The first day stumble

Thursday got off to a rotten start – Des was sick, he had a stomach bug. Sara told me he went to bed with a fever and spent a significant amount of the night up-chucking. So, it was all touch and go. The airline was no use at all. Sure, we could go the next day for the princely sum of $7,004 – I kid you not. Anyway, he was getting that flight, he had no choice. And it was fine. He was feeling better with every passing hour (was still off his food) but insisted on trying the cucumber water in the fancy lounge place.

Desmond feeling at home in the Admiral’s Club. He’d better enjoy it, it won’t last long.

One thing Des wanted to do on this trip was take advantage of the fancy airline lounges and rate them, against each other. I’ll be honest, I like airlines lounges, they are a welcome fancy perk. The complimentary beer and wine, the snacks, the guacamole bar. Yes, the guac bar – at 3pm at Logan’s Admiral’s Club, a man makes fresh guacamole right in front of you while you tell him what you want in it. Served with Tostitos. Yum. With Desmond’s appetite clearly on the mend, Desmond demanded his guac – he said it was just like getting a sample at Wholefoods or Trader Joe’s, and I know he loves that.

Eating freshly made Guacamole from the Guac Bar.

Anyway, he liked the Admiral’s Club lounge at Logan, he rated it at a nine out of ten, mostly because of the guac bar and partly because of the view. He rated the lounge in Philadelphia as a seven, because there was less space, more crowded, and it was a long walk to the gate.


“Papa, why can’t we go in one of those carts?”

Our flight was half full and we had a row each to ourselves. He ate, watched some Harry Potter and I made him a little bed and he slept until just before landing at Manchester.

Watching a bit of ‘Arry Potta

It was also Desmond’s first time using a British passport. UK Border Force asked us as we went through passport control if “we’d had a good time in America,” thinking we had come home.

Desmond didn’t know what to say to that – a truly rare moment.

The Long and the Short

On Saturday afternoon, I took my seat at McCoy Stadium and settled in for the first game of a double-header between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings – the Minnesota Twins affiliated AAA club. Although down early, the Sox dug in and clawed their way back. Then in the bottom of the eighth, PawSox third baseman, and the only professional baseball player named after a pale Belgian ale, Jantzen Witte, creamed a home run over McCoy’s center field wall. The PawSox players emptied the bench to meet Witte at the plate. Then the game abruptly ended.


Jantzen Witte’s walk-off home run.

Confused? I certainly was. A walk-off home run at the bottom of the eighth didn’t make any sense and left me scrambling for answers. However, everyone around me seemed to understand what happened.

“We were in extra innings already,” said an older bearded Pawtucketerian, from over my left shoulder, obviously sensing my confusion.

His answer just led to more questions.

“We were in extra innings?” I replied.

“Yes, there are seven innings in a double-header, so the eighth inning was extra innings.”


I wish I’d have known that earlier, I thought.


PawSox’ Ryan Court

These two teams are no strangers to games of odd-length. On April 18th, 1981, the longest professional baseball game in history was played at this ballpark between these two teams.

A cold hard wind blowing from the outfield made it impossible for the teams to score runs even though the game came perilously close to ending in the 21st inning. With the score tied at a measly one run apiece, Mike Hart of the Rochester Red Wings drove in a run only for Wade Boggs to tie it up again in the bottom half. “I didn’t know whether the guys on the team wanted to hug me or slug me,” Boggs said afterwards.

The game continued long and deep into the night. It was cold and the players burned bats and wooden benches in the dugout to keep warm. Between innings, the umpires consulted their rule books in a vain attempt to find the rules that governed curfews. The general manager and PawSox office staff tried to contact the league commissioner at his Ohio home but to no avail. Finally, he was tracked down and woken from a deep slumber at around 3am. Horrified, he ordered the game to be suspended at the end of the current inning. Inning 32. The game ended at 4:07am, Easter Sunday Morning.

Only 20 people remained at the ballpark (including home plate umpire Dennis Cregg’s twelve-year-old nephew who’d fallen asleep on the seats behind home plate) all of which received lifetime free passes to future PawSox games. Twenty-five years later in an interview with the Washington Post, Dennis Cregg said his nephew refused to go to another baseball game.


The teams agreed to finish the game the next time the Red Wings were in town. It ended two months later in front of a sell out crowd and was over in just 18 minutes.

After 33 innings of play the PawSox won 3-2.

Future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. played 3rd base for the Red Wings. He had 2 hits from 13 at-bats (.153).

Future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs had 4 hits from 12 at-bats (.250).


Eastern State Penitentiary

The governor of Pennsylvania in the roaring 20’s was a guy with two last names – Gifford Pinchot. Prior to being governor, Pinchot, an ardent conservationist, was appointed by President William Taft to be the first Chief of the United States Forest Service. Somewhere between these jobs, Pinchot was embroiled in something called the Pinchot-Ballinger controversy – a conflict of interest scandal to do with coal mines and cover-ups, forcing a split in the Republican party just prior to the 1912 presidential election.


Hospital wing, Eastern State Penitentiary

Anyway, the reason I bring up Gifford Pinchot is because in 1924 a dog attacked and killed his wife’s cat. Pinchot’s wife and first lady of Pennsylvania, Cornelia Bryce,  lobbied Pinchot to do something. So, Governor Pinchot held a trial for the dog, and found the dog guilty of murder. “Pep” was sentenced to a life at the prison without chance of parole. Pep had a mug shot and was assigned inmate number C2559. I’m not kidding. This really happened.


Pep the dog, with mutt shot.

This is the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It opened in 1829 and closed in 1971. The damp air and crumbling masonry reminded me of a flat I once lived in when I was student at Coventry. The prison introduced a new type of system called the Pennsylvania System. Each prisoner was held in solitary confinement over the length of their sentence. Every time a prisoner left a cell, a cloth sack was placed over their head so that they couldn’t see any of the other prisoners. The only people a prisoner could see were guards. The reason was not of punishment, but rather penance. The prison was constructed to promote prisoners’ thought and reflection. The new system drove the architecture, and was copied by many prisons over the next hundred or so years.


I’m not a photojournalist

When it came to it, I didn’t have the guts to get the shot off. And that’s probably why I’m not a photojournalist. I was thinking about this the other day. I was wandering around Kyoto a few months ago, camera at the ready, itching to take a photograph of a Geisha. Then I rounded a corner and heard the unmistakable tinkling sound of the Ogi-bira kanzashi – a hair ornament traditionally worn by a maiko, an apprentice geisha. There she was, right in front of me. I had my camera in my hand, I was all ready to go.

But I just couldn’t do it. 

It felt disrespectful. It didn’t feel right.

So here are a couple of photographs of some tourists in traditional Japanese attire instead.

The Robot Restaurant

I don’t know that I can explain the Robot Restaurant – I really can’t. It’s complete sensory overload – from seeing it outside to sitting in the waiting room. For Christ’s Sake, the waiting room is what I’d imagine Trump Tower to look like if DJT partook in LSD.

Kung Fu Panda was riding a cow, people were eaten by sharks, guitarists were swinging (on swings), horses riding zebras, or perhaps it was the other way around. I don’t know, I didn’t know what to look at next.

It was tacky, it was deafening loud, it was…seriously, I don’t know. It was wonderful. Brilliant. It was not Japanese at all, and yet, it was most Japanese thing you could ever see, ever. If you go to Tokyo, don’t miss it.

In Beijing

It was an early start on Wednesday morning. Meet the guide at the hotel and then go to the Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Lots to do, lots to see. The highlight of the day was surely to see the wall.

There was a spot of early awkwardness. The tour group was relatively small, just Fiona, me, and a lovely honeymooning couple from Mexico. Yes, the gigantic elephant in the room here was that we were about to tour one of the world’s great walls with a couple from Mexico.

Okay, first things first. The thing about China (and I can write this now because I am in Japan) is that you feel that you are always being watched. I don’t mean someone hiding behind bushes, I mean everywhere you look there are police, soldiers, some kind of security. Everywhere. Every entrance to a train station or metro station, someone will x-ray your bag. From the perspective of a tourist in a city, I felt safe. It was, in a way, reassuring. But would I like to live under that? Absolutely not. So when our first stop was Tiananmen Square, there was a lot of security to go through.

I remember when the protests happened in 1989 – yes, even at 18 years old I was politically aware, and I thought, as did everyone else, that the protests at Tiananmen were to become unstoppable change. The protestors called the bluff of the government, and, well, we know what happened.

dsc_5673But of course all this is what I am thinking about as I walk across Tiananmen. And I know I can’t ask our guide because China doesn’t like anyone to talk about it. My dad will remember this, but as a kid I travelled with my parents to the Soviet Union and we wandered across Moscow’s Red Square. I was surprised at its size, not that it was big, but how compact it was. Remember the images of Breshnev waving at the passing SS20s over the square, it looked miles wide, but it wasn’t. And I was prepared for that at Tiananmen too, but Tiananmen is as big as it looks on TV.

Walking across the square, I heard a woman’s voice booming across a PA system in Mandarin. My western head immediately assumed that she was talking about the greatness of Chairman Mao, and be obediant to the People etc etc. When in fact she wasn’t, she was saying “Make sure you take your bag with you, stand in this line for the tomb. Ask your guide about daily specials. Be careful of pickpockets.”

dsc_5678From Tiananmen it’s a short walk to the Forbidden City. Nothing about China is small – and the Forbidden City just keeps giving like nested Chinese dolls. The Forbidden City was the Palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties.


And then the wall. But before that – driving in China. This is an experience to cherish. Seriously, take any of the taxi drivers were hired in either Shanghai or Beijing, transplant them in Boston, and they could have you anywhere in five minutes or less. Driving in China is a national sport, a cross between Frogger and Tetris. There is nothing like it.


People warned us about the wall. It can be hit and miss. You may go and not see anything, or it may be crowded, or it may be snowy, icy. It was none of these, it was perfect. A cloudless sky and a view for miles.

To Beijing

I found out a couple of days ago that Beijing never changed its name from Peking. It was always called Beijing. The name Peking comes from a mistranslation into English of two Chinese characters, or rather, the translation came from a more southern Chinese dialect. Either way, its name never changed.

The more you know, right?

We took the fast train from Shanghai to Beijing on Wednesday – it took about 5 hours. We covered roughly the same distance from Atlanta to New York City.

img_8799The Chinese really know how to get their infrastructure right. The stations are spotless and huge.


Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station


Business class, baby.

And again, the vastness of the cities is only truly apparent when traveling over land. The train made two stops on the way to Beijing – Nanjing and Jinan. Nanjing (you may or may not have heard of it), literally translated means South Capital, and was the capital city of the Republic of China, not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China. (Beijing means North Capital.) Anyway, Nanjing and Jinan are two enormous cities in their own right – both somewhere between 8-10 million people, which puts them in the London/New York by “cities proper” range.


Beijing certainly has a different vibe than Shanghai. Shanghai is the New York, Beijing is the DC.

And when in Beijing, what other to do than sample the Peking Duck…


Chef at Duck de Chine, Beijing.


Peking Duck

Lost In Translation

I want to preface this by saying that as I was a foreigner in China, I really did appreciate the lengths that the Chinese people go to explain things in English. They didn’t need to. I’m sure that there are examples of written Chinese in the New York Metro System that are as pretty much “off the mark” as these excerpts.

At the foot of the escalator, near our hotel at People’s Square in Shanghai.
“Do not pop out the head or other part of the body.” Seems pretty logical, right? I mean you don’t want to be popping off parts.

This one over a recycling bin at Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station:
“Let’s protect the earth with Hongqiao Railway Station.” I mean you know what it is trying to say – context is everything.

This one at the Maglev:
“Stay within the caution line. Striding over the safety line forbidden.” Very specific.

At the hotel:
“Dear Ladies/Gentlemen, Welcome to Shanghai. Please never follow any stranger to the bar, tea house, KTV and massage parlor for consumption so as to have a happy holiday in Shanghai and to protect yourself from financial loss or physical injury. We wish you all the best.”

So, I get that you aren’t supposed to go to such places, but the following a stranger thing required some thinking about. I guess it means strangers coming up to you and saying “Hey, you wanna go to this bar?- you’ll have fun!” Nod and a wink, etc etc. KTV, if you don’t know, is Karaoke TV. According to the internets, there are two flavors of KTV – the family-friendly version and another one. The family version is where you and your friends, or family, rent a KTV room and sing karaoke. The non-family version involves not only your friends but also pre-paid guests, to sing karaoke.

This one spotted outside the Sightseeing Tunnel at the Bund in Shanghai under the heading of ‘tourist etiquette rules.’
“To keep a clean environment, do not spit phlegm or chewing gum onto the ground.”
“To pay attention to courtesy, be dressed appropriately, and do not go barebacked in public areas.”
“To give priority to the disabled or the old, and to give courtesy to ladies, do not speak foul language.”
“To promote healthy entertainment. To resist feudal or superstitious activities, and say “no” to pornography, indecency, gambling or drugs.”

What are feudal or superstitious activities? What did someone do that required a sign?


Shanghai is absolutely massive. MOOOOAAAASSIVE. It’s like Coruscant meets Bladerunner. A city designed for a wide-angle lens. 34 million live here. That’s all of Spain squashed into a city.

The Maglev from Pudong Airport to Longyang Road shifts along at a heart farting 431 km/h,270mph. That’s a mile every 13 seconds.


430 km/h = Me crapping my pants.


Guard salutes the Maglev as it approaches Longyang Station, Shanghai.



And then there’s the Bund, and the tunnel.  What is it with the tunnel?  I’m sure it cost a lot of Yuan to build, and there seems to be good return on investment, but I’m not exactly sure why.


The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, Shanghai


I’m really bored. I’ve only been in the air for 4 hours, only another 11 hours to go. I’ve already watched two films, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters. As I write this and probably send this I’m somewhere over Alberta, Canada. There is wifi on the plane but it is slow. I texted my dad a picture of the wing (more of that in a minute) and it literally took six minutes to upload. (How big an example of middle-class privilege is that?) I likely choked everyone else’s bandwidth as well.

I’m bored so I’m going to geek out. Here we go. The plane is a super-new Boeing 787 800 series. It’s one of the first airliners built from carbon-composite-fiber something or other, and that makes them really light and really strong. The other thing with the carbon-fiber thingy is that it is really bendy, like rubber. It’s basically a reinforced plastic. The first thing I noticed when we were climbing was that the wings bend alarmingly upwards.

You have to factor that the aircraft carries upwards of sixteen hours of fuel. On takeoff, literally, half the weight of aircraft is fuel but as the flight goes on, the plane gets lighter and the wings bend less. Given that half the weight of the aircraft upon departure is fuel, it takes more fuel to carry that fuel. The burn rate of the fuel at the beginning of the journey is higher than at the end of the journey because it requires less power to keep the plane in the air.

Dinner was good – it was rice and chicken. I ate with chopsticks. I don’t think anyone else ate with chopsticks, which is disconcerting given where the plane is going and who is on the plane. I looked like a tourist as I threw my rice over the cabin windows.

Yes, the windows – another cool thing about the 787 is the dimming windows. Some genius in Finland figured out that certain materials can change their color if an electrical charge is placed across them. And so, why not make airplane windows out of them. Then you don’t need blinds right? The passenger next to the window gets to control the opacity of the window. There are five settings – transparent to opaque – although opaque isn’t completely opaque, it’s pretty cool. As I look out the window right now, it looks like dusk. In reality it’s full daylight. The flight attendants take control of all the windows after dinner to allow people to sleep (because it’s 4:30am Beijing time right now) and for the weirdness that is the international dateline, we have to pretend that it’s night.


Pretend night aboard American 127, non-stop service from Dallas to Shanghai

Because the plane travels westwards towards the east (bear with me here) I travel across the International Dateline. Everywhere west of the international dateline, which is in fact the eastern hemisphere, is a day ahead of everything on the east of the line, which is the western hemisphere. One transitioning the international dateline loses a day somewhere. I left Dallas at 10:20am on the Saturday (five or so hours ago), fly for fifteen hours, then land in Shanghai at 4:20pm on the Sunday. All this without even flying through any night (not including the pretend night imposed by the flight crew). I only really lend this “time,” I’m not sure to whom, but through the miracle of maths, it gets returned in full in the way back. So, in ten days, I’ll depart Tokyo at 5:20pm on a Wednesday and land in Los Angeles at 10:00am on the very same Wednesday, seven hours before I left.

I’m really excited about landing in Shanghai for a ton of reasons. The first is that even this plane is really nice – it’s still just a plane and my freedom is restricted. But the other thing is that I get to go on the fastest operational train in the world.

We’re creeping up on Alaska, and I’m tired now. I might be able to squeeze out a nap.