Travel

Travels on the Bullet Train Ahoy!

Today I bought two sets of Shinkansen tickets for my trip in March. I’m traveling from Tokyo to Hiroshima and then from Hiroshima to Osaka around middle of the month. I bought the tickets online here and had them shipped home to me. Included was a ticket on the Narita Express which goes from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station. Exciting times!

I start out in Tokyo on 2 March and spend 5 glorious days wandering in the city that I love to wander in. I probably end up at the Lion Beer Hall more than once for some beer and a plate of their stew.

Then on to Hiroshima for 5 days and seeing the sights there. I think people believe its a somber place but there is also a quiet joy that how it survived and what its done is there for all to see.

Finally, I bullet train to Osaka for 5 days and wander another city I have not been in. Its a joy to be getting closer.

Then I fly on to Vietnam and spend a long time in Hanoi. But first, its the Shinkansen trains that will take me at their speed to places not been. Time is getting closer and I could see it today as I also bought my data SIM card for my iPhone 7 plus. Its easy to get a data only SIM card and use it for hangouts or facebook messenger calls. I can do the same as I travel on.

But first things first. I have another 5 weeks at work and then that goes away. Then a month to get things organized here and bid farewell to a few people. I will miss work. They have been really good to me. I appreciate the money and the friendships there but like I told someone when they asked me to reconsider,

I love work but this is my life. Only a few times to spin the wheel and find a place or two I can call home and see things differently.

And that’s what it really is all about. Seeing things differently and being a part of that difference.

The Places to come and questions left behind

There’s time to still consider things I am told. At work, I hear this.

Are you sure this is what you want to do? I am so jealous but why Asia? What will you do after this fling?

I thought through all the things before I decided to do something completely different. Work is just not something I want to do any longer. I feel that my spirit is slowly suffocating with weekend calls, last minute emergencies, evening webex sessions. So I am pretty sure that I want to do this.

The next question is interesting about jealousy and Asia. People, I think want a change. Life is about change yet some are not willing to take a calculated risk or face the unknown. Its easier to just propel along the known tracks and never want to see that less traveled road. People are basically afraid. The other question about Asia is a good one too. The reason I chose Asia is because I love the aspects of it. I’ve spent years there in various and sundry places working, playing, traveling through. Now I want something that is not just another business trip in 10 days in three countries. Nor do I want a backpack trip where I have to control every last thing I decide to do financially and sit in a hostel with a bunch of folks in a dorm setting. I want a quality of life that I will never have here in the Bay Area or in most places on this continent. In other words, Asia is change and the unknown and I am ready. I want to sit for a spell by the lake in Hanoi and enjoy Pho. I want to wander Angkor Wat in the morning. I want to feel the sleepy slumber time of a neighborhood street in Osaka with a cheap bento box for lunch and dinner of beer and a instant bowl of noodles if I so want.

For the last question; there is no after. I have never had an after. I don’t plan a thing and say,

great! But what will I do after.

That is not a thing for me. The after soon becomes the now and then you are left with a whole galaxy or universe of afters to worry about. Its much better to me to control the now and let the afters come. Will I go to Thailand after Cambodia? Will I get to China or India? Perhaps. Maybe I will just stay somewhere else.

I do know there are train trips to do. One is from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Another is from Chiang Mai Thailand to Singapore. Train trips also around Japan on the fabled Shinkansen Bullet trains where I will speed along at 250 and marvel at the world rushing by and hearing the hush of conversations by the day workers on their commutes. Or perhaps subway rides in the big circle in Tokyo my days there. Watching the bustle of Tokyo and the school children and the workers and the tourists all rushing and there I am ambling along with a camera and a phone. I fit in yet I am separate.

So in answer to the well-meaning colleagues at work. There is no after. There is now. I love the questions about things. One asked as a finale why a life of travel. I gently reinforced to that person that this is not travel. This is wandering and being a hobo with no place to end up preset.

A Vagabond of the Lifeways

I’ve given a lot of thought to steps in life. Steps take us either forward, sideways, or backwards. People I know are going in different directions. Some are keyed to steps at work. They feel that success at work means stepping to something new, something challenging. Perhaps a new consulting gig to tide them over or a new full-time job that will mean more steps.

Others seem lost and their steps do not avail. They take a tentative forward step, sideways step, but end up staying the same or going backwards. If you stay the same and time passes, you might as well be going backwards.

There’s a smaller group that I used to have relationships with that seem trapped or at least like that ball in the games that bounces between different poles. Searching forever searching. But asked; they have no idea what they are looking for. One believes some kind of religion perhaps will lead them. Another disavows religion and believes science is the answer. I remember hearing questions when I did anthropology that weren’t all anthropologists atheists? How could we be the cowboys of science and believe in some “fabrication”. Let’s be clear here. What we believe or not is not open to another’s acceptance or denial. My mom would say that there are things you do not argue about and one is religion. The other is politics.

The truth is that people believe or not and its their business. If you post something discrediting someone for having a conviction or belief you are no better than the one, that dictator, that steals that belief and substitutes it with a body politic or military. People deserve to have things which comfort them. I read my acquaintance R on facebook post the downfalls of religion and others post the upsides of critical thinking, questioning the current political mindset, casting doubt on things because they are masters of the wall post. Let me say this; its really none of your business what another believes if that other person is not foisting an opinion or requirement on you. So anthropologists are not atheists. They have seen the multiple forces that propel culture through advances and one is religion.

Then there’s me. I’ve wondered about the tags to apply to myself come next year. I don’t like the terms digital nomad or ex-pat. They have these preconceived realities that a digital nomad travels the world with the laptop writing or researching or doing marketing and digital media. The ex-pat seems to be a term sometimes which marks a person living somewhere else. I am not either. I am a vagabond. That definition is a person that wanders from place to place with no home or work.

Consider the term vagabond and how it fits a person slowly meandering the remaining years with no work or real home. It’s a person that makes a mark but of his or her choosing and depending on the wandering. A second term is wanderlust. I love that term actually. It’s someone that wanders and finds lust in it. Lust. A passion of heart, mind, soul. Lust that engages us and makes us want. We all lust after things. Some we find and can have and we perhaps have satisfaction. Perhaps other lust we never get and it hangs around shadowing us. Sometimes mocking us. But then when you add the word wander in front; its the road. Almost like a Robert Frost road less traveled. Those with wanderlust want the movement and not the destination. The destination may not exist ever for those with wanderlust. For once we reach the destination, the lust may be over and either we are satisfied or we have found a temporary thing which casts us down and makes us want the wandering part again.

I believe its our indomitable spirit that drives all this. Our very atoms and molecules are made of vagabond star stuff that has traveled miles and hours and generations. So when we ourselves reach past those other terms and desire that vagabond and wanderlust life; we are committing to the things which made us.

I watch people hanging at McDonalds these days and wonder. Is this what they want out of life? This is it? The every day senior coffee and gossip? What about that world out there? I think people reach an age or so and they are scared. They feel that the life out there is not for them but built for millennial spirits. How wrong they are. Life is not reserved for only the young. Us oldsters just move slower but we really do not lose the wanderlust and vagabond feelings. We just hide them and soon they go away.

I say the hell with that. Free up and lose all the stuff you have duplicates of. Simplify and get your stuff into one bag I say. Hit that road to a place that challenges and forget the staid and sameness. Unless your star stuff spirit only requires that. If that is the case, simply stay and order another coffee. That’s your life and assuredly your have ordered up what you want and perhaps you find out its much less than anticipated. Or its exactly as you want. Good! Ignore me.

I am a deviant and itinerant wanderer with the word lust after. I’m a hobo of the lifeways and a vagabond of the times. But that’s me.

You? Your mileage may vary.

Travel Plans and Itineraries

Planning for a long trip (not a vacation) means a few things. By long, I don’t mean rushing through 9 countries in 3 months and declaring done. Instead, one must adopt the slow pace to the countries and move in, take up residence, travel in the new home. I’ve set a few places now in my itinerary and made a few decisions about how I manage things here. Gonna cover the decisions first and then the itinerary.

Decisions to be made or have been made

Finances. I believe that this a tough one. So many choices of how to do things. Do I get a prepaid travel card, credit card, use my existing Bank of America. I actually stopped in yesterday to talk with the BofA representative and while I agree with most of what he said, I believe a credit card is not necessary for someone like me that is completely opposed to their evil. Instead, I opened a Capital One 360 checking account all online and linked my BofA account to it. There are advantages to the Capital One account like transaction fees, online services that already have the banks linked to each other, a lot of good reviews by expats on the service, and finally not having all the “beans” in one bucket. I can decide how to move money around between accounts and use the Capital One account for daily things when I need a debit card. The real thing is cash I think and a way to carry cash securely. You have heard of money belts, secret compartments, fake wallets. I believe a simple $15 to $20 dollar neck wallet is the way to go here. It would be pretty hard to take something hanging around my neck. The real thing with finances though is to manage them when traveling. I have to practice a new way of thinking about money when I get there.

Phone Service. We know that most financial institutions want a phone number to text you at. There are choices here. I could buy a VOIP account and install the client on my iPad Pro. I could use Skype and buy a real number. I could just use Google Voice with what I have. The issue may be that it does not work in some places. That’s without a decent VPN solution. Once you factor in something like ExpressVPN, more choices and alternatives emerge. I can use a local number and get SMS messages, set calls to forward where I want, and make calls on Hangouts for a small cost. The best part of this is there is no new hardware to buy or phones to get for this.

Postal Services. This is a big one guys. What to do with my snail mail service? I cannot just leave it going to a place I am not at nor just buy something like a mailbox where I never know if I get something I need to act on or need emergency forwarding to a hotel in Thailand. Enter virtual mailbox services. For about $100 a year I can receive all mail there with a real address, get the mail imaged or destroyed, and never worry whether my daughter can act on a thing fast enough when she has her own things in her own life. So I will buy a virtual mail service and have all my mail forwarded to that address. With that real address I get flexibility and I get a year’s coverage. For the cost, this is a secure and flexible alternative to the usual issues.

IRS for fun and profit. I have not figured this out yet. But I have a year to deal with it after this next filing. There are solutions out there that expats use. I just need to lock in to one that works. Perhaps e-filing is an option.

Destinations

I started studying destinations about 6 months ago when the plan started taking shape. I wanted to spend longer times in countries that are cheaper and shorter times in places that cost. Here’s the so-called itinerary for your consideration.

Japan. This is an expensive place but there is a part of me linked there somehow so I will spend two weeks traveling in Japan. I’ll get back to Tokyo for 5 days, get to HIroshima for 5 days, and then end in Osaka for 4 days. This will cost a bit but I only do 2 weeks there because of cost. Japan is also a gateway place for me to go on.

Vietnam. I will spend six months split between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. I plan on seeing what each place has to offer and the surrounding areas like HaLong Bay and wherever else the spirit takes me. I already have a six month Visa for Vietnam.

Cambodia. I will spend three months in Phnom Penh and see ancient temples, archeological and historical wonders. After three months I will move elsewhere in Cambodia. Perhaps I spend a year there by extending my e-class visa a few times.

At this point I have the plans for lodging and travel made for the most part. There is a mystery in things still like the train service down to Ho Chi Minh City from Hanoi. The bus service from Ho Chi Minh city to Cambodia. All is fun though to me and the leisurely pace sticks with my goal to not rush through a set of countries on a whirlwind tour. I also think anyone on retirement can live in these places and I’ve added more to my list that will come. These include Thailand, Malaysia, and India for longer stays and Singapore for a shorter stay.

Someone at work asked when I would get back. There is no telling. I don’t want to come back here. This place is lost to me.

So, there you have it dear readers. A few basic things and an itinerary. There are things to get done before that I have saved off in Ulysses which now is my go to place to record and track things. Things need to get done at a pace of time but I have through January at work and then through February to take care of the edge cases of things.

On 1 March though I fly. First up Japan and I am so excited at the prospect of getting back and seeing Tokyo first.

On the road soon with changes

This last week saw me give notice at my employer and completely change my travel plans. I started looking at what it was I wanted to do. I want to get completely away from the states to a cheaper place. My friend Robert at work says that the Bay Area is a special economic zone where prices are inflated, homes are out of reach, and people cannot retire and live.

I decided to do something different so I booked my airline flights for a first leg of an Asian trip. First off I fly to Japan and spend two full weeks in three cities there. I am going back to Tokyo again and then on to Hiroshima and Osaka. I’ll wander the cities much as I have done before but with no end date and no date to be back here. Instead I fly on to Hanoi Vietnam and have purchased a 6 month visa there and I’ll live in Vietnam for months at a few places I have already arranged.

Life is cheaper there by a long shot and my money will go much further. I’ll be able in six months to see a lot of the country, do a lot of photography, and not rush through the countries in some kind of strange and quick order.

Next up after that will be Cambodia. They have great deals too so I will spend months there. Perhaps after that it will be Thailand and then Malaysia and a stint in Singapore and India.

Will I ever come back to the states? I don’t know. I can get a retirement visa in Thailand and spend a year there with no real worries. There is nothing for me here that I can see. Kids are grown up, friends have gone different ways. Nothing is left here. I told a friend at work that now its time for me. People spend decades or lifetimes at stolidly working, being true to the cause. Perhaps underneath that there is wanderlust and the desire to hobo. Maybe not.

I know age has nothing to do with the desire to go. It’s this innate thing I have that this place is not THE place for me.

By March of next year, I’ll be gone. The blog will live on and record my travels like it was meant to do. Perhaps I will write something else about the travels. How an old guy can do the same as all those millennials wandering around the country with backpacks.

Stay tuned. I am gonna write a post soon on how I did this and what it means for me.

End of Work Means Start of Play

The end of work time is approaching sooner rather than later. The planning accelerates now. I’ve let my employer know that I will be giving notice end of the year. By March of next year, I’ll be done here in the Bay Area and will be on the Amtrak seeing the country. This big ole confused country that I currently live in. I have a plan for leaving here and now with the dates established, I can move to a second level of planning which is nailing down travel dates. I will be done with work by end of January but you all know how the last month is with short-timers attitude. I won’t be given new projects because I won’t be around to do them. They will hunt around for a new Program Manager and hopefully find a person. Or not. I’m not sure that most people value Program Managers and some will be glad I’m gone. I guess I am not easy to get along with but when are Program Managers supposed to be? We are supposed to create friction and measure what the company and technology and business needs are against the ultimate outcome of a project success.

Now I know I will be on the Amtrak early part of March next year going to see my mentor first. I can buy the ticket if I want and that kind of legitimizes the whole thing. It’s fun to look at a map of where Amtrak goes.

I know now I can go wherever I want and stay as long at each place. Once work is done in a matter of a few months, I won’t have to return after a vacation is over or come back to a project waiting for me or vendors not starting on things because I was not there.

So off I will go to Los Angeles first from Oakland and then up to see my friend and mentor RWR. I’ll stay as long as I want and then ride Amtrak from Los Angeles to Austin to see my friend Nancy. Then on to Chicago for some street photography in a new place. I’ll stay there for some bit of time and go on to New York and Boston.

Then its back to Seattle on the train to see the country in reverse on a different route. And then…

The long haul flight kicks off and a new adventure awaits in those other places I love. I’ve waited for so long for this time. It’s bittersweet in a few ways. I went through divorce and some bit of reconciliation but I never accepted the outcome of the thing. I will never accept it and will just live with how things ended up. The divorce judge said I was not getting enough in my 50%. He was wrong. I got the best 50% by getting the least. My possessions are really minimal and leaving here in a single backpack is not challenging. Now I know I get the best part of things and I just had to wait until things became the way I wanted. Such is life and living. Like my mom used to say “you have to make each moment count”.

The Train Whistles and Memories Stir

Early morning trains come and go just hundreds of feet from my room here. I sit in the mornings and listen to the lonely tunes the wheels and rails bump and grind. It’s one of those sounds each morning over coffee I consider. I can sometimes tell the difference of the amtrak and the freight trains. Both cross the road by the house live in countless times each day. If the days are good at work, I listen rather absentmindedly. If the days were worse or I leave with a sense of despair the trains are an escape for me. I can imagine the amtrak Capitol Corridor train that often crosses mornings and evenings. I know where the train goes and it would take me part way to the places I really want to go. I could board the train tomorrow and make it to a place like Sacramento and then go on. Perhaps on to Reno or Denver. I could also go to Seattle or Portland or Los Angeles. Different drum beats of destinations that will lead me on.

I think the train whistle is a lonely sound that splits the days and nights for me. It signals to the driver and pedestrian but it also signals to that lonely human element. The element that wants more and different and its keen and pitch cross over and each morning I know I am not long for the Bay Area. There is not enough here to keep me and the trains take me away.

One day I’ll join that train or another. I’ll whisk away to another place and that time is not so distant. It’s November and I realize I only have about 60 days to work and then I will be that wanderer that sits on the train crossing from Shanghai to Beijing or to Los Angeles or to points in between. Because I’m a train wanderer and instead of sitting in lonely distance as the trains and the whistles go; I will join them and perhaps then I will wonder and wander more and the trains will take me.

I know I won’t sit in this room and wonder or try to tell whether its a freight or amtrak voyager. Perhaps I’ll sit at the second level with a cup of coffee and the Fuji camera handy and this room, this bay, this state will just be another memory that the train took me away from.

Missing Vancouver

Last month I traveled to Vancouver BC and spent about 3.5 days wandering around. I took about 400 photos give or take and had the greatest time. There is so much to do there and I was exceedingly lucky to get there after some of smoky and hazy conditions of the weeks before because of the wild fires there. I miss the place!

A good thing about taking photographs is the vicarious reliving of the experience whenever I want. Here’s a few of my favorite photographs taken with my Fuji X series. See if you would like to visit some time.

Some of the things I truly enjoyed there were the people, food, beer, and I think its one of the best cities if you happen to like walking to see a place. They have these wonderful and cheap aquataxi’s to take you here and there. But look at those skies! The beautiful blue and puffy white clouds of each day made my travels so memorable. The city scapes were wondrous and each day I was stunned with the variety of the place. Skyscrapers combined with sleepy neighborhoods and Gastown. All vying for my attention.

I don’t think that 4 days was long enough to see the variety of life and experience the different neighborhoods, parks, and walkways. Too much to see but its always been that way wherever I went and probably will go.

I have cities lining up for next year when I get away. I want to shoot street photography in Chicago a lot. I think late spring next year will be beautiful there. Then it will be on to Boston and New York on the train.

But now its memories of the trips I’ve done and especially the latest one. Vancouver was truly beautiful and a unique place with all of things to see. If you are hunting for a place and want to have your days filled with culture, food, beer, and a great feeling of being; I recommend Vancouver.

 

A retrospective on my journeys since 2011

Prior to 2011, I traveled internationally quite a bit. Would go to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Korea, India, Singapore for work. I loved the travel and built up a reservoir of miles on United that I have kept since then. From 2009 to the early part of 2014, I went through finding out that my wife had committed adultery, that she had no intention of stopping, and meanwhile I just stayed at home. Those years were painful and by 2010, my company sponsored travel dried up and I was left living in the same house with only one trip to India to see a friend get married. From 2012 to 2014, I did nothing and went nowhere. It was a particularly demeaning and depressing time for me. Happiness was fleeting and I would watch my soon to be ex wife take off for the weekends with her lover thus leaving me with pets, kids, house.

In 2014, I finally moved out to a room and was able to travel again by later in the year. I went to Eugene, Oregon on the Amtrak. Later that year I would go to Seattle in November and then in July of 2015 went to Portland. I was like a sponge with this stuff and the vacations were the best and kind of refueled the containers of my life. I also found a way to see the cities that I carried forward from my days seeing Sydney, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Singapore. I would walk for hours and take whatever turns were offered or not. It was not the left or right that mattered but what I was seeing.

In 2016, job challenges were present and I could only to go Santa Barbara for a short weekend but it was a place I wanted to see so it was good. I took care of the job challenges and converted at the current place to full time last October after finishing a grueling set of data center moves. I would then do another data center relocation this time focusing on data itself in the form of virtual machines which we transmitted over the network.

Finishing that I went to San Diego this year. I knew then that I had another place to go and that was Vancouver. Now I finished that trip along with a new camera which has made all the difference in the recording and memory of the trip. I took hundreds more photographs than ever before!

But what is next? I have a great job but there is an end point to it I feel. That end point is around February next year. There are more trips to take then but the basic life and its style will change. I will be gone from the bay area no matter what. There is nothing left for me that I care to hold on it. Vancouver was the final thing for me and I’m leaving knowing I did not see it all or even a piece of it. I did what I could do on foot and I’m happy with the result. The only real person to make happy in this stuff is me.

I guess now you will all have to stick around and see what happens next. Life is never boring and there is a next step to seeing more cities. Cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York.

Thanks for reading along. This kinda closes the chapter on the travels from 2011 to the present. Very cool!

Vancouver Day 3 (last full day)

Welcome to my day 3 in Vancouver! This is the last full day for me and tomorrow I turn around and fly back home after some shopping time around Granville Island in the morning. I spent two full days walking the city north and south and feel I barely scratched the surface of what it offers. I met a nice couple last night at the brewpub and talked politics, photography, and retirement. Since I took my camera, I took a few shots of the evening and Vancouver is just as beautiful at night as during the day. Here’s a few of those.

Last night I went to Cats SocialHouse for dinner and back to Granville Island Brewpub for a beer. Then went and took the evening photos above.

Transition last night to Day 3

Now its the morning with a cup of coffee in the room and I’m thinking back on the trip now facing my last day. I’m fortunate that I can walk the distance and do the vacations I like to do. This year I did two of them but now its back to work. I’ll stay at work through early next year but I can the outcome of it. I know I need to stop and get out of the states and find something else.

Anyways, today its a different direction for me. No aquabus for me today since I will wander around this side of Vancouver and see the maritime and Vancouver museum and wander around the park and seashore for awhile. As usual, this post is saved as a draft post until I get back in the evening and add in the thoughts and places and perhaps a few pictures of what I say.

I just got back to my hotel room and saw a completely different part of Vancouver with sleepy neighborhoods, smaller local businesses , and two museums. I went to the Maritime Museum first and then the Museum of Vancouver which is in the same area as the Maritime Museum. I walked up to Kitsalano Beach and Park and then cut inland on Trafalgar Avenue to Broadway Avenue. From there found a rather interesting brewhouse for lunch called Storm Crow Ale House. I had the burger and two pints of beer and watched a parade of interesting folks come in and out. After that I stopped at an Espresso House and had a iced Americano coffee and came back.

Instead of sharing individual photos, here’s the link to my Google Photo Album for the trip. Hope  you enjoy. It was the last day for the last city I wanted to visit on this coast. That’s amazing in and of itself. I’ve completed all the cities and states I wished to visit.

Amazing!

Stay tuned tomorrow for a retrospective blog post on this.