Friday, February 24, 2017

reposting the flag

Today is flag day in my new home -- Mexico.

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay about the history of the Mexican flag (bandera de méxico). It is still the second most-visited page on my site.

Because it is flag day, I decided to share it with you once again. Knowing the history of a nation's symbol is, at least, the first step to wisdom.

I would now change a few of my observations. But it still contains the kernels of truth I wanted to convey as a new resident of Mexico in 2010.

I hope you enjoy it on this day when we remember what Mexico's flag means.

i sing the blogger electric

Taking Mexpatriate on the road is a logistical feat. Especially, when I slip outside the comforting arms of North America.

Back in Barra de Navidad, my computer work space is a work of Swedish simplicity. Each piece of gear has its own space. And cords are hidden to enhance the electronic mystery.

But not on the road. I am always ready to award myself the Rube Goldberg Award when I finally manage to successfully cobble together the tools of my trade.

Of course, none of my pieces require electricity to work -- for short periods. My camera. My Kindle. My mobile telephone. My tablet. They all have their own batteries. So, I can be free of the tethering chargers for short periods.

But every device eventually needs to feed at the breast of Edison's outlets.

In North America, all I need is a charger and cable for each device and a power strip to get electricity to them. But heading elsewhere in the world adds complications.

Electrical systems are not uniform. North America (and, as you all know, that includes Mexico) is fond of 110 volt systems. A lot of the rest of the world is enamored with 220. (And, yes, I know that is an oversimplification, but let's just go with that assumption -- or this discussion will never come to a conclusion.)

If devices are 110, a converter is required to convert (of course) 220 to 110. In the 1970s, most of the converters I encountered in Asia and Europe were the size of a small satchel. The modern converters can now easily fit in a hand. You can see one in the photograph. It is the white rectangle with the demonic red eyes.

But that is not the only potential problem. Because electrical systems developed separately in different countries, so did the outlets and the prongs that go into the outlets. I have run into at least 15 different types of pins over the years-- some that work in multiple countries, others that work in only a single country.

On an early trip to China, I purchased a nifty converter with multiple pins built into the unit. Pick the country and push out the appropriate set of pins. Not unlike the Swiss army knife of converters.

Unfortunately, the converter did not include the oblique-angled pins used in Australia and New Zealand. I didn't discover that until I tried to charge up my devices in the Sydney hotel where we overnighted before flying on to Perth.

Long ago, I discovered that airport shops are a traveler's best bet to resolve arcane travel problems. And that is exactly what happened at the Sydney Airport. The shops did not have a multiple country converter that included Australia pins. Why would they? Their primary customers are Australians heading overseas.

But I did find a plug that converted from Chinese pins to Australian. It is a little bulky. But it works. If it had not, you would have missed the last two essays from Australia.

So, there it is. It will never win an Ikea endorsement for clean lines. But it works. (I may need to remember that lesson as I start the furniture-buying process for the house in Barra de Navidad.)

And, if all goes as advertised, I will also have an adapter to use while I am on land in New Zealand. On the ship? It is as if I had never left the confines of my bedroom in Mexico.

Tomorrow afternoon, we board the Radiance of the Seas, and the cruise portion of the trip will begin. On one of the sea days, I may publish a few of my Perth photographs. The internet in this horel is even slower than most cruise ship systems.

For now, I will head to bed -- and get ready for the boarding party.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

the colonial mask on a modern australia

"I could live here."

That was Roy yesterday as we traveled around Perth on a hop on - hop off tour bus. He was almost ebullient about the place.

Perth should not be too complimented. Roy has said the same thing about 80% of the cities I have visited with him. The big exception was Brazil. None of the cities there received the Roy Miller Seal of Approval.

But Roy had a point with Perth. It is one of those cities that has the magical mixture of just enough colonial charm combined with the energy of urban possibilities to make it feel comfortable. Even with a population of over 2 million, it has retained a small town charm where small business owners seem to know everything that is going on -- even the arrival of strangers in town.

And that is what the three of us are. Strangers in a strange land. And we love its strange feel.

Part of that feel comes from Perth's location. Perth is the capital of Western Australia, Australia's largest state. To put that in perspective, imagine that Austin was the capital of a Texas that constituted one-third of the United States.

It is one of the most isolated capitals in the world. On one side is the Indian Ocean. On the other is the Great Victoria desert. If you strike off to the east on the highway, you will drive 1300 miles before you arrive in Adelaide -- the next city of any size. Perth is closer to Singapore than it is to Australia's federal capital of Canberra.

The city has the feel of a colonial outpost. Because that it what it once was -- an integral part of the British Empire. The old city retains some of  that heritage. Very British buildings built by convicts. Often punctuated by parks and gardens that are about as English as anything you would find in London.

We are here at the height of summer. That is one factor that feeds Roy's residential fantasy. The weather has been perfect. The humidity runs about 40% with temperatures approaching 100 degrees in some of the clearest skies I have seen in a city this size. The daily breezes undoubtedly help to keep the pollution level down.

As a western American, Perth feels vaguely familiar. That may be because of its history.

It became a boom town in the 19th century when gold was discovered in the state. Most of that is now gone, but Western Australia still churns out natural resources. Mainly iron ore these days -- primarily exported to China.

Perth may have been built on gold, but it now lives off of iron ore. And in that sentence is the seed of realistic geopolitics that makes Australia very leery about interfering with Chinese hegemony.

Our journey disclosed a few impressions about the city. Its setting is beautiful. The core of the city is quite compact. Its mixture of old (and the old is quite young) and new rests comfortably on the bank of the Swan River.

King's Park is the largest urban park in the world. It is beautiful in its own right with trees and birds found nowhere else in the world but here. But it also provides commanding panoramas of Perth at its best.

And, yes, the place is provincial. The parks of filled with statues of imperial heroes with their faded glory. And there are tales of the local miners whose exploits make Perth what it is today. It is almost like visiting a young San Francisico before the city dons its sense of hubris.

But, I am not going to get a feel for the city by sitting here. I need to get up and get out there to enjoy what promises to be a beautifully hot day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

ripping up the habit

Habits are hard to break.

When I started an earlier incarnation of Mexpatriate, I was faced with a communication dilemma whenever I would travel. Internet back then was a bit sketchy. Especially, on cruise ships.

So, I came up with a solution that was far from elegant. I would schedule posts to at least let my readers know where I was going to be -- even if I could not write my essay for that particular day.

Times have changed. Other than the problem of having the correct adapters to power my electronic gear, internet access is ubiquitous.

I have already purchased my internet access for the ship. The tariff for three devices is more than I paid for monthly rent in Villa Obregon. But I will be connected. Undoubtedly, with a painfully slow upload speed.

I caught up with Nancy and Roy last night in Sydney. We arrived on separate flights from different directions. This morning, the three of us flew to Perth to spend a couple of days before our cruise starts.

Here is the hard-to-break-habit. Even though I will be connected, I am still going to tell you our itinerary. And I will pre-post daily announcements of our port calls. Maybe some of you will have suggestions for our days in port.

So, here is the old-school list.

25 February-- Board the Radiance of the Seas in Perth. Australia
26 February-- At sea
27 February-- Esperance, Australia
28 February-- At sea
1 March -- At sea
2 March --Adelaide, AustraliaA
3 March -- At sea
4 March --Melbourne, Australia
5 March -- At sea
6 March -- At sea
7 March -- Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Dusky Sound, New Zealand
8 March -- Dunedin, New Zealand
9 March -- Akaro, New Zealand
10 March -- Wellington, New Zealand
11 March -- Picton, New Zealand
12 March -- At sea
13 March -- At sea
14 March -- Sydney, Australia

If all goes well, we will then spend the next three days in Sydney before our return flights to Los Angeles on Cathay Pacific. We are each on different flights.

There you have it. And you will get a dose more of it in the next four weeks.

I will be happy to have you all along on my quest to tick continent number six off of my travel list.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

on the road to hong kong

I love the international dateline.

It is one of those legal fictions that keeps travelers from living life as a perpetual groundhog day.

Last night, after a fine late dinner of caviar and stir-fried lobster, the flight attendant put me in my pajamas and tucked me into my bed. Somewhere in the very early morning, what was once Tuesday turned into Wednesday. Just by crossing an imaginary line. The same fiction that won Phileas Foggs’s wager.

But, then, aren’t most of the numbers that punctuate our lives merely constructs? What does a dog care if our clocks tell us it is 5 AM or 1 PM?

Animals are not creatures of time. Certainly, they have their own cycles. But theirs mean very little to us -- unless those cycles intersect with our own. So, it is a fair trade -- each species living within its own fiction of reality. Like an interspecies Canada.

On this trip, I am surrounded by manufactured reality. Some very prosaic -- arrival and departure times, gate numbers, seat assignments. Others more poetic -- longitude, latitude, and the personification of the shadows in Plato’s cave: the international date line.

Even though my seat converts into a very comfortable bed, I did not get much sleep last night yesterday. I woke up as we were flying over Japan at 2:54 AM Wednesday (local time), 1:54 AM (Hong Kong time), and 10:54 AM Tuesday (Los Angeles time). All of them rather meaningless times to my confused circadian clock that feels as if it has been too tightly wound.

Just because the dateline is a fiction does not mean the time shift will not affect me. And not just because my sleep cycle has been processed through a Waring blender.

I have been quite faithful in my daily Spanish lessons on Duolingo. When I left Los Angeles, I was on a 163 day streak. (My earlier 368 day streak was broken when I helped a friend sign into a drug rehabilitation center.)

As a result of my now-missing Tuesday, the streak will be reset to “0.” It will be an incentive for me to build it up again.

The missing day (and the time shift) will also throw off my medication schedule. My two medications are not time sensitive. Nor will missing a cycle be life-threatening. But it is a nuisance. A small one, admittedly.

So, here I sit, eating my breakfast of congee and drinking green tea, spending the last three hours of this fourteen hour trip keeping in touch with you. 

Of course, I am not keeping in touch with you directly. For all of its amenities, this Boeing 777 does not have an internet connection. If I had flown on an Airbus 350, I could be writing to you in real time.

If all goes well, I can post this piece in Hong Kong before I get on my flight to Sydney -- another nine hours of flying, but after I take a shower at Cathay Pacific's lounge. If all does not go well, I will be writing to you from Sydney in the late evening.

Wednesday evening. Or so the international dateline informs me.

Monday, February 20, 2017

apple blossom time in la-la land

The oddest stimulus can trigger a memory.

The smell of oranges always reminds me of Christmas. Briny air of western Greece. And gray skies of Los Angeles.

In the winter of 1973, my college friend Stan Ackroyd stopped by my apartment at Castle Air Force Base. He was on his way to Los Angeles for the wedding of his cousin.

We decided to take my 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. It would be a perfect entrance for two bachelors.

The Olds had always been a reliable piece of transportation. Of course, red convertibles are far more than mere transportation devices. But that is all we wanted out of it on the trip south.

The car had other ideas. Around Bakersfield, a coat of oil started forming on the windshield. The oil pump had decided to pump  no more. Fortunately, in front of a mechanic's shop.

I traded telephone numbers, forked over almost every dollar in my wallet (this was an era where young lieutenants did not have credit cards), and we were on our way. With very few funds.

The rest of the trip is a story in itself. We started hitchhiking. The only car that stopped for us was a beat-up early 1960s Chevrolet driven by a guy with a beer between his legs. The beer was not a prop. The driver told us his life story as we rolled along.

He had just been paroled from San Quentin. The reason for his recent state guest status? He murdered his wife and his best friend in the throes of an adulterous rendezvous. The longer he weaved his tale, the more beers he drank.

At one point, he moved something under his seat. Whatever it was, he revealed the barrel of a revolver. Both of us saw it about the same time.

When he dropped us off at a freeway intersection, we gladly got out and hitched a ride in a pickup bed to a small town in the hills above the grapevine where we caught a bus into Los Angeles. We then walked several miles to the wedding. By that time, the reception was almost over.

And what do I remember? The sky. Unlike most California days, there was no sun. Just a solid gray shroud.

When I see skies like that, I think of Los Angeles. And that was convenient for these past two days. The sun has peeked through now and then, but the sky looked as if it took a wrong turn at Seattle.

On my seven-mile walk this morning, the only sign that I was in California was a row of ornamental apple trees. Despite the lack of sun, the white blossoms did their best to convince passers-by that California does not need to wait for a thaw to enjoy spring.

In fact, seasons here seem to slip from one into another with little notice. I have a theory that is one reason Californians do not seem to mature. There is nothing like a good strong winter to deepen those worry lines.

But I am not worrying. Instead, I am finishing up this essay in the Qantas first class lounge -- waiting for the call to head to my gate and adventure in Australia and New Zealand.

So, good-bye California. Hello Hong Kong and Sydney.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

you can bet on mexpatriate

Yesterday's essay was composed in the coffee shop at the Gold Ranch casino.

There is a reason I am telling you that bit of trivia.

I am not a gambler. If I have money to risk, I usually toss it into the maw of the New York Stock Exchange. Slot machines, roulette wheels, and baccarat tables are not my road to perdition.

I was at the casino for only one reason. Nancy, Roy, and their respective mothers were there for a prize drawing. I had tagged along with the sole expectation of finishing my post. And I did (isn't it cold for you?).

While we waited for a break during the drawings, I sat down next to Roy, who was playing triple double bonus video poker. (The name always sounds as if some game-maker had extra adjectives that needed a home.)

For four days, Roy had been teaching his rules of play. The rules are very simple. And, for Roy, they seem to work. He regularly wins.

I had tried two or three outings of $20 each. Roy's method did not work for me. Unless, the goal was to blast through my paltry stake.

Last night, I put my $20 in the machine and quickly played it down to about $5. I told Roy I was going to cash out, but he convinced me to play the rest.

On my next hand, I drew four 4s and a 3. In this game, that is called four of a kind with a kicker -- and it was worth $500.

Knowing a good thing when it falls in my lap, I cashed out and decided to head home.

I guess it helps not to have a gambler's instinct of trying to increase my winnings. That may be, in part, due to the calm gene I inherited from my mother. I just did not get much of a rush in winning.

This morning, Nancy's mother drove us to the Reno airport. We then flew to Santa Ana for the night -- because we wanted to spend a day on the California coast before we start the Australia leg of our trip tomorrow.

After checking into our residence for the night, we drove over to Crystal Cove for a late lunch. The little beach community nestled into Newport Beach is most famous as the shooting site for the beach scenes in Beaches. The house is the last on the right.

The afternoon was practically perfect. A cool day on the beach with good friends and some filling food.

When the lunch check arrived, I knew I was no longer in Barra de Navidad. For three of us, the total was $130 (with tip). A great day -- with a price tag to match.

I now know why I won that money -- to pay for a handful of meals.

Note -- Tomorrow, we will be on our way to Australia. Because there is an international dateline tossed in there, I may be offline for what will appear to be a couple of days.