers" here. They basically do a lot of work and charge very little for their services. I feel very odd asking for something or just expecting Dan's maid, Yanti, to do things for me like she does for everyone else. I have no category for this paradigm in my mind. And I'll say this is the first time for a woman besides my mother to launder my dirty underpants. Kind of strange, no?

Alas, the photos:

Famous cityscape shot. I want to get this one at night at some point too.

Ice cream on bread from a street vendor. A genuine ice cream sandwich. Probably the best iced cream I've tasted in a long time.

I assure you, the Powerpuff Girls are alive and well in this side of the world. I couldn't stop chuckling to myself about their popularity in mainstream culture, and all the people photographing them. Dan said "What is soo funny, John?"

Kolo Mee, Abolone (in the bowl) and Aloe Vera juice. Scary good. And I'm getting better with the 'sticks.

Shot from the roof of Dan's house.

The infamous Durian fruit. So far I've not tried it, but my time is coming. They say you either love it or hate it. Perhaps it's not unlike Marmite in this regard...

Open air market. Everything's fresh and local. Dan's dad has been coming to this market near their house for 20 years and knows all the independent merchants. Quite a novel idea, no? I can't name a single employee at the Wal-Mart back home. That's Yanti on the right.

We ate this fish head for dinner. Quite tasty. I definitely ate one of the eyeballs. A little slimy but surprisingly flavorful. Dan said he's never eaten one, so I've successfully one-upped a local. Booyah!

Here I am just blending in like one of the locals...

These guys were diassembling this stage when we passed by. Dan's dad said that every year the local Buddhists and Taoists have a big get together to worship an indescriminate god of their choice at this place. They have some tongue cutting rituals and then have a big party, Dan's dad said. Makes me think of a certain story about Elijah and some self-mutilation and the all-consuming fire...

On weekends a bunch of locals will gather near the market at this place. The things on the poles are bird cages, and people bring their pet song birds here to merely let them all sing together and enjoy the ensuing music. I've never seen anything like this. And apparently they have competitions for whose bird sings the best. Dan's mom used to be a judge. It seems like a pretty relaxing way to spend a Saturday morning I'd say. It is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bird) though, as Dan pointed out.

Breakfast at an Indian curry joint with Dan and his dad (Stanley - pictured). We had amazing bread-ish, eggy, cheesy things with curried sauce with lamb. And for a sweet finish this semi-circle behemoth crunchy thing covered in chocolate sauce. Of course these all have official names but I've forgetten them by now. But certainly one of the best breakfasts I've had in some time. I even ate more than Dan, and that's saying something.

Glorified chocolate milk, with indian undertones.

Dan and his dad grooving out. Stanley loves country western he said.

Spacing Out: my jet lag was overwhelming me yesterday evening and I found it difficult to string together coherent sentences. My body has no idea what's going on right now. It's on a crazy new time schedule and is being fed copious amounts of exotic food.

The funkiest fruit I'v ever seen. Looks like something Han Solo would've ordered in the Mos Eisley Cantina. You peel the furry stuff off and eat the sweet, white fruit.