Tag Archives: New People

Cycling in Vietnam – Hanoi

Day 1:  Our jet-lagged party of six was greeted by our friendly guide Nam upon landing at Hanoi airport in Vietnam  and we felt instantly in good hands. On our trip from the airport to the Authentic Hanoi Hotel, my first thought was “where is the sun”?.   The hazy sky of Hanoi seemed a combination of exhaust, smoke, and humidity, and it was hard to pinpoint where the sun actually resided.

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A roundabout near our hotel

Hanoi is a crazy chaotic city with an astonishing number of small cars, trucks,  scooters, bikes, pedal cabs and people that drive, walk, cycle and park in whatever direction they want, on the roads and sidewalks.   The majority of vehicles are scooters, which carry up to four people, and are often used to carry huge loads including fish traps, produce, poultry, eggs, and building supplies.  Whole families with the dad in front, mom in back, and two small children sandwiched between them are seen everywhere.  Most intersections are  uncontrolled and the infrequent traffic lights are largely ignored.  There is a constant cacophony of honking, and weaving going on, but there’s a certain rhythm to it all that works.  Paul summed up the rules of the road as “Everyone has the right of way;  just don’t hit anyone.”  Road rage seems nonexistent.  But more than half the scooter riders wear face masks to filter out the fumes.

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Intrepid pedestrians

Crossing a busy road for the first time was a life-altering experience.    Traffic will never stop for pedestrians, even at a crosswalk.  Our guide Nam instructed us to raise a hand, move into the fray (and pray), walk slowly but steadily, make no sudden moves,  and weave in between the traffic.  The ‘raise your hand’ step didn’t seem to  be used by the locals, but perhaps helped the locals recognize us as tourists and make some allowances for us.  The method of  give and take, ebb and flow, seems to work.   Nam shared with us a story of his friend who got a ticket from the local police for not stopping at a traffic light.  The police asked him “Did you see the light” and he said “Yes’.  The policeman then asked”  So why didn’t you stop” and he said  “because I didn’t see you”.  Wrong answer, followed by pretty large fine.

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The 1000-eyed Buddha might have foiled the pickpocket

I wasn’t paying attention on the first day while walking in a crowded tourist area in the Old Quarter, around Hoan Kiem Lake,  one hour into our first outing, and  had my wallet stolen from my purse.  Cancelled the cards quickly, but lost some cash.  Took a day to shake off the funk, but it was a reasonably inexpensive lesson.  After several tips with my bag zippers pinned together, I had grown careless.

Dinner out at a nice restaurant with nearby croaking frogs.  Great spring rolls, beer passable.

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The sacred unicorn

Day 2: We also had the second day on our own, so we visited the Museum of Natural History, where we discovered the four most important sacred animals for the Vietnamese – the phoenix, unicorn, turtle and dragon.  Of these, only the turtle closely resembles the western concept.    We now had our “Hanoi legs”:  using bottled water, finding our way around the restaurants and local shops, figuring out the money  (15,000 Dong = 1 Canadian dollar) and how the ATMs work, and returning to the correct hotel at the end of the day.  Still, we kept forgetting to watch for mopeds traveling counterflow on both sides of the street, and seriously doubted our sanity when we contemplated a city tour by bicycle the following day.

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About one ATM in five honoured our cards

We failed to notice that the Temple of Literature was on tomorrow’s tour agenda, and spent a couple of hours marveling at this centuries-old university.

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At the outskirts of Hanoi

Day 3: Our single day of cycling in Hanoi consisted of a visit to crowded cemeteries and rural pottery plants, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (closed Mondays and Fridays, unfortunately for us), the Ethnology Museum,  the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Citadel.  As with almost every meal on this tour, we enjoyed a copious set-menu lunch at a nicely appointed restaurant revealed to us by our guide.  Still enjoying the spring rolls.

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Excess kumquats

After our first and only day of cycling 30 kms within Hanoi, at the end of the day were amazed at how well we had done in the traffic, without feeling the  panic we would have felt doing the same at home.  The relatively slow pace of the cars/scooter/bikes probably made this workable.  Speeds ranged from 10 kph for the latter to 30 for the former.  We finished the day with a colourful water puppet show just a block from the spot I last saw my wallet.

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Nam, our guide for the North

We especially enjoyed the personal stories told us by Nam:  how he’d helped a friend dig up his ancestor after three years in an overcrowded cemetery so his bones could be reburied more compactly;  how he’d paid for his condo with a backpack full of Vietnamese cash (worth about US$ 38,000) delivered by scooter;  how he’d paid his bride’s parents about one percent of that for the ”bride price,” and a bargain at any price.  Friends of Nam’s, faced with a bride price financially out of reach, did an end run around the parents by getting in the family way.

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At the Museum of Ethnology (Objects not to scale)

We were most fascinated by the Ethnology Museum, where we learned a little about some of Vietnam’s many ethnic groups, some male-dominated, others ruled by the women.  We would run into several of these groups during our rural cycling in the days to come.  We tried out some of the houses on stilts, not unlike one we would later spend a night in.  We fell asleep dreaming of the quiet country roads we hoped were in our future.

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Several ethnic minorities live on stilts

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Changing of Ho Chi Minh’s guard

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Going Nomad

Once again, the months have vanished. I’m going to call it a period of consolidation.

Since last summer, we’ve embarked on a series of changes, triggered while Cheryl and I jogged a deserted forest road in the early morning sun. “I think it’s time to retire,” she said.

Within a few days, our plan was hatched. We decided to move out of the city and put almost everything in storage in the small coastal town where we were currently holidaying. That way we could move into temporary digs in our new hometown and scout out the area.

While breakfasting with friends – two local and two from Australia – we hatched a plan to take advantage of our lightened state and travel Down Under. We hadn’t been to Australia since our four-year-stay in the mid-80s, and there was a lot we didn’t see then. Soon, the six of us were planning six weeks in northern New South Wales and Queensland, including time based in our Aussie friends’ “intentional community” and a 2400km AirBnB road-trip down the coast from Cairns.

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Our friends at “Shedders” have sparked considerable media attention.

Our friends’ three-couple home north of Sydney will be fascinating to visit and get to know in some details. As we’ve discussed here, the communal lifestyle has piqued our interest, but we’ve yet to figure out how best to implement it in our new hometown.

Cheryl and I decided to add some other countries before and after Australia, and we soon had a different group of six enrolled in an organized Vietnam cycling adventure including Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City. For a romantic wrap up, the two of us will join a two-week small-group tour of Bali and Lombok in Indonesia.

When we return from this 10-week adventure – our longest trip since Costa Rica – we’ve booked two months of an AirBnB in our new hometown.   Following that, we’ll be doing a local 10-day cycle trip and a weekend kayaking adventure on southern Vancouver Island with our old outdoor club. Hopefully, by June we’ll know where we’re living after that. But in three weeks, after a dozen years at the same address, we’ll officially be nomads.

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We’ll live first in historic Townsite – Sept. 2013 photo by Robert Dall

Since the summer, the days have dissolved into an endless round of decluttering and packing.   We’re finally finishing up the decluttering project begun almost two years ago, having reduced our volume of “stuff” by more than half. I’m looking forward to spending some months with just a few bags and the everyday essentials, although Cheryl and I have had frequent set-tos about what constitutes “essential.”

There’s also been an endless series of tasks involved in severing our ties with our current hometown, where we’ve lived pretty much continuously for 28 years. Earlier on, most of them involved work, but in the past few weeks, more of them have been in the nature of “goodbye dinners” and the like. It’s bittersweet, and reminds us how important it will be to “find our tribes” in our new community come May.

But today, the focus is on our upcoming trip, buying SIM cards, and entering all our trip details in TripCase. Only 20 more sleeps, and only three more work days left for Cheryl.

Cheryl’s anticipated freedom has already had some effects. You may have noticed that my voice has been the dominant one so far on this blog, and that lately it’s been hit and miss. During our upcoming trip, and the new-home adventures after that, we’re planning on returning to more frequent posting and sharing the load more evenly. Let’s see how we can do on collaborative posts.

Cities, Cities, Cities

Much of our travel both past and planned centers around rural adventures: sailing the Cyclades, or cycling Provence or Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands or Vietnam north to south, for example. Visiting cities has often been an afterthought.

Still, besides Vancouver, the beautiful and fascinating city where we’ve lived these past three decades, we have stumbled on some interesting cities in our recent travels. We blogged about one favorite: Ljubljana, Slovenia. On that same Dalmatian cycling trip, we were also surprised at how much we enjoyed wandering around the Croatian capital of Zagreb. When we do visit cities, we prefer to explore them on foot; we greatly enjoyed our pay-what-you-want tours in Paris with Discover Walks. Often we just like to wander.

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While visiting Zagreb, we couldn’t miss the Museum of Broken Relationships

Sometime, though, when a guide is not available, it’s nice to have an alternative. Returning from Buenos Aires, some friends recommended GPSmyCity, which offers over 5000 app-guided walks in over 470 cities worldwide. We will likely try them out during our upcoming travel. Covered cities we will visit include Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane in Australia, and Denpasar in Bali, Indonesia.

Recently the folks at GPSmyCity contacted us with a special offer to our readers. The first 20 readers who comment on this post nominating their favorite city attraction will receive a promo code for one of their full-version city walk apps. Each such code allows a free download of the app, which normally costs US$4.99 at the App Store. So leave a comment with your nominated attraction, and if you qualify, let us know how you enjoy your GPSmyCity tour. (If you nominate an attraction in one of our upcoming destinations, you’ll also win a special place in our hearts.)

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One of the guardians of Ljubljana’s Dragon Bridge.

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Don’t forget to nominate your favorite city attraction below.  First 20 get a free promo code for a GPSmyCity city app of their choice.  In your comment, please also specify: iOS or Android, and your choice of city.  (One code per email address.  Offer expires March 5, 2016.  Codes will be emailed by mid-March.)

Kedging for Fun and Non-profits

In sailing terms, kedging is the process of moving a ship forward by sending an anchor out ahead of it, and then pulling the ship forward by hauling on the anchor. This slow and laborious process can be repeated indefinitely.

“Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond”

As the book “Younger Next Year” explains, the same process can be used to pull yourself through the slow and laborious process of a daily exercise regime. The idea is to set a physical stretch goal that will keep you moving forward when the couch is softly calling.

Last year, I had used our upcoming fall cycling trip to the hilly Dalmatian Islands as my kedge, and the thought of those climbs got me out riding our local hills on many a summer’s day.

This year, I elected to participate in a late-August two-day bicycle ride to raise funds for cancer research. However, the real fun began when I elected the optional “challenge” route of 290 km (180 miles.) The longer Day One would be close to double the longest ride I’d ever done.

As I started my training rides, I soon realized that my trusty hybrid cycle was not up to the task. At a top average speed of perhaps 22 kph, I’d be at risk of not finishing before dark. I also wanted to join the local road-riding club for extra weekly motivation, and they had a “no hybrids” policy. So, in April, I acquired an entry-level road bike, the first since my 20s. Shortly after that, I persuaded myself to try “clipless pedals” – so called because the cyclist’s shoes are clipped into the pedals – go figure!

As anyone who’s had their feet attached to the pedals can tell you, a few slow-motion falls are to be expected, especially on days with high cross winds. It hurts a lot less if you land on flat ground rather than a roadside planter. Ouch!

Trying out the new "clipless" pedals

Trying out the new “clipless” pedals

As spring headed towards summer and I worked my way towards 225 km a week, I inched my average ride speed from 22 to 24, then 25, and finally 27 kph. That was the point I’d told myself I’d be ready to join my first group ride. An informal ride was advertised for Tuesday morning: “Pensioners’ Easy Ride.” That sounded good.

I arrived at the meeting point with a slightly bloodied knee – remember those cross winds? The collection of sleek carbon-fiber machines looked intimidating, and some of those “pensioners” must have taken very early retirement. For 20 km, I managed to keep them in sight – although it nearly cost me a lung – after which, they disappeared from view. At the end-of-route coffee stop, they gently suggested the “other” club might be closer to my speed.

Towards the end of the summer, I did manage to get out with the “other” club a few times, and while the rides kept me moving, I was able to hold my own. Good thing! I had my hands full learning the hand signals and other techniques for riding in close formation. This was a very different style of riding than what we do in our recreational club, and I came back from a few “white knuckle” rides with aching fingers.

Fellow riders on the bike trail into Cascade Locks, OR

Fellow riders on the bike trail into Cascade Locks, OR

Meanwhile, our recreational club kept Cheryl and me busy this summer with a number of great rides including a three-day circuit of Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, a multi-day exploration of the BC wine country around Oliver, and a couple days of riding on Washington’s Whidbey and BC’s Pender Island. I knew my training was starting to have an effect when fellow riders remarked on how my hill climbing had improved, and sometimes complained that my “easy” pace seemed to be quickening.

Despite all this, by August I was growing concerned that I still hadn’t proven to my own satisfaction that I could do the ride at month end. So I pushed myself to do longer rides, and ten days ago, I completed my longest ride ever. Although I was still only at 75 percent of Day One, I knew I still had the reserves to do that last 25 percent — and before sunset to boot. Not a moment too soon, as our training advisors soon told us it was time to taper down for event day.

Now, with the ride only a few days off, the kedge has done its work. It got me out cycling on the days I otherwise wouldn’t: when it was too hot, or sprinkling, or when my road bike needed repairs and I needed to take my hybrid. It got me out earlier, later, and longer. My attitude towards hills shifted from “OK, if I have to” to “Bring’ em on – I need the practice!” A 70-km cycle went from being a full-day’s outing to a shorter morning ride.

Cycling Friends, on the ferry to Lummi Is, WA

Cycling Friends, on the ferry to Lummi Is, WA

It got me trying new things such as close-formation riding on a new type of bicycle. I met a whole new set of people I wouldn’t have found otherwise. And it kept me focused on my goal while dealing with a number of mechanical problems such as bent derailleurs, broken spokes, and the need to replace a wheel. And ergonomic problems – I had to hire a bike fitter to implement the recommendations of my physiotherapist. It’s definitely helped my fitness, including loosening a couple of joints that had been over-tight since last October.

This particular kedge has also done something else. It’s allowed me to raise several thousand dollars towards cancer research. For many riders, the fundraising part is the hardest – and many struggle with it. In my case, a number of generous friends, associates, and family members made the job painless. All I had to do was keep them entertained with my painful cycling pratfalls.

Taking a break from cycling on Pender Island, BC

Taking a break from cycling on Pender Island, BC

With only a few days left, I’m looking forward to my weekend ride – forecasts of showers notwithstanding – and already wondering what my next kedge will be. While Cheryl and I plan a 400-km cycling trip in Vietnam early next year, it doesn’t seem solid enough for the purpose. So, I’ll have to come with something else. Stay tuned. I’m off for an evening training ride.

What experience have you had with your own kedges?

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Spark Spotting in Uganda: Sawa World

The “problems” I’ve been blogging about here are definitely “first world problems”: low-cost travel, best mobile technology, staying active in retirement.

But I’m reminded that there are still a billion people in this world trying to get by on a dollar per day. This grinding poverty persists despite huge amounts spent on private and government foreign aid since World War II.

“Dead Aid” by Dambisa Moyo

Some say what’s needed is more aid – and more aid might help with specific problems, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and malnutrition. However, especially in Africa, there’ve been voices questioning the efficacy of government-to-government aid, and other forms of top-down “first world” solutions. In the post-War decades, there was development economist, Peter T. Bauer and his “Dissent on Development.” More recently, Zambia’s Dambisa Moyo published “Dead Aid”, so titled in reference to the famous “Live Aid” concerts. She argued that these programs have primarily served to keep populations beholden to charismatic dictators living high on Western largesse. It’s a sobering assessment. And while Moyo was more positive about the micro-finance movement, others have called into question a solution that facilitates widespread debt among the poorest of the poor.

At the same time, economists such as Peru’s Hernando de Soto Polar have suggested that the poor of the developing nations have the ability to lift themselves out of poverty, if only they could gain access to the civil and legal protections that we take for granted in the West. I suspect there’s much truth in that.

Still, I’ve often wondered if there might be ways to offer effective assistance. That’s why I was excited to learn of a small, young organization called “Sawa World.” Bearing the byline, “Solutions from within,” Sawa World’s summarizes its mission as follows: “We find inspiring innovators (Sawa Leaders) living in extreme poverty, that have created local solutions that are already working. Local youth ensure these successes are shared so others living in extreme poverty can replicate them.”

Training a Sava Youth Reporter

Training a Sava Youth Reporter (photo courtesy of Sawa World)

Sawa World’s original point of leverage was to secure training in New Media for unemployed youth in the poorest countries, and encourage them to publicize the ultra-low-capital successes of local homegrown entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs so that others could emulate them.  That model has evolved based on extensive feedback on its effectiveness.  Over time, their video and outreach teams progressed to capturing these solutions step-by-step, to be shared with others in the community. Rather than take advice from well-meaning foreign advisors who lack local context, hopeful entrepreneurs can see that they already have the knowledge and resources to succeed, right in their own communities. Recently, Sawa World has focused on helping the most promising of these new entrepreneurs, dubbed “Sawa Sparks”, find local training opportunities.

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This young man became an entrepreneur at 10, has trained 6000 others (photo courtesy of Sawa World)

The Swahili word “sawa” can signify “equal, right, true, good, or ok,” and perhaps all of them apply. The Sawa World approach is to focus on the poorest of the poor, those earning less than $1 US Dollar per day, and highlight “Sawa Leaders” who, from those same conditions, have been able to create a better living for themselves and others in their communities. Even the ability to earn an extra dollar or two a day makes an incredible difference. As Sawa World founder Daphne Nederhorst says, “$2 to $4 means that they can actually now pay their school fees, they can pay their basic necessities, and can pay their rent.”

The organization initially started work in five of the poorest countries: Haiti, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia. After some initial success, the founder decided to focus on one country while she ensured that her business model was as scalable and self-sustaining as possible. She wanted to make sure that every dollar donated to Sawa World would produce the maximum benefit in terms of self-sufficient entrepreneurship among the poor communities she was targeting. Ideally she would like Sawa World to be completely self-financed.

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Sawa Youth Reporter at work (photo courtesy of Sawa World)

Uganda’s extreme youth unemployment rate – more than 60% by some estimates – made it an obvious choice. Sawa World looks for vulnerable, unemployed youth, and through local media organizations, trains them in audio-visual production, digital video editing, multimedia design, social media, and outreach & impact tracking methods. (If that sounds counter-intuitive, remember that, worldwide, more people have access to cell phones than to power or toilets.)

These young “citizen journalists” then scour their communities for inspirational examples of success, using their training to spread the word so that others can replicate their business models in the provision of water, food, shelter, education, health care, environmental protection, and gender-equal opportunity. To date, 253 young people have been trained as Sawa Youth Reporters, and together they’ve identified dozens of Sawa Sparks, and produced 100 videos. Over 16,000 people have been directly affected, and many times more indirectly.

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A new entrepreneur learned how to make these bags at a recent event (photo courtesy of Sawa World)

Scores of new entrepreneurs have been trained and inspired to start their own operations in very short order, growing or producing essential commodities such as banana chips, briquettes from organic waste, chickens, clay stoves, herbal soap, honey from beehives, lemongrass tea, mushrooms, paper bags, paper beads, pineapple jam, rehydration salts, sanitary pads, and wallets. The most influential Sawa Leaders have provided training in how to make all of these items, often employing many others in the process. Sawa World reports, “Olivia Damali Sserabira has empowered over 46,000 vulnerable women in urban and rural settings in Uganda by providing employable and income generating skills training in eleven different areas through her organization, the Peace and Hope Training Centre.”

As promising as this is, Sawa World continues to search for even more effective ways to spread local business and technological knowledge where it will do the most good. For the past couple of years, the organization has sponsored a Sawa World Day in Kampala, Uganda. The idea is to bring community leaders together with vulnerable youth who can instantly learn skills to improve their livelihoods.  Nederhorst had hoped to more than double last year’s attendance. “The impact that we want to have is that we want to host 10,000 vulnerable and unemployed youth from Uganda and the East African region and empower them with local, simple skills that allow them to start a small business the next day.”

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Training new entrepreneurs at a Sawa World event (photo courtesy of Sawa World)

She didn’t quite meet her target, but almost 5000 did attend Sawa World Day in Kampala in April 2015. Since the event, on the Sawa World Facebook page, there have been reports like the following: “This is Ritah from Uganda. She became homeless at a very young age when both of her parents died. Most recently a friendly lady in the community invited her to the Sawa World Day. There she learned how to make earrings and necklaces. Within two weeks she made 40 pairs and raised her income by 150,000 Ugandan Shillings ($50 USD). She also offered free trainings to 15 other orphaned girls in her community and now has a safe place to live.” Their statistics suggest that half of the attendees were able to do something similar within a matter of weeks.

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A woman shows off her new business just weeks after Sawa World Day 2015 (photo courtesy Sawa World)

It sounds like Daphne Nederhorst and Sawa World are onto something sustainable and scalable. As she says, “This allows other impoverished people to feel inspired and to replicate the solutions in their own communities. And it allows the Sawa Youth to find leadership in their communities, and in themselves – to become the Sawa Leaders of tomorrow.” As an indication that they believe they have honed their model, the Sawa World Team was recently invited to host a training in South Sudan, a new country on the brink of mass starvation.

Daphne Nederhorst

Founder Daphne Nederhorst talking to local change makers (photo courtesy Sawa World)

Others are beginning to recognize this success. Nederhorst was a semi-finalist at the 2013 Forbes 400 Summit of Philanthropy at the United Nations. This year, Sawa World won the Saville Foundation’s Pan-African Award for contributions to development in Africa, and was featured on Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

If you want to help out, check out their Donation page, where they list what you can enable with amounts as small as one dollar. (One DVD capturing a practical solution of a Sawa Leader: marketing material to support their work.) If you happen to be in Vancouver, Canada, you can visit their small shared office a few blocks from Science World. The day I visited, volunteer office manage Brittney Fehr was excited about her upcoming self-financed trip to Uganda for Sawa World Day, 2015.

If you happen to be in Kampala, sounds like you should have no trouble finding their office.

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Transitions – Part II

It was a different kind of travel these past months.

In January, I reported that I was transitioning to “advancement” a.k.a. retirement.

The transition has gone according to plan, … mostly.

Cheryl’s resolve to go on working was thwarted by a meltdown at her employer. In March she resigned, and is now looking for a year-long contract. Despite the unexpected tightening of finances, I’ve been fairly good at not abandoning my Declaration of Self-Actualization in favour of going back to work. I wish Cheryl could join me in this new endeavour, but for now, she’s committed to being a working woman.

i-Minds by Dr. Mari Swingle

i-Minds by Dr. Mari Swingle

You may recall that my transition was to have three distinct phases: Endings, the “Neutral Zone”, and the New Beginning.

My journey through the “Neutral Zone” was interesting. Limiting Internet usage to four evenings a week proved highly challenging – life is so Internet-centric these days! But I mostly succeeded, and it gave me a new sense of freedom, not to mention more time. Among the many books I read was “i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media Are Changing Our Brains, Our Behaviour, and the Evolution of Our Species.” It definitely added to my rationale for taming the iBeast.

For the last five days of my Neutral-Zone period, I engaged in a “mostly silent” retreat at the seaside Krishnamurti Centre of Canada in rural Metchosin, BC. I knew nothing about Jiddu Krishnamurti before I went, and chose the location primarily as it offered a nearby opportunity to spend some time in contemplation. I spent most of the time strolling in the gardens or on the beach, or contemplating views like this one. However, I did read one of Krishnamurti’s shorter books, and found his stuff intriguing. Somehow I’d missed him in the 60s.

View from the Krishnamurti Centre of Canada in Metchosin, BC

View from the Krishnamurti Centre of Canada in Metchosin, BC

I returned from my retreat energized and at peace; work was a distant memory so the “Endings” were done. I was ready to leap into the New Beginning. An opportunity for a jump start presented itself in the form a weekend “New Warrior Training Adventure”, run by the ManKind Project as a “modern male initiation.” And that it was! I returned from the weekend part of a new community and ready to take on the next stage of my “advancement.”

I’m happy to say that I’ve started my 3rd Act Career – although there may be no money in it, … or not for a long while. I’ve started a practice of working every day on writing a novel, something I’ve wanted to do for years. On an author friend’s recommendation, I began with the system outlined in “Writing a Book in 30 Days: A 60-Minute Masterclass.” At my current rate of progress, I’m estimating 30 months will be barely sufficient. But I’m having a lot of fun. My nascent plot spans three continents, so Cheryl and I are both looking forward to the location research projects.

Camp Pringle - one of the locations of the ManKind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure

Camp Pringle – one of the locations of the ManKind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure

Since my writing muscles are now engaged daily, I’ll likely limit future posts this year to travel reports. While we decided to postpone any overseas travel until next year, we have a pretty full schedule of outdoor activities closer to home. This month, we’ll be hiking in Utah, and cycling some of Washington State’s coastal islands. Stay tuned!

Cycling will be a big part of this year’s activities. For my “kedge”, I’ve signed on to do the two-day 175-mile loop of the local Ride to Conquer Cancer. Since Day One will exceed my longest-ever ride by about 80%, I’ve to a lot of training to do. I’m out at least three days a week, and expect that to rise as the August ride date approaches. I’ve invested in a faster bike so I can ride with a local club later this season.

Cycling in the Valley

Cycling in the Valley with the Outdoor Association

While my novel file is growing and my average cycling speed is creeping upwards, a few of my other projects stalled. When the decluttering was about 30% done, we realized we weren’t likely to downsize this year, and put the project on hold pending the autumn rains. On the training side, I managed to pass only one of my two assessments, leaving the other to be rescheduled during those same autumn rains.

For now, the weather is great for some beautiful spring rides.

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“Freedom from the Known” by Jiddu Krishnamurti

Travel at the Speed of Thought

For the past few days, I was reminded that, even close to home, one can immerse oneself in cultures that seem very different from one’s own. In this case, I’m not referring to an ethnic culture. In our everyday life, we encounter cultures built around occupations, or interests, or dispositions. Often they have their own specialized languages – sometimes we call them “jargon.”

Visiting such a culture can create an experience very similar to visiting a foreign land: our curiosity is piqued; we have to pay attention to a language we may understand only slightly; we’re trying to understand how they “do things here.” Just like visiting a new place, this can bring presence, aliveness, and excitement.

Can you travel into this young man's thoughts?  Try it!

Can you travel into this man’s world? Try it!

I hope to be able to write about my recent “trip” before long, but I have not yet processed its many inputs, so it will have to wait. But there are many ways to travel.

I was reminded of an exercise I did a few years ago. I was shown a random photo of an elderly woman standing in front of her barn, and instructed to put myself in her mind. It was a fascinating exercise, and I felt as if I’d traveled to another time and place.

If you want to give it a try, grab a photo somewhere, or use this one.  Don’t think about it too much.  Just do it. Let me know how it goes.

Meanwhile, here’s what the elderly woman was thinking…

Remembrance Day

Shutter’s broken outside the guest room, Jim. Heard it banging away in the gale last night. Guess you’ll have to take a look if it’s fair tomorrow.

Oh, what am I saying! You’ve been gone these six years now. Won’t likely be doing any more fixing for me, I suppose. If I can’t do anything with it, I’ll have to give Pat a call and see if her Roger can come over with his toolbox.

Haven’t seen so much of Pat and Roger lately. I figure they’ve got other things to attend to. Roger’s fixing up that back bedroom so there’ll be more room at Christmas. You know, they’ve got seven grandkids now. The youngest came just last Spring – cute as a little garden mouse he is. Bit of a handful already, if you ask me. Must have known that when they named him after our Tommy.

Damn! Just spilled tea leaves all over. Let me get a broom and set things right…

He would have been fifty the other night. Our Tommy fifty! Can you believe it, Jim? He would have married that nice girl Selena when he got back. There’d be grandkids. Maybe great-grandkids, cute as that little garden-mouse grandson of Pat’s: a house-full of happiness to keep the memories in their proper place.

I sometimes can’t believe I ever turned fifty myself. But I remember the day like I could smell it. You came in the door with that parcel all wrapped up, and told me we were going to the city for the weekend. Surprised me completely, you did, booking that fancy hotel room down by the river. And it was a beautiful sweater you gave me, even if it was the warmest night of the year. I used to feel you next to my skin when I was wearing it.

But that was a long time ago. I found that sweater in the bottom drawer after you’d gone, when I was cleaning up. I didn’t want to get rid of it, but I figured the memory needed to move on. Besides, it didn’t fit any more.

Some memories won’t move on, though, Jim. Not that I haven’t tried to make them. You remember that crazy song about American Pie that Tommy used to play on the record player all the time? He used to dance around the room – called it dancing, anyway – and sing about Chevies and levees and something about a day for dying. A catchy sort of tune, I guess, though it sure went on. Sometimes, when it gets real quiet here of an evening, I swear I can still hear it playing in the other room.

Got a letter from Pat’s boy Alec the other day. He was going on about some Christmas truce back in World War One. Said for four months, the soldiers on both sides refused to fight. Found they had more in common with each other than with their commanders. Alec wondered how it would have been if he and the other boys had refused to fight. Made me real mad to read that. I didn’t want to write back to him for days.

He’s a good boy, though, Jim. Just wants a future for those little nephews of his.

Alec came back from the War kind of all turned around, you know? Didn’t smile so much – laughed a bit louder than he used to. Started hanging around with those peace groups. I know you thought he was disloyal. God’s sake, maybe we both blamed him for coming back at all!

Wait a minute! I’m so distracted tonight I forgot to plug in the kettle. There! Got it. Now where was I? Oh, yes.

Jim, this is going to be hard. You won’t like it, but you’ve just got to hear me out.

I think Alec’s right, Jim. It wasn’t right what happened. Wasn’t right that Tommy’s life got used up that way. He wasn’t just a means to some do-gooder’s dreams. He was a living, breathing boy of 19, with a whole damn life ahead of him! He never got a chance to move on past 19. He just got stuck there for me. I aged, we aged – and we had to move on. But Tommy couldn’t go with us. I guess that’s what a life stolen from you feels like. All that time, we were growing and changing and tasting life. And Tommy was still singing about American Pie.

What’s that, Jim? Yes, it’s just a little water in my eye. You know, he would have been fifty the other night.

There, see what you’ve made me do! I’ve gone and put too much water in teapot again.

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Travel, Allophilia, and World Peace

From time to time, I ask myself “What is this thing about travel? It’s a lot of hard work, and usually costs more than staying home. So why do we do it?”

The answer usually isn’t long in coming: I’ve enjoyed and profited by the different perspective that meeting other cultures provides. Travel is one of my favourite activities for satisfying my incessant curiosity. It engages me fully: most of the time when I’m visiting some place new, I find myself solidly in the present moment. And in every culture I’ve visited, I’ve found some aspect I like better than my own.

Similarly, learning other languages has let me see where my own language constrains my view of reality. Knowing different ways of thinking gives a certain freedom from one’s own unconscious inherited biases. Plus you get a whole new set of proverbs.

Hiroshima destroyed

Destructed Hiroshima with autograph of “Enola Gay” Bomber pilot Paul Tibbets

Recently, I got to thinking about the connection between international travel and world peace: “See the world, while helping to prevent World War III!”

A possible WWIII had been one of my personal bugbears since watching – in my teen years – a 1960s documentary depicting the horrors of an atomic attack. With the war in Vietnam heating up, it didn’t seem so far-fetched. The decades that followed offered little indication that wars were going out of style: the Cambodian civil war, the Iran-Iraq War, the Rwandan genocide, the Afghan conflicts, the war on Iraq, the Ugandan civil war punctuate a long list of lesser conflicts. Today there is conflict in the Ukraine, not to mention ISIS. The world’s nuclear missiles have yet to be mothballed.

Hiroshima injuries

Hiroshima, Japan. 1945-08. Hiroshima street scene after the dropping of the atomic bomb of 1945-08-06

Still, being anti-war brings a certain negativity to life. Is there more to peace than just the absence of war? I was pondering this recently and wondered if the growing discipline of positive psychology had been applied to this question.

An internet search for “world peace” together with “positive psychology” led me to discover a new word: “allophila.” The neologism was coined by Todd Pittinsky, the author of “Us Plus Them: Tapping the Positive Power of Difference” when he realized there was no word to describe the opposite of “prejudice” or “intolerance.” Tolerance, the absence of intolerance, was not really it. There had to be a word for more “positive attitudes of behaviors towards the members of another group.”

Us Plus Them

“Us Plus Them: Tapping the Positive Power of Difference” by Pittinsky

In Dr. Pittinsky’s research, it turns out that decreasing intolerance does not equate to increasing allophilia. Furthermore, high allophilia seems to be much better at guaranteeing peace than does mere tolerance. As we’ve seen recently in several world hotspots, political demagogues have been able to wipe out years of tolerance in short order, sending formerly peaceful societies into internecine warfare. Perhaps what was missing was a higher degree of allophilia, manifested in terms of curiosity, comfort, engagement, and even kinship, affection and enthusiasm for members of other groups.

What organizations, I wondered, were fostering curiosity, engagement or enthusiasm for other cultures?

The obvious first answer was the original hospitality exchange, Servas International. Founded in aftermath of WWII by an American conscientious objector, the mission of Servas is “to help build world peace, goodwill and understanding by providing opportunities for personal contacts among people of different cultures, backgrounds and nationalities.” Their system of “open door” directories made it “possible for people of various nations to make visits to each other’s homes.” Servas now has official UN status and boasts of about 20,000 hosts in about 100 countries. Cheryl and I have been among those opening their doors for the past two decades.

Servas International

Peace through cross cultural understanding

Lately, Servas has been facing some stiff competition from the new Internet hospitality exchanges such as Couchsurfing. The old paper-based organization is having trouble quickly adopting the new technologies used by Internet startups, and their membership is ageing. Travelership is down.

A debate is ongoing about whether these new Internet exchanges represent the same peacebuilding ethic, or whether they’re just about cheap travel. Site names like GlobalFreeloaders and WarmShowers suggest the latter. Cheryl and I decided to join Couchsurfing as well as continue our Servas association. We have hosted and traveled with both organizations. In all cases, we try to adhere to the original vision of cultural interchange: hosts and guests interact like friends, often eating or cooking together. The Servas and Couchsurfing hosts we’ve stayed with have all done the same. It’s not just about accommodation: when we’re in that I-wanna-be-alone mood, we book a hotel or AirBnB.

Our delightful Couchsurfing hosts showed us all around Avignon in Provence, with lots of time for discussion.

Our delightful Couchsurfing hosts showed us all around Avignon in Provence, with lots of time for discussion.

Meanwhile, while Servas struggles to bring their 100 constituent national organizations into the Internet era, a Servas discussion group within the Couchsurfing site expresses two opposing views. The first tries to encourage Couchsurfers to adopt the more allophilic perspective of Servas. The second suggests this was never the intention, nor should it be. We hope the former view predominates – although we never discount the value of free accommodation.

And while travelers may view a hospitality exchange as merely a cheap way to travel, it’s hard to see what hosts get out of offering free room and board if it’s not the opportunity to connect with people from other lands and cultures. So perhaps the allophilic spirit is alive and well in the new Internet world.

Santiago de Cuba

Our boys jamming with a couple of local musicians in Santiago de Cuba (circa 2006)

Will it help? Is WWIII becoming less likely because of the humble hospitality exchange? Perhaps these words from the founder of Servas provide a clue.

“This story is not only about the beginning of Servas but the awakening of a mind on a slow overland trip from Norway to India. Confrontations with divergent cultures replaced my colored glasses with an often diamond clear vision. An ever deepening awareness from immersion in diverse ways of life shook up my ingrained assumptions. From shades of gray suddenly rainbow colors burst into my consciousness. Freed from the shackles of my upbringing and a classic American mentality I began to soar with the perspective of a global citizen. The human community emerged as a magic quilt of life styles and manners of thinking and living, a single tapestry of myriad designs unfolding before me.

“Shifting from a tourist absorbing scenic vistas to a traveler actively searching the central ideas of cultures happens gradually. At first the subtle thought/observation changes are unnoticeable. Then one discovers that a once passive and barely opened mind has blossomed into an inquisitive flower hungry for pollination. As I learned to listen with empathy, the most humble persons from distant corners of the globe became my mentors, pulling me into undreamed of chambers of thoughts and insights. I was no longer a touring observer looking in but a participant savoring many ways of life.”

Near Plitvice

Near Plitvice Park in Croatia, a 1990s war memorial stands guard over a bombed out home.

As I continue my investigation of this new concept, I have a question for you: which organizations are you aware of fostering world peace through intercultural allophilia?

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Question:

Which organizations foster world peace through intercultural allophilia? Please leave a comment below.