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Showing posts from 2008

Home Sweet Home

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I'm currently in Columbus, Ohio, paying my family a surprise visit over the holidays and getting cleaned up and fed before returning to Taiwan on January 5th. I'll catch up with you then. Happy holidays.

Obama and The Economy, Or Not

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"So have you taken any interest in the U.S. election?", I asked Duguma, the owner of DH (Duguma Hunde) Geda, an Ethiopian industrial conglomerate. Mr. Hunde pulled a wallet-size photo of Barack Obama from his pocket. "I'll see you at the inauguration", he replied, and he was serious. Mr. Hunde, one of his Board members and I were on the bullet train to Shanghai together, and our low-key dinner conversation quickly grew into a caucus of international businessmen debating foreign relations and discussing how Obama could potentially help to resolve the issues underlying many of the current conflicts around the world. One perspective came from Affi, the Pakistani owner of an import/export business. His opinion is that the U.S. must negotiate with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Another man suggested that a crucial step in putting to rest all conflicts in the Middle East is to forge an agreement between Israel and Palestine. I agree that nothing will get accomplished by c…

Shitleg in Beijing

Our 4-bunk dorm room is home to 6 of us this week. Paul is my British travel mate. He's from Bristol, England, and his accent and his dry, yet rich and funloving sense of humor go together like "tea and crumpets". We met in Mongolia 3 weeks ago, and have become great friends. Tonight I will head south and Paul west. At 6'3", I call him the BFG (big, friendly giant), and we joke that the Chinese make way for him for fear of being eaten.
Also in Mongolia, I met Magnus and Rasmus over a bottle of vodka. They are 20 year-old Swedish self-proclaimed "enjoyers of life" who love to "paaw-eee" (they were quick to adopt Paul's way of pronouncing "party"). Last night, the 3 of us played an impromptu gig at a Beijing bar, along with our other Swedish friend, Johannes. We call ourselves "Shitleg". See the following link to see a couple of songs from that night..haha. Might have to give it a few minutes to load: Shitleg in Beijing.

To Beijing

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Two Mongols, a Japanese, a Chinese, a Brit, and an American set out in a minivan across China today (Mongolian border to Beijing). I held my breath as we sped across the Chinese countryside and passed through towns (our ride is an illegal service so we have to avoid highways, police), swerving around people, bicycles and dogs at 100km per hour all the while. I've had to dehumanize dogs for this trip (interesting concept).

The 2 Mongols are through 2 bottles of vodka now, and while they claim drinking speeds up the ride, the 10 pisses they've taken on the side of the road have ironically made the trip much longer.

I'm currently traveling with Paul, a 29 year-old from the U.K., and Machiko, a Japanese, sub-5 feet, 59 year-old mother of four. Paul and I are amazed at the patience Machiko has exercised over the past 24 hours; I've noticed when things get particularly nerve-racking (like when I began dropping the F-bomb at our pre-paid driver after waiting 2 hours with the ho…

Mongolia

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I was awakened from my nap by a warm hand resting gently on my knee. I must have dozed off, I thought.

I'm in a ger on the mongolian countryside, and just finished drinking a bottle of vodka and eating fried pastries filled with goat organs. The smell of sheep or goat meat makes me gag. It's no wonder, at survival camp I went 10 days without a shower wreaking of sheep after slaughtering one. But I'm getting used to it again. I'd better; everything I eat over the next 4 days will have something to do with sheep or goat.

I'm on a 4-day trek on horseback, hopping from ger to ger, and staying with 3 different herding families. Before leaving I was told that cigarettes and candy are good gifts, but after passing around packs of Marlboros to the men of the first hosting family, including the 85 year-old patriarch, I felt incredibly pretentious. My gift will be appreciation from now on (and smokes on demand).

She's her grandparents' pride and joy, and it's appare…

Goodbye Quarter Card, Goodbye Russa...NOT - Part II

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If you're just picking up on this story, scroll down and start with Part I...I just finished spending my third day with the Russian police in the Siberian city of Ulan Ude, just hours from the Mongolian border. The process of getting a single piece of paper that will allow me to travel to the nearest US Consulate in Vladivostok (2 days by train) has been painfully slow and bureaucratic, and I have recounted every single detail of my travels from Moscow to 11 different police officers through my incredible translator, Olga.

Most of my time today and yesterday was spent in an office at the police station answering questions like: "how much did your wallet cost", "how many zippers did your security belt have", "who were you sharing a cabin with and what country was he/she from" (I loved saying my roommate was a North Korean diplomat to Russia), "where, exactly, did you remove your security belt to pull out your train ticket before boarding", et…

Goodbye Quarter Card, Goodbye Russia...NOT

When I was a kid, my Uncle Brad would give me "quarter cards", which were his business cards with a quarter taped inside. The thought was that I would always carry it, and if I was ever in a bind, I could use my quarter card to call him (and although I've never used a quarter card, he has come to my aid on multiple occasions, by the way). Even though it has been over 15 years since I received my last quarter card, and cell phones have since rendered them obsolete, I still carry it in a safe place when I travel as a sort of symbol of what it represents. Sadly, I lost my quarter card sometime in the past few days. And along with it, my passport and Russian visa.

In my adult life, I can't remember ever losing a key, wallet, or anything else of significance. Now there's certainly a chance that I could have dropped by security "fanny pack" between the time I removed my ticket to board the Trans-Siberian (Moscow to Ulan Bator, Mongolia) train in Moscow and the…

Trans-Siberian - Day 4

Throughout Siberia we have stopped at small stations to pick up coal to heat the train, which is shoveled into each car from a wagon pulled by a tractor. Passengers utilize such stops to purchase supplies from locals including water, juice, cigarettes, vodka, lunch food and the like. Although it usually takes 20 minutes to "top up" the train, for some reason, the two Chinese men who look after our car always frantically hurry us back onto the train after five. EXCEPT in Ilanskaya. After taking a few pictures, I turned around to see our train pulling out of the station, with many of the passengers AND the attendants running alongside and jumping on. Guess someone missed the memo on that one!I'm really glad someone in Moscow told me to bring some food, because while the dining car is good, it's very expensive and I have planned for Asia to be the cheaper leg of my trip.I still haven't figured out what the hell the attendants do other than text their friends and coo…

The Trans-Siberian Railroad

I just departed Moscow on the Trans-Siberian railroad. There seems to be a mixture of Russians, Mongolians and Chinese on board, plus a few westerners. I opted for a first class cabin (two beds) when I booked, knowing that it could detract from my interaction with the other passengers, but I'm looking forward to a little privacy as I'm sure I will be meeting plenty of people in the dining car and about.

Russia is tough for me. Even though my experiences one-on-one have been great, there aren't many English speakers (I know it's a bad thing to rely on), and I received plenty of stares. Actually, in Moscow I received more glares than just stares, and as I had heard, Russians don't seem to smile very often, which kind of took the spirit out of me as I roamed the city and rode the subways. Upon thinking about it more, I remembered that New Yorkers in public are the same way...I also think understanding a bit more of Russian history would help.

I just met my roommate fo…

Goodbye Europe, Hello 6,000 Miles On the Trans-Siberian

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Originally, I had planned to visit Europe for only a couple of weeks, but it's been two months now and I still don't want to leave. I am now on a train from Riga, Latvia to Moscow and am comforted by the warmth of the Russian people on board. Upon boarding, the 40-something stewardess sat down next to me to explain the entry paperwork and began to softly pat and rub my leg. For a second I thought it was a bit weird, but then realized the customs in Russia will be the most foreign I have experienced so far on this trip. But what may be a common gesture for her reassured me that I would be taken care of here in Russia. I think I'm in for a heck of a week...
It has been incredibly difficult to say goodbye to the many friends I have made over the past two months. Gut-wrenching actually. And for some reason, it's getting harder and harder, the longer I'm on the road. I'm not sure why that is, and to be honest, the only way I can continue to move forward is to believ…

More Posts

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I have decided to post a bit more frequently, so here's an update (I can only post one picture from the BlackBerry, so here's one of my cousin Vivi in my work button-down):

I'm in Berlin this week via Milan, Paris, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Munich. I stopped briefly in Milan, thinking I might be able to stop in on a few of the fashion week festivities (yeah right), then stopped in Paris for a few nights to get a hotel, get my back worked on and rejuvenate again before destroying my body for several days in Amsterdam and then Oktoberfest with my Cuz (Dan Adamson came over for the week from Boston - Dan and I realized we have the same great, great grandparents after becoming close friends in college) and Dan's friends who are living in Rotterdam.

From Munich, I headed to Berlin, where I've spent the week with a Russia language tutor, arranging a Russian visa, and preparing for my long trip on the Trans-Siberian railroad next week. The first leg of that trip will take …

The Harvest at Tenuta Mazzolino - Departing Thoughts

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As I sat overlooking the Po Valley towards the Alps from atop the first foothill where the Mazzolino estate sits, the smells of the harvest, fresh-cut grass and the rose garden intermittently drifted in and out of my olfactories. The sounds of the winery and the birds were behind me, and the distant sounds of farmers on tractors, carpenters, local traffic, a dog barking, and church bells striking half four were ahead of me. The wind brushed my face, and I thought of the other faces and places it may have touched. I thought of the world I am heading into: an intricately connected cosmos where every activity relies on some other activity, resulting in my connection to you, to the land and to those others who work and travel it.

In just two weeks at Mazzolino I gained so much in addition to new perspective (and gifts of a sweater, a scarf, an apron, a bottle opener and many bottles of wine). The beautiful landscape, and the opportunity to learn about wine and work with my hands were wonde…

Attempting to Settle the Score

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Is there a piece of unfinished business in the back of your head? The one (or many) thing(s) that you wish you could go back and do over or complete? For the past eight years, one such piece of business has haunted my thoughts, perhaps even my self-worth in a sense:

Eight Junes ago, I visited Aosta, Italy. It was the first time I'd seen snowcapped mountains, and as a reckless adventurer, I made a goal to get a bottle-full of snow by day's end. I began at 3pm, reached snow by 8pm, but then tried to reach the top of the mountain I was climbing. Approximately 100 meters from the peak, I stopped. It was 10pm and dark, I was exhausted, and I still had a 13-mile hike back to town.
I revisted Aosta last week with one goal: to finish what I had started. This time, however, I chose a much taller mountain. At 9:30am on September 11, I began an attempt to reach the peak of Becca di Nonna, which would be an 8,406 feet (1.6 miles) vertical climb in one day (1,902 feet to 10,308 feet). Befo…

Harvest - Thoughts

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In the last post, I discussed my strategy as I began my work here at Tenuta Mazzolino: smile (but not too much), work hard (but not too hard), etc. In making a recommendation to others in similar situations, I'd say the following: "just be yourself". At work, at home, with friends...everywhere. If you smile a lot, then smile. If you work overly hard, work your butt off. If you're lazy, well, you're out of luck, because I can't think of a job that embraces laziness, but you get my point. You see, what I described is my way and it's not the way for everyone. I do believe that workplace dynamics can be complicated, but if you stick to your guns, you will be respected, even if your colleagues disagree with you. So be YOU ("self-aware" as my old boss Scott Simon would put it). You won't always be right, but you will have your gut behind you.

Tonight we had a pizza, 3-year aged parmesean (incredible), salami and wine (plus some liquor made with swe…

The Harvest - Day 1, Italy (Lombardia Region)

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I'm not necessarily a stranger to working with my hands. I grew up in a family of extremely handy people (my father especially), spent the better part of my childhood mowing lawns, and spent some time working on a water main / excavation crew. When I stepped into the vineyard this morning, I knew what to expect. I planned to keep my head down, work hard, and smile if invited, but not too much. Especially in a place where nobody can understand me, smiling too much could make me seem like a real weirdo. I'd have to prove that I'm a hard worker (but not too hard), that I'm friendly (but not too friendly), and, most of all, that I don't kiss up too much. Nobody likes a new guy that comes onto the scene trying to kiss everyone's butt. These are the workplace undertones that I've experienced (and admittedly expressed, on occassion), especially in many jobs that require manual labor.


I was pleasantly surprised as I began working today. The 12 pickers operated as a …

Tenuta Mazzolino

I'm now in the Lombardia region of Italy, and thanks to my friend and former Blackstone colleague, Francesco Braggiotti, am helping to finish the grape harvest at the Braggiotti family vineyard and winery, Tenuta Mazzolino (http://www.tenuta-mazzolino.com/). I spent a few days last week in Aosta, Italy (post to come), then took the train to Milan, where I spent a night and realized that pepperoni means "peppers" in Italy, then jumped on a train for Casteggio, a small town in the Lombardia region. The manager of the operation, Jean Francois, picked me up and took me to the winery, where Francesco's father set me up with some wheels (a Vespa) and showed me where I will stay for the week. Awesome doesn't describe it...I've been cruising around for the past couple of days, but get down to business tomorrow morning. I've informed Jean Francois that I don't speak any Italian, and it sounds like the entire team speaks only Italian, so we'll see what happ…

The Whistlers

I'm bagging my original post for today because I can't concentrate. As I began writing, I heard the loudest, most obnoxious whistle from right outside the window of my Barcelona hostel - you know, the "two-fingers-in-the-mouth" type you hear when a Mets fan wants to attract a hot dog salesperson at Shea (yes, maybe even louder than yours, Aunt Kim). The whistle happened over and over again...enough to totally block any creative thought and drive me totally nuts. With each whistle I became more and more livid. After 20 whistles or so, I jumped up, ran to the window, and prepared to scream "Shut up!!", knowing the perpetrator must be one of the many thousand English football hooligans in town for the England / Andorra match............

I have no idea how 2 little girls no older than 8 years can produce such a terrible noise. The whistling is still going and I still can't concentrate, but I just can't help but crack up every time it "invades my mak…

Thoughts

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I'm not going to lie....this is hard. I´m realizing what a short time a year is to travel the world and it's making me anxious. I'm also realizing that, as much as I feel the need to have a plan so that I see as much as possible; I just can't. What kind of adventure would it be? I was living a comfortable and calculated life before I left. I went to work, hung out with my friends, listened to my favorite music, traveled home to hang out with my family...everything was familiar. I had the subway system of NYC down. I was getting good at my job and had lots of great friends there. I loved New York, loved my family there, and loved everything the City has to offer. You might ask: "why the hell did you leave?" well, I can't answer that. I'm starting to wonder myself. Yeah, I know...it's the middle of week 3. Every day is going to be a challenge. There is no way to calculate anymore. New language, new train system, new food, new people - over and over …

Survival School (Part I)

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I like nature, but I'm not fully in touch with it. I'd like to be, but to be honest, I'm not really sure what that even means. Perhaps in touch with ourselves? Able to live right now, in this moment, with no worry of the future or past - enabling us to fully connect with our surroundings, whatever they may be?

After spending 14 days with no toilet, shower, electricity, matches, outside human contact or cologne (ha), I still don't fully understand it, but I can honestly say that I have a much deeper appreciation for it than I did prior. I can't tell you why, but I can describe parts of my experience.


Seth Cohen (my friend and former Blackstone colleague who introduced me to the idea) and I arrived at camp on a Sunday afternoon, and realized that this experience would be unlike any other when approximately the following conversation occurred between another student and one of our leaders, Mojo:
Student: "So where did the name Mojo come from? Is it self given?"

Adventures in Krakow

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Krakow, Poland is a major tourist destination filled with university students, beautiful historical structures and commerce. Despite the thriving tourism industry and general economy, remnants of Nazi-rule still exist in the city, which, during WWII, saw its Jewish population disappear from 60,000 to virtually 0 (nearly all its Jewish citizens, after being consolidated into a ghetto, were sent to Auschwitz). Funny thing is, Jews were originally invited to Krakow to escape persecution in Spain and Portugal by the Polish King Casimir III around 1360.

First off, let me just say something about organized city tours (in general). In the past, I wouldn't have been caught DEAD on one of these picture-snapping excursions that I've frequently witnessed from outside my apartment in Manhattan. If I have to watch one more German (sorry Timm) take a picture of a squirrel at Madison Square Park...truth is, after taking a few of my own (I highly recommend walking or biking tours with a live c…

Me and the "Bird" vs. the Airline Industry

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My long-awaited journey to London on Wednesday, August 13th, occurred with no frills whatsoever - oh, except the loss of my baggage. As I sat alone staring into a rainstorm from the Burger King at Waterloo station, I couldn't help but burst out in laughter. I then spoke out loud to myself: "I lost my baggage and don't give a SHIT!". I hadn't cared the least bit, even upon realizing the situation, which definitely puzzled the Virgin Airlines customer service agent at Heathrow. Thus my adventure began.

As I sat there with my double-cheeseburger, my sense of satisfaction that I have absolutely no place to be and nothing to do (for the rest of my life) immediately turned my grin into a look of terror - perhaps the face I made before being pounded in the face with the deer in November 2006. I then had a panic attack. "Jesus...I have no place to be and nothing to do."

After spending the night with a good friend from high school, Dave Moehrman, and his wife, I h…