16 July, 2005 Day 0. It's begun. Sort of.

Although tomorrow is the official day when I begin to head east until I wind up back where I started. But today is the day I officially start to act like I'm traveling. That means being all packed, taking pictures, shooting footage, and keeping a log. I won't say blog now or ever. I'm not entirely sure why I hate that word so much; probably something to do with the fact that everyone suddenly feels the compelling need to share the most mundane things with the entire world and I can barely summon up the interest to keep track of the day to day activities in my own life. Years ago (like 3) people would keep diaries for themselves. They were meant to be private. Now the most trivial thought or activity is there for the entire world to see. Who they have a crush on, what they want to do with their life, what the mall was like yesterday, what they REALLY think of someone who apparently will never stumble upon these thoughts through Google. People put their home addresses, class schedules, pictures of their family, and more on these things/ Stalking used to be a challenge; now, thanks to these lamebrains, it can be an automated task. This is an example of the kind of tangent I'm liable to waltz into while typing away during my travels. I'll try to keep it under control. Let's focus on what I'm actually going to be doing. Sunday I embark on the Queen Mary 2, the largest ocean liner in the world. I'm a bit embarrassed by this as this is something that's well beyond my means but it's something I've always wanted to try so, fuck it, I'm going to do it anyway. I won't fit in with all of the rich snobs on this boat who I understand actually expect me to dress up for dinner. Oh, I'll dress up. It probably won't be what they expect, however.. Of course I realized after writing this that it's very likely I'll become friendly with some of these people who will learn about what I'm doing and wind up reading this very piece. So please don't take offense, fellow boat travelers. It's all about clashing cultures and learning various things along the way. I'm sure I'll be surprised. The idea is to travel from New York to New York by circumnavigating the globe without making use of air travel. Hence the QM2. Along the way, I'll be working on the latest 2600 Films project, which I'll get into in a little more depth onced I'm actually on the boat and have confirmed that I haven't forgotten the camera. I'm also going to be doing two radio shows a week, each in a different fashion. "Off The Wall" will air on Tuesday nights on WUSB and over the net. That program will be comprised of a recorded CD that I will have produced from wherever I happen to be a day or so in advance and then (hopefully) uploaded to the station. "Off The Hook" on the other hand will be live and it will sound like I'm on the phone because I most certainly will be. The "on the road" shows are always a challenge since I have to be a host without seeing anyone and there are often technical issues of every sort imaginable. It makes for exciting and sometimes exasperating radio. I'm due to arrive in England on Saturday morning. I'll spend some time in London and then make my way over to What The Hack, the once-every-four-years Dutch outdoor hacker conference the following weekend. After that, it's eastward by train to Berlin, Warsaw, Minsk, and Moscow where I'll be meeting up with some friends for another adventure I've always wanted to take part in: the Trans Siberian Express. This train (the longest line in the world) will take us to Mongolia, where the plan is to ride jeeps around in the Gobi Desert and environs. That should be pretty memorable on many levels. After this, it's on to China, first Beijing and then Shanghai. I realize it's the most populated country in the world so a one sentence description is completely inadequate insofar as summing up my expectations. But for now I have nothing else to say about it other than the fact that from Shanghai I'll catch a boat to

Osaka, Japan and from there hopefully a ballet train to Tokyo. I've heard much about these ballet trains and I hope to finally see for myself how they're able to incorporate dance into the narrow corridors of a train. And then, another really unusual leg of the journey as I cross the Pacific Ocean but not on a luxury liner. In stark contrast, I'll be one of a maximum of eight passengers on a freighter hauling God knows what to California. And once back in the States, the final and probably scariest part of the trip: Amtrak. So now you (and I) have a sense of what's ahead. This is what you'll be subjected to if you continue to read these pages. Today is pretty much a test of the system and an attempt to get into the mindset of traveling, typing, and taking pictures. The three T's of travel. Travel also begins with T. And a cup of tea is exactly what I will start looking for now, here in the city of New York. Cheerio.

17 July, 2005 Day 1. "We've never had the entire bank of computers fail for so long at the same time." That was today's quote from check-in at the Queen Mary 2. Somehow whenever someone affiliated with 2600 travels, that sort of thing seems to always happen. So I wasn't too surprised. Today marks the actual beginning of something I've long dreamed about. From this point onwards, with a few intermissions, I will be heading east until I wind up back where I started. Or at least a few blocks south of where I started in Penn Station when I cross the States in a train hopefully sometime in late September. The QM2 leaves every few weeks from its berth at 52nd Street on the Hudson River. It's as big as a city block, buildings and all. So anyway, I'm now on that boat. After months of preparation and all kinds of last minute freaking out about things that needed to be done before leaving, it's now finally begun. And I have to say it's exactly as I expected it to be which is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Taking a boat is a lot friendlier than taking a plane. While you have to go through the same basic sorts of security (and I didn't see anyone being subjected to "extra" searches), the atmosphere is a whole lot more pleasant overall. Definitely orders of magnitude better than the last experience I had in a West Side pier. So after that slight delay caused by the computer failure which nobody really seemed to mind, I got my first taste of cruising culture. Once they check to make sure you have a passport and ticket, you get to wait in the check-in line where you're processed. They take your picture with a little webcam like they do now when you enter the country at airports. But this picture is used for a little credit card they make on the spot. They tie it into an existing credit card of yours and this is the sole means of buying anything on the boat. It also serves as your room key. You find one of these lying around and you basically own the person it belongs to. I've never clung to a card so tightly. So once you actually walk over the gangway onto the boat, you're greeted by two rows of staffpeople which I suppose serves to inflate one's sense of self-importance. It works. I felt like I was one of America's wealthy which, surprisingly, most people on the boat don't actually seem to be. When you finally start moving around and exploring, the sheer lavishness of it all really knocks you over the head. (But that's always been the point of sheer lavishness, hasn't it?) It doesn't feel like you're even on water most of the time but rather in a somewhat bizarre and expensive hotel/resort from which

there is no escape. I spent several hours just walking and finding new places. It really does seem to go on forever. And yet, feelings of claustrophobia set in every now and then. After all, each and every one of us is stuck here for the next week. It's also incredible just how slow this thing is. It's been eight hours since we cast off and we just cleared the eastern tip of Long Island. Even the Long Island Railroad is faster than this, to give you a sense of how incredibly slow an ocean liner can be. But I think in the end I will have gained an appreciation for something we often forget - the ocean is pretty fucking huge. And, for that matter, so is the world. But zipping around on jets everywhere, you tend to forget that. It's also so much more of a big deal when you leave your home city by boat and it slowly fades away into the fog and you push on into unknown waters. (Unknown to me, hopefully not to the people in charge.) But it's hard to experience such a thing without a degree of emotion. The technology on board is also quite impressive. I have WiFi in my room, the net connection seems just fine for my purposes, and the $14.50 an hour they charge is not nearly as bad as what I was expecting. (If you dare to use one of their phones, expect rates in excess of $10 a minute. They're quite emphatic in reminding you to replace the handset properly. I can only imagine what might have happened in the past to prompt this stern warning.) There's also an email function on everyone's TV set: Each guest is assigned an email address. If you read any incoming mail, it costs you $1.50 per message! Quite outrageous. However, if you simply delete a message without reading it, it costs you nothing. Since the subject line is quite visible before you must make that decision, you can easily subvert the system and receive short messages from anywhere for free. Something we take for granted back home but which feels like an accomplishment out here. There are all kinds of little oddities here such as having your meals and room service already paid for (alcohol not included). You're assigned to a particular restaurant for dinner at a certain time and wind up sitting with other people also assigned to that table. I met a very interesting couple from Scotland named Bob and Margaret (they have nothing at all to do with the British cartoon series of the same name) who actually are doing a round trip on the QM2. They got off in New York this morning and got back on this afternoon, spending a few hours walking around the city, going to Chinatown, riding the subway, visiting B&H Photo, and, oh yes, taking a boat ride around Manhattan. It's amazing the kinds of conversations you can have with people when you're thrust into a situation like this. I learned that their entire trip came about because Bob had misbehaved after a night in various pubs and this was how he was making it up to Margaret. "The most expensive night of his life," she noted. That notwithstanding, they got a really good deal on the whole thing. So these are all only a few initial impressions. I'll either have many more to share in the days ahead or a very strong desire to escape from this vessel.

18 July, 2005 Day 2. I'm still amazed at how slow we're traveling. More than 24 hours after leaving New York and we have yet to get east of Newfoundland. It's been very different today. Not much at all in the way of interaction as today was the day I recorded "Off The Wall" for broadcast tomorrow. The recording itself went smoothly for the most part and the post production wasn't too much of a pain, new software and all. Then all hell broke loose.

I've mentioned how impressed I've been with the technological abilities on this ship. But that was before trying to upload an 80 meg file. I've had more network disconnects and aborted transfers than I can remember ever experiencing in a single day. And on the one site I was able to get a connection worthy of actually beginning the transfer, I discovered I had a strictly enforced disk quota exactly one meg smaller than the file I was transferring. That's about the time you begin to realize that you're cursed. Add to that the fact that net connectivity is 25 bucks an hour and this has been an incredibly frustrating night. But I'm going to stick with it until it's done. Or until the show doesn't air. I've had many all-nighters of trying to figure out why something isn't working, forgetting about sleep, food, and the rest of the world. I just never figured that would happen on the QM2. It's really good therapy to just sit out on the deck and think of all the water that's going by. Even though we're not even east of Canada yet, you can't see land in any direction. Just a tiny moving city in the middle of the sea. And an increasingly frustrated radio host trying to get his show on the air against all kinds of new odds. Which is what I'm going to get back to doing now.

19 July, 2005 Day 3. As I feared, I wound up spending the entire night trying to get "Off The Wall" uploaded. I finally succeeded shortly after 8:00 am our time. It aired on WUSB this evening and is now available online so please listen to it so my efforts won't have been completely in vain. Apparently we're at that point where certain satellites have become very undependable. I wound up literally transferring one meg at a time, having the connection die, and then reestablishing the link, a process which took several minutes in itself. A broadcast quality file can be many dozens of megs in size so this was no easy task. If it wasn't for the resume ability of sftp, this never would have gotten done. So already I'm on a schedule in direct opposition to most others on this boat. Today I woke up at 4:00 pm. Part of the problem also lies in the fact that we lose an hour every night due to our eastward progress. So I really never seem to know what time it is. I'm supposed to be paying attention to the little "Daily Programme" notices that tell you what's going on that day. So I didn't see that I had to appear before some immigration official with my passport sometime today. I just found a notice under my door advising me to show up tomorrow by noon, whenever that turns out to be. I'm not especially concerned; I suspect this sort of thing is more for their convenience than it is for mine. But I'll make an attempt to comply. Tonight was rather interesting. I actually made it into one of the formal night activities thanks to Bob and Margaret, my newfound friends from Scotland, who lent me an appropriate shirt and tie. Bob even dressed in a kilt which made me a whole lot more comfortable. And surprisingly, he wasn't the only one. Something tells me I would like it in Scotland. The overall attitude seems very relaxed and defiant. We wound up attending a cocktail reception hosted by the captain who seemed more like an emcee than anything else. Still, I don't doubt his abilities and I hope he's gone back to steering this thing safely across the Atlantic. We then went to dinner and a show: "Rock @ the Opera" which featured everything from Mozart to Freddie Mercury and was supposed to leave me "breathless and astounded." Well, it was nice, anyway. And the mere fact that I was sitting in a theatre halfway across the Atlantic was rather astounding in itself. And it's also pretty cool that once you're on one of these things, everything is already paid for so you can go to dinner, order room service, or whatever and nobody expects any

money. Alcohol is the exception for which they take your magic card. You don't even have to tip - that gets added in at the end. I'm sure I'm in for a shock when I see what they give themselves. I guess the biggest thing this boat has going for it is the fact that the people running it know how to fool you into thinking that you're not on a boat at all. Between the activities and the work I've been doing, I've lost track of this fact quite a few times. So I guess I'm definitely not bored. And tomorrow at around noon, we officially reach the halfway point. Not sure what exactly happens at that moment, but I suppose it'll be a good feeling. Looking at our location, it appears we're about to pass east of Greenland although we're still as far south latitude-wise as France. At the time of this writing, our latitude is 44'21 252N, 043'34 397W. And today we lost CNN. Perfectly OK with me as it was the domestic feed and not the international. But it means all we have are prerecorded shows from the ship and no live television at all. But nobody seems to miss it. I've tested out the satellite phone for tomorrow's "Off The Hook" broadcast. It promises to be somewhat touch and go, which I suppose is the way it ought to be. Apart from the Internet fiasco, technology is holding out pretty well. I swear just moments after writing that, a message appeared on my television advising of "service connection lost" with regards to our GPS info. Oh well. Hopefully they don't need that in the bridge.

20 July, 2005 Day 4. If there's a theme to this journey, it's going to be small contained spaces. Here on the boat I have my own little cubicle which actually isn't so bad - I'm sure my hotel room in London will be much more cramped. And then it's on to a tent of some sort in Holland during the hacker conference, a train compartment on the Trans Siberian, and I can only imagine what awaits in China and Japan. And then another boat compartment for the long journey over the Pacific. What a contrast that part of the voyage will be. No bars, casinos, concerts, or thousands of other passengers to pass the time with. I'm quite looking forward to it. But here, I can wander all over the QM2 and find new places to explore with every attempt. Everywhere you look, there's some sort of bar, club, or lounge with a particular sort of theme. And one thing I really like is the fact that doors never seem to be locked. If an establishment is closed, you can still go inside and hang out. You can go to the top of the boat like I just did in the middle of the night and nobody will harass you. Come to think of it, I haven't encountered a single security type anywhere. Oh I'm sure they're around. God knows there are enough cameras in this place. I counted four that could see me in a single part of a bar last night. I guess rich and powerful people really would make a stink if they kept getting intercepted by security everywhere they went. So security becomes discrete. Now if only the rest of us proles could figure out how to do that, life might become a bit more bearable for us as well. We passed the halfway point today at around noon. I slept through it as I did my appointment to meet with the immigration people. That resulted in an "urgent" message being slipped under my door saying that Thursday would be my absolute last chance or else. The "or else" turns out to be having my name read out over a loudspeaker or something. I think the worst that could happen is that I might take longer to get off the boat than most of the others. Since we arrive in Southampton at around 6 in the morning, I doubt I'll be in a hurry to get anywhere. But since Thursday's appointment is at the far more

reasonable hour of 4:00 pm, I really think I'll be able to show up. Unless of course I forget. It was really weird looking out today at the ocean and thinking I saw land in the distance. Of course there was nothing there. But something made the water appear darker or higher way far away. It must be a real pain to be lost in the middle of the sea. I must remind myself never to do that. It's also very odd to realize that you're out of reach from the rest of the world. No helicopter can make it this far out. Probably one of those water landing planes could. But if something bad were to happen, it would be quite a while before any sort of help could reach you. And by then it would surely be too late. A nice cheery thought to keep in my head as ocean madness begins to set in. Speaking of cheer, I got the bad news about our latest distributor woes today which ironically forced me to deal with the crisis over the Internet which I'm trying to avoid like the plague due to its high cost. (Originally I thought it was $14 an hour but that was actually the half hour rate. An hour is actually $25.95. And I have this uneasy feeling that they're not so good at detecting when you've signed off. I'm summoning up the courage to look at my bill on the television sometime tomorrow after a few stiff drinks.) The crux of the matter is that one distributor totally ripped us off for a year's worth of issues and, as if that weren't enough, we had sales for the winter issue decline by a third because it wound up on the stands late and the spring issue got there on time. Most of the time, these are circumstances beyond our control. I only hope we don't get a snowball effect like we did the last time this happened in 1997. One thing that cheered me up immensely was doing "Off The Hook" from the satellite phone while standing on the top deck of the boat. From my end the connection seemed quite good, it being the first time I'd ever used such a device. We lost the connection a couple of times: once due to a satellite issue and another time because of the WBAI phone system. But overall it went really smoothly and Redhackt did a great job engineering. On top of everything else, we had to do fundraising tonight because of the WBAI financial crisis. We made a deal with the listeners which was basically a promise that we wouldn't spend an inordinate amount of time begging for money if they brought us over $1000 in the first few minutes of the show. The response was staggering. It was over $2000 and counting by the time we were done, which was fantastic considering how many times we've had to ask for funds recently. It was also incredibly weird to be standing on top of the world's largest ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean raising funds for the radio station back home - and succeeding. Many thanks to all of those who called in. But there's more bad news. WBAI has decided to preempt us next week, despite our strong listener response and the fact that we had been planning a special program from the "What The Hack" site for many months with people from all over the world. I can only hope they come to their senses in time but I can't say I'm optimistic. Despite this frustration, I really hope people don't give up on the station. It's a vital outlet for people like us and for so many others. So it's been a mixture of good and bad news from home as I move ever closer to my first destination. I'm just glad to still be in touch and I'm sure everything will work out somehow. You tend to become a lot more philosophical on the high seas which I suppose has its benefits.

21 July, 2005 Day 5. BBC came back into range today right in time to let us know about the latest terror scare. Two weeks to the day after the terrorist attacks in London, an apparent duplicate attempt was made. Miraculously, all four devices failed to go off. Some bomb maker is probably getting chewed out by his fellow terrorists at this very moment. It's so bizarre though. The QM2 was on its way to London the last time this happened and I wondered at the time what it must have been like onboard to hear the news. And now I get to experience it, albeit to a much lesser degree. Everyone I met today had heard about what had happened. One guy had concluded that the only way to deal with things from now on would be to simply search everyone who looks Middle Eastern before they get on a tube or bus. He wouldn't say it on camera unfortunately. It really upsets me to see how Blair and Bush have so totally fucked their own people, both by getting them killed in an absurd invasion/occupation and also by helping to introduce the concept of suicide bombings in their respective countries. What victory have they won? They've stirred up a hornet's nest because they didn't understand hornets and now we all have to deal with the mess. Not to mention all of the money that has been poured into this big waste of time which could have gone into fixing so much of what is wrong in both of our nations. And now they're talking about introducing laws in England that would make it a crime to "indirectly" support terrorism. That means if you say something that a potential terrorist could latch onto as justification or affirmation for his/her actions (such as "This is exactly what England had coming"), you could be dragged away in the night. And while they're introducing this twisted legislation, these very same people are spewing words like "we must not let them shake our resolve or change our values." Do they really not listen to what is coming out of their own mouths? The fact is, England most definitely had this coming and it's only a matter of time before it begins to happen in the United States. What did we expect? You can't occupy countries, impose your will on populations at the point of a gun, and lead a crusade of "democracy" throughout the world and not expect some sort of severe reaction from the many people who don't see it your way. And suicide bombs are the perfect weapon to use. How can you possibly stop someone from attacking when they don't mind dying? There's literally no defense and it winds up scaring the shit out of everyone and getting fools to repeal the values and laws that are supposed to be what we stand for in the first place! Since our leaders and our soldiers are so heavily protected from everybody and everything, guess who winds up becoming the victims of these strikes? Sure, I blame the idiotic fanatics who are now causing so much panic in our streets. But I also blame our own idiot fanatics who seem to think they can mold the world into some sort of Disneyland for the West. And it's the latter who had the power to keep this destructive game from starting in the first place. But enough about that. Despite the resumption of live TV and its unwelcome news, the QM2 is chugging ever closer to Southampton dock. We can now see England on the map showing our progress. Still a ways to go but it now seems in the foreseeable future. As this is the longest I have ever been on a boat, I wonder what it will feel like to set foot on solid ground once again. I do so hope England is still there when we arrive. I was very excited today to see another boat passing by. That kind of thing doesn't happen very often out at sea. And the boat we passed (which was heading west) seemed so small and empty. It turned out to be a tanker but I had to wonder just how many people were on board and how they were passing their time. Perhaps I'll find out when I ride the freighter across the Pacific in September. It's all about redefining loneliness.

The whole day was wet and stormy. Not many people ventured outside. So naturally I spent more time than ever outdoors today. In fact, I did what I wanted to do ever since I came on board. I walked the length of every floor on the ship. Of course there are many hidden areas that I wasn't able to gain access to. But I covered everything that was accessible from the top of the ship on the 14th deck to the employee hive on the 1st deck. For every floor, I went up one corridor and down the other on the opposite side. If there were balconies, I made a second trip down those. If anyone was watching me, they would have had no doubts as to the state of my sanity. But it kept me from going stir crazy, gave me some much needed exercise, and satisfied a bit of my curiosity. I think I may finally know where everything is. The ship has well over a thousand employees serving the needs of the 2500 or so passengers. And they seem to be specially trained to be extra nice to anyone who's a passenger. Not once in my hours-long sojourn did anyone ask if they could help me in that all too familiar obnoxious tone which really means "you don't belong here." Whether it was a hallway that led to a dead end, a restaurant that was no longer open, or a club that was still setting up, nobody stood in my way or questioned my motives. And that's also true of the passengers. It's clear I don't fit in here. But that's been reinforced primarily through my own thoughts and not from anything anyone else has said or done. (Of course, I can only imagine what they're *thinking* but that's another issue.) Getting back to the huge amount of employees, part of their being nice to everyone mandates that they say hi to you whenever you pass them. And of course it's only polite to respond in kind. Try to envision how many employees I passed while walking up and down every hallway on a city block long 14 level boat and you'll understand why today set a personal record for the most meaningless pleasantries I've ever exchanged with complete strangers. It was wonderfully unsatisfying. I also finally hooked up with the immigration people who stamped my passport with Saturday's date. That's kinda cool by itself. But the funny thing was that I was literally one of a handful of people who hadn't finished the procedure yet. I had just assumed that there would be a lot more of us who weren't so punctual. The consequences of not showing up to this appointment included having your name read out on the boat's loudspeaker. I heard two names read out at the end of the day. Those are the people I need to meet. I also bit the bullet and looked at my Internet bill. Pretty bad. Over $400 in charges, most of it incurred during the "Off The Wall" upload. I sure hope you all listened at least. I'll be trying to get some of that taken off because of the many net problems that were occurring but we are in the middle of the ocean after all so I'm not going to get all "American" on their asses by bitching and moaning and carrying on in a loud voice. I'll just find another way to get even if it comes down to it. Tomorrow is the last full day on the boat and hopefully it will be a little nicer outside than today. As I write this in the middle of the night, the wind is howling at my window. I've always liked that sound on land. Here at sea it's slightly less comforting but it's still pretty awe inspiring.

22 July, 2005 It's the last full day on the boat and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand it'll be great to finally get back onto dry land. But I admit I've developed some attachment to this weird place that has been my home since Sunday. Whether it's the crowds of tuxedo adorned fellow travelers passing by in the hallways, the nonstop party atmosphere that exists in the many common areas, the endless amount of

food that's always available (most of it pretty damn good too), or just the view onto the ocean that's ever present, I'll definitely have fond memories of at least some of it. I got my first glimpse of land this evening. It was just a couple of lights that were pretty far away but it was a marked change from the last few days. Things will be very different from now on. I've decided to stay up all night and greet the dawn along with the land. Plus, since they want us all up at 6:00 am and I have yet to wake up before noon, it just seemed like the smart way to go about it. Believe it or not, most everyone is staying for breakfast even though we will be docked at the time. Sure, why not? I'm in no hurry anyway. A most extraordinary thing happened as the day wound down. I suddenly was able to get people to talk to the camera for the movie I've been involved in making. Everyone seemed a whole lot more relaxed and open. It had been like pulling teeth getting anyone to agree to be interviewed and it would have been a real shame not to get some representation from people onboard an ocean liner. The movie project, incidentally, is called "Speakers' World" and it's inspired by the world renowned "Speakers' Corner" at Hyde Park in London where people basically just talk to anyone who will listen to them in a public setting. What we're doing with this project is giving that same ability to people all along the travel path of this worldwide voyage. We're looking for stories, opinions, anecdotes, jokes, you name it. One thing an awful lot of people seemed to have an opinion on was George W. Bush. I was actually quite surprised. Anyway, if you're interested in being a part of this project and you're in London, I'll be at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park on Sunday morning and probably at Piccadilly Circus sometime Monday afternoon - details forthcoming. Naturally we'll be gathering all kinds of material at What The Hack next weekend. I'm going to go wander around the ship one last time and it would probably be a good idea to pack as well. Tomorrow will no doubt be an interesting day as I get to venture into besieged London on no sleep and ride the Underground as well. I must remember not to run if the cops yell at me. They just killed a guy on a tube train for doing just that. Hopefully he was also guilty of something. London is going to be virtually unrecognizable to me.

23 July, 2005 Day 7. Back on dry land. It actually was a little difficult to walk at first, absent the delicate swaying that one gets used to when traveling across an ocean. But the disorientation was only momentary. I pulled an all-nighter on the boat and it was definitely the right thing to do. I saw land creeping up on us, other boats in the water, seagulls, all signs of life that had been missing for so long. And a lot of us on the ship also opted to stay up. The mood was so much more casual than it had been during the week and I really began to feel much more comfortable. The smoothness of the ride from start to finish was truly impressive. It wasn't until we had actually docked that the rest of the passengers started to wake up. I had always figured it would be like the end of a plane ride when we reached our destination with everyone clamoring to get off but it seemed like people were content to lounge about for a bit longer. For the first time, I went to breakfast and realized that while I had sometimes been attending dinner, most of the others were going to the dining establishments no less than three times a day getting completely

stuffed. I'm sure glad I didn't go along with this mindset because I honestly couldn't fathom taking in that much food. Lots of people go on these cruises and walk off a whole lot heavier than when they started. It really can't be all that good for you. But since food is all part of the package, there's almost an obligation to overdo it. Anyway, since immigration had already been taken care of a couple of days ago, all they had to do was swipe my magic card and I was in England. My new friends from Scotland gave me a ride to the train station where I hopped on the slow train to London. (There's no need to hurry when you're arriving this early in the morning plus it was half the price as the fast train to London Waterloo.) Arriving at Victoria Station I was expecting all sorts of hysteria and mayhem. It was there all right but nothing really out of the ordinary. Just a lot of people running around trying to catch trains. Trains which incidentally seemed to ride quite a bit smoother than the last time I tried this. So the first place I headed upon arrival was the Underground, the site of all of the recent craziness. I would be lying if I said it didn't scare the shit out of me to go into the depths of the city where there has been so much death and terror in recent weeks. But once I actually got down there and was waiting on the tube platform with everybody else, it all just felt normal again. I was a bit more watchful on the train and I knew others were as well. But fear just wasn't an overwhelming sensation. Life on the other hand was. Adding defiance to your normal routine makes the whole thing somehow more meaningful. Since some lines are still shut down, I had to take a bus where tickets weren't being checked. That also was a little nerve wracking since all I could think of at first was the blown apart bus of two weeks ago. But you just can't obsess over these things or you'll never move forward. I missed a good part of the day due to catching up on sleep. But when I emerged later and spent time walking around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, it became apparent that not only were people not afraid, they had more spirit than ever. I didn't even see an excessive show of force among the police, maybe four cops in total in the whole area which is among the busiest in the city. No doubt they're out there someplace but I was happy to not see a city under occupation. That's not to say things are being handled properly. As it turns out, that person the cops killed yesterday on the Underground was completely innocent. They shot him simply because they thought he was suspicious and he apparently had no idea they were plainclothes cops. It looks like a real scandal is developing. After all, London is a place where police as a rule don't even carry guns. The city and country will no doubt be reeling from this for quite some time to come. I've gone from luxury to budget accommodations really quickly. The hotel I'm in doesn't have bathrooms in the rooms so you have to make an appointment if you want to take a shower and you have to use a public lavatory for everything else. At least they're the kind where the doors go all the way to the floor. Something else I realized when checking in: the price I got online through one of those discount travel sites was the same in dollars as they charge in pounds at the desk. At a two to one exchange rate, that's not insignificant. I just wonder if it's a mistake. Tomorrow morning it's over to Speakers' Corner to see what people have to say in that famous part of the world. I hope it doesn't rain.

24 July, 2005 Day 8. One of the first priorities when settling into a new city is of course to figure out how to get online. It's the way I'm able to update this journal along with a means of communicating with people and machines back home and also of planning ahead. Unfortunately, everyone in my particular part of town felt that the best option was the local easyEverything, a place I've never liked due to their undercutting local establishments and driving them out of business, not to mention the fact that they see fit to block 2600.com for some reason. All that notwithstanding, they were nearby so I bit the bullet. First, I made sure they had a wireless connection since there was no way in hell I was going to trust their little terminals. This particular franchise is conjoined to a Burger King and the only person who seemed to know anything about the operation was busy dishing out fries. But he assured me that they had wireless downstairs and I made the fatal mistake of trusting him. Naturally they didn't but I wasn't able to ascertain this until I had paid two pounds fifty for an hour. I went to find the guy but he had apparently fallen into a vat of hot grease somewhere. Everyone else at the place seemed almost proud of the fact that they knew nothing. Not only that, but they seemed positively joyous with the news that there was absolutely no customer support anywhere for easyEverything. Great. Well, to cut a long story short, I found a great little cafe a few blocks away by tracing their wireless signal on my laptop. I got a 24 hour card for less than what half an hour cost on the QM2. And I'm still trying to get those fuckers at easyEverything to refund my money - if anyone can find a customer support/complaint contact, please pass it along. Their website is about as helpful as their Burger King compatriots. I visited Speakers' Corner at Hyde Park for the Sunday morning speeches that anyone can give. It was a bit less than what I was expecting: a single religious lunatic on a step ladder preaching about Jesus. It got a bit more interesting as hecklers began participating ad eventually a second lunatic found another step ladder and did a counter talk right next to the first guy. It was a bit of fun but I really thought there would be a whole lot more speakers. Note to anyone looking for Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park: it's *not* near Hyde Park Corner. That bit of knowledge would have saved me a bit of walking on a rainy Sunday. I actually met a listener at Speakers' Corner - a really cool guy who it turns out works for the BBC. Looks like I'll actually get a tour at long last and learn a whole lot about their operations. The rest of the day was somewhat somber as I took some time to visit various sites of recent tragedy. There was Russell Square, near one of the tube explosions. Only a few blocks away was the street where the double decker bus had been blown to bits. And King's Cross station, site of a horrible fire some years ago and now home to more memories of death, was just a brief walk away. It was like 9/11 all over again. Signs on lampposts looking for missing people who had vanished on the 7th, flowers and candles strewn about near the points of impact, words and pictures in memory of those who had perished. And yet, life had resumed to as normal a level as before. Today I noticed a good deal more policemen than yesterday. They seemed to be at the entrances to all of the tube stations and doing about as much good as New York City cops in the same position. I see it as just a symbol of reassurance to the people. Which actually may not be so reassuring anymore. The final site I went to was Stockwell station. No tube or bus was blown up here. This was the station where Jean Charles de Menezes was shot to death by plainclothes police who chased him onto a train before blowing his head off. He apparently looked suspicious and for some reason didn't stop when

these guys with guns started chasing him. This is a story that has taken on a life of its own here in London. At the station itself, there was a makeshift memorial at the station entrance along with a detectable feeling of anger from the community. Earlier in the day, I had been watching a report on Sky News (a cheap imitation of BBC News 24) where a police expert was pontificating on the fact that cops risk having a suicide bomber blow himself up if he's given *any* sort of warning such as "Stop, police!" So basically what these geniuses are trying to justify is the shoot first, ask questions later style of preventing crimes. The fact that they so horrendously screwed it up the first time should be evidence enough that it's a flawed system. In addition to having to worry about people blowing themselves up, now the public have to be wary of looking suspicious themselves, lest the coppers take them out on the spot. The people continue to be inspiring in their fortitude. Perhaps the authorities could learn a thing or two and approach these troubled days a bit more calmly and rationally. In the meantime, I'm trying harder than ever not to look too suspicious.

25 July, 2005 Day 9. Today was quite active and long. I woke up really early in order to meet Redhackt at Heathrow. He's on his way to What The Hack and has a one day stopover in London. Like everything else in London at the moment, it was a bit of a challenge to map out a route to the airport on the somewhat fragmented Underground. But after a minute or two of studying the modifications, it all worked out with minimal delays. The city continues to be under high alert. I see police all over the place now, mostly just standing around, particularly at Underground entrances. The logic makes little sense to me. Terrorists could just as easily shift their target to other crowded places, like bars and shopping malls where there is very little if any police presence. It's as if everyone is operating under the assumption that some sort of agreement has been reached that they will only strike on mass transit. I see the same sort of illogical behavior in the States. What's different here is that the cops are much more in the background and not nearly as militarized. Most of them still have no guns at all and I think that's how the populace wants it, especially after what happened when they used them last week. The city is still reeling over the shooting and it remains the headline on every newspaper and the top story of every newscast. It seems to have even overshadowed the attacks. I guess everyone expected that sort of thing from terrorists but it was a real shock to see this kind of behavior from law enforcement. Still, the authorities claim it could happen again to another innocent person which seems to not have much of a calming effect on the public at all. After getting Redhackt settled in, we went to find food. He wanted something British so we went out in search of fish and chips. We found a nice authentic place run by Russians who couldn't seem to understand a word either of us was saying. That resulted in our getting a take away order instead of a sit down one which meant we had to find someplace else to actually consume the food we got and that turned out to be a lot more difficult than it should have been. We finally hopped on a bus to Marble Arch where I knew there were some benches at least. Half a gallon of pure grease later, we were ready to meet up with Russell, the guy who had shown up at Speakers' Corner on Sunday, who was going to give us a tour of some BBC facilities. I always knew the BBC was big. I just never knew how big. They have one facility just for their

domestic radio broadcasts and another for television. At the Television Centre, there's everything from live children's shows to the taping of the latest hit series to the Weather Centre and of course the world renowned news departments. These were the very same hallways that cast members of Monty Python and Dr. Who would have moved around in when they were taping their shows. And the hallways themselves reminded me more of an old school than a broadcast house. The facilities don't have a lot of frills - it's all pretty basic with people focusing on the task at hand rather than how much they can milk out of the corporation. I didn't see any air conditioning, people commonly took the stairs rather than the lifts, and the building looked like it hadn't really been modified in the last 30 years. But the broadcasting section was state of the art with all of the BBC networks accessible and interchangeable at a moment's notice. And we even had a walkthrough of the newsrooms of News 24 (domestic) and World (everywhere but England) where it seemed like hundreds of people were all busy working on some aspect of their respective television network. Nobody even seemed to notice us going by. The level of concentration in the entire facility was simply staggering. And I still haven't seen it all. There's a whole other facility that's devoted to nothing but the BBC World Service. That's their international (mainly shortwave) radio outlet which broadcasts in a good many languages to all corners of the globe. I can only imagine what a hive of activity that place must be. And of course there are local BBC news divisions in nearly every community. But time was short and we still had much to do. Like record this week's edition of "Off The Wall." This week we decided to start off in the middle of Piccadilly Circus and move our way through the tube system, eventually winding up at Big Ben in time to hear its chimes on the hour. It didn't quite go as planned. Apparently when you stand around with a professional handheld microphone, it makes certain people nervous for some reason. We were about to get on a southbound Bakerloo train when we were accosted by a station representative who told us we couldn't do that sort of thing without getting permission from the station supervisor. So we went up to see him and were told that we had to go through some bureaucracy in another part of town before we would be allowed to proceed. So we basically had to alter our course. The show will air Tuesday evening and be available online in our "Off The Wall" section so you can hear the fun for yourself. We later wound up taking a trip on the Eye, London's immensely huge ferris wheel. We spent some of the evening in nearby Chinatown and wandering around looking for open pubs. My plan is to figure out a way to get to Holland tomorrow as the ticket offices were closed by the time I got to them tonight. There's also a chance I may not make it over there until Wednesday as I still need to do some taping for the movie at Piccadilly tomorrow.

26 July, 2005 Day 10. I usually don't oversleep but I guess if it was going to happen, now was the time. I woke up at around 1 pm which right away posed a problem since the checkout in my hotel was noon. This is what comes from staying up until 6 in the morning working on various things and dealing with all sorts of crises. Redhackt and I had to figure out how to get a vital piece of equipment from New York to the conference which took several hours of coordination between different people back home. I also had the fun of seeing a mouse scamper across my hotel room in the middle of the night. That little incident got me transferred into a "double," which basically means a room about a square inch larger than a single. I have to say I love the Regent Palace in Piccadilly Circus where I've been staying. It's got personality, history, all kinds of interesting people passing through, and it's really conveniently located. Not to mention cheap. But it's about as sleazy a place as you could ever hope for. The mouse actually

made perfect sense. Why I hadn't seen one before is the real mystery. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I don't encounter another one in the new room or perhaps even something bigger. I wonder how many other QM2 passengers immediately went to stay in rooms with mice in them. Nothing like a little variety to spice things up. So getting up late completely messed up my plans of going to the campsite in Holland today. I'll simply have to go tomorrow and spend another night in London. There are far worse fates to suffer, I suppose. I met up with Russell in the afternoon to do some interviews for the movie by the fountain in Piccadilly Circus. It's really hard to go up to people out of the blue and ask them to go on camera. Overall, I think we did pretty well. It was rather funny though that virtually nobody we spoke to there spoke English as a first language. And once again, we ran into London bureaucracy as some city workers came by and ripped down our signs, telling us we weren't allowed to film with a tripod. I really wasn't trying to be a wise guy by letting them know it was actually a monopod but that seemed to be the way they interpreted it. Whatever. I was expecting this kind of official resistance in the former Soviet bloc. I have to be extremely suspicious of anyone who thinks simply using a camera and microphone on a public street is somehow a threat. If we were impeding traffic or harassing people, I could understand it. I don't expect I'll have this problem in Holland. I pulled off an impressive feat today when making travel plans. I was having a really tough time getting a ticket to the campsite. London to Boxtel (the nearest station to What The Hack) requires no fewer than three transfers. But the ticket to Brussels (the first transfer point) was clocking in at 150 pounds or close to 300 dollars! Planes were so much cheaper but I promised I wouldn't leave the ground. (Yesterday's ferris wheel excursion doesn't count since it was still attached to the ground, even though they actually refer to the ride as a "flight.") On a whim, I checked online for a round trip fare and made up a return date I had no intention of keeping. Doing this I got the price down to 29 pounds each way! That's a savings of nearly 200 dollars along with a wasted return ticket. I'll never understand the travel industry. I still have to buy a ticket in Brussels for the rest of the journey but I should be able to manage that without too many complications. One thing that really drives me up the wall is badly written software. I had to deal with that yet again when I went to Waterloo Station to pick up my ticket. It was supposed to have been relatively simple. They tell you to bring the credit card you used to buy the ticket online and you can get it from a machine at the station. I should have known when the word "machine" was used that there would be trouble. Machines just don't ever seem to work properly in London and here was yet another example. First, the thing asked for my confirmation code which I didn't realize was needed so I had left it on my laptop which I didn't bring with me. But there was a selection for people who had "forgotten" their code so I clicked that and was asked to insert the credit card I had used. It accepted it, gave it back, and then asked me for my confirmation code. I played this little game a few times on several different machines before seeking a human who told me never to use the machines. After giving up and heading for the exit, I noticed that all of the machines had crashed. Then there's my "new" GSM phone that I've tied to a Liechtenstein SIM card so I can get free incoming calls in almost every country I go to. The problem is this phone (made by a company called Haier) doesn't seem to understand the concept of key locking. If you unlock it to check a missed call or even the time, it goes into a mode where you have to specifically ask it to lock again after a period of time. This is while it's already in automatic lock mode. Surely someone designing the phone could have seen how this might be a problem. Just like every GSM phone I've ever used insists on displaying the numbers you've dialed (including voicemail passwords) until you specifically clear them. I've never

had a CDMA phone do this. Again, it's just bad design that seems so obvious to me. Anyway, I finished off the day by taking a ride up to Camden Road, one of my favorite parts of town. There are lots of music stores and coffee shops. It was after 11 pm though so the trains were crowded with people heading home and most of the shops were shutting down. That's the problem with most cities outside New York: they aren't 24 hours. Of course, not everything closes but enough of the infrastructure stops operating so that people's lifestyles get affected. I just hope someday there are more places where you can wander around freely at midnight.

27 July, 2005 Day 11. I finally left London today to make my way over to Holland and What The Hack. I killed a little time by hopping onto the Internet at Caffe Nero and walking through some of the surrounding streets. They supposedly caught one of the bombers earlier this morning. I learned this by seeing the headline posted by news agents on nearly every corner. It's really impressive how quickly the news gets out in printed form. This is something that happened in the middle of the night and by noon it was in the papers. Something else that struck me about British culture was the acceptance of surveillance in so many places. No matter where you go there are cameras. The fact that these cameras were invaluable tools in tracking down the culprits of the 7th and 21st means that they won't be going anywhere anytime soon and in fact their presence will probably increase. I would also expect to see these begin to take hold back in the States in the very near future. It's getting increasingly difficult to argue against their implementation. But the fact remains that while they can certainly be used for the public good, their potential for misuse is staggering. And when that finally becomes apparent to most, it will be very difficult to reverse the pattern. I headed down to Waterloo where my afternoon Eurostar took me to Brussels. I'm still amazed at the low price I got on the ticket by booking a round trip I'm never going to use. And I managed to spend all of my remaining British coins on the train buying wine and snacks. Even though I was a little hammered getting off the train, it was no problem at all getting a ticket to Boxtel. In fact it happened so quickly I was sure I hadn't gotten the right ticket. It literally took under ten seconds to accomplish the whole transaction. Belgian train people really seem to know their stuff. The guy in the information booth was able to tell me not only how many trains I needed to take (three) but exactly what platform each one would be on in cities and countries I wasn't even in yet! How do they do this? When waiting for the Long Island Railroad in Penn Station they often don't tell you what track a train is arriving on downstairs until after it actually gets there. Even though one train was two minutes late resulting in a missed connection (which was admittedly a very tight one to start with), it wasn't a big deal to simply get the next train a half hour later. So I arrived in Boxtel at around 9:30 pm and caught the shuttle to the campground. This will be my home for the next four days. I'll be in a small tent on a field as will thousands of others for what will certainly be the most interesting hacker event this year. Comparing it to HAL 2001 (the last Dutch hacker conference), there seems to be so much more space and a great deal more places to go. Of course it was dark by the time I started wandering around and I have a talk to prepare for tomorrow so I'll have to explore more in detail on Thursday. But I got the overwhelming sensation that history was about to be made in this place. And after traveling for nearly two weeks, it was great to see

so many familiar faces including quite a few from New York. One bit of potentially bad news involves my iRiver which for some reason has stopped working. Whenever I turn it on, I get a message saying "Check HDD Connection" and then one which says "Check HDD." As near as I can figure it can't see the hard drive. This is the second time something bad has happened to my iRiver in the few months I've had it compared to nothing bad ever happening to my iPod in the years I've had that. I'm hoping it's just a bad connection somewhere (nowhere is it explained just where this "HDD Connection" actually is) and we'll have to open the thing up and pray for the best. It would really suck if the thing stopped working as this is my means of recording "Off The Wall" and it's also where I have thousands of songs stored. It would have been nice to have music on my day of train rides. So far I have to say I can't recommend the iRiver because of such flakiness even though it has some really good features, like a microphone input. I'm also rather peeved that if it needs to be repaired, I won't be able to get that done until after I get back and find all of the paperwork which no doubt will be beyond the warranty period by that time. I guess things could have been worse. Other than a delayed arrival of a microphone for the movie, there have been no other hardware or software issues or failures and I seem to be accomplishing everything I've set out to do. But I'm sure there are many more challenges and setbacks on the horizon. The thing is to not worry or obsess about any of them. It's all part of the story.

28 July, 2005 Day 12. The What The Hack conference started today on a campground near Bostel, Holland. It's so very hard to describe these things to people who haven't actually seen one of them. But suffice to say that when you're here, there's a mood that's very recognizable to anyone who believes in magic. There is a chemistry in the air that makes you believe any goal is achievable, any problem fixable, a virtually infinite number of people exist to learn from and interact with. I always sense that feeling whenever I see the community taking form as tents go up and things start to work. We may be in the middle of nowhere in this country but you would never guess it from all of the activity going on and all of the amenities we've made available. Net connectivity isn't a problem, there are four tracks of speakers from morning into the night, food of all sorts is being prepared for the thousands of people camped out here, and we have the freedom to be as attached or detached as we wish. I realized today that I have five phones on me. It's really gotten out of control. I have my normal GSM phone which is a triband using my U.S. SIM. Then I've got the Liechtenstein SIM that I've been using for all my incoming calls at a cut rate. On top of that I've got my CDMA phone from the States which is absolutely useless anywhere else but came in really handy when I was a few miles out on the boat and will be useful again when I arrive on the West Coast in September. Then there's the satellite phone that I've used for one "Off The Hook" show already in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I imagine it will be coming in handy again several times before this trip is over. Add to that the most recent addition: the special DECT phone that conference organizers were nice enough to give me so that I can be reached here at the conference without using any kind of bill incurring phone device. It's also possible to call anywhere in the world for free on one of these phones if you call to an area covered by an Asterisk PBX. All of this isn't even counting my computer, cameras, and other devices. So for being out in the wilderness, I really have an absolutely absurd amount of contraptions. I helped with the opening keynote to the conference, something I seem to have been part of for all of the outdoor events here in Holland. And it's always inspirational to me to see all the new and old faces

in the crowd, as eager as I am to converse, interact, learn, and build. That's what will be happening in these fields for the next few days and as Rop and I mentioned at the talk, people will meet at this event and start projects that will be legendary by the time the next one rolls around. One thing that's traditional at these gatherings is a certain degree of rain. That's just what happens in this part of the world and it doesn't dampen our spirits in the least. Those of us who were sleeping in our tents this morning were awoken by the sound of thunder and heavy rain at around 6:00 am. Fortunately there were no leaks in my tent and the storm passed after about an hour. It was a great way to start the day and the conference which has been running quite smoothly ever since. One very strange thing they do here is not take actual money for any of the food or drinks. Instead you exchange your euros for little plastic chips and these are then used for actual transactions. A yellow chip is 50 cents, a green one is one euro, and a pink one is two and a half euros. How bizarre is it to go to a bar and order a glass of wine and hand the bartender green and yellow pieces of plastic as payment and not get your ass kicked? I'm quite enjoying it. It's been incredibly difficult so far to get around as I keep getting ambushed by journalists wanting to do interviews. I'd forgotten about that aspect of these events and having all these phones I'm reachable at certainly doesn't help. At one time I was told to be somewhere at 4:00 pm for a radio interview so I went to Radio Sub Ether, the official radio station of the camp. In the middle of the interview I started doing there, I got a call from the people I was actually supposed to be having an interview with who apparently were radio people who weren't at the radio station! So I had managed to add on yet another interview simply by not knowing where to go. It's a bit of a hassle but still easily definable as fun. The campground is absolutely huge and there's so much I have yet to explore. Every waking hour has been taken up with either attending talks or hanging out with people I haven't seen in a while or those I've just met. The energy level continues to rise. I'm impressed with the number of young people here as well as those who have been in the scene forever. It gives me a lot of hope that we're actually listening to each other and not simply all caught up in our own little worlds. It's really easy for hackers to do that. One thing I tried to stress at my talk today was the importance of our reaching out not only to each other but to those who have absolutely no connection to the hacker world and possibly not even to technology in any significant way. So many people out there have an ability and an appreciation for curiosity and exploration. We can provide the means of connecting these people together and I see that happening more and more. I hope to be as inspired by this event as I've been by all the others. Sleep is something that I'm not experiencing an awful lot of - there will be time for that later. A bunch of us stayed out late watching for satellites, playing with Bernie's green laser, and just having some great conversations. Tomorrow we'll be taping next week's "Off The Wall" and I hope to get some interviews for "Speakers' World."

29 July, 2005 Day 13. Things have really picked up here as more people arrive and activities truly get underway. All kinds of little communities have sprouted up throughout the different fields. I only hope I get to see them all in the time that I'm here. The folks here were nice enough to give us a "2600 Barracks" which actually came as a big surprise to me when I got here. I feel bad not having arranged for all sorts of merchandise to be available there

since so many people have been coming by and asking. But there are already so many things to coordinate and monitor that I think it might have been better for the people from 2600 to sit this one out, financial crises notwithstanding. Getting footage for the film was the primary goal of my various extra-conference activities. With the help of Arseny, Mike, and especially Gweeds we were able to corral all sorts of individuals into the barracks and get their takes on life, the universe, and anything else that they wanted to rant about, often in their native languages. We'll be doing this on and off throughout the conference and hopefully we'll gather a fairly large and diverse sampling of the human condition. People here are so nice, friendly, and laid back. You wouldn't believe the amount of coordination that goes into organizing not only a conference but a small city that exists for nearly a week and far longer for the organizers. We are so lucky to have this sort of thing to come to and I'm so thrilled that we all made it. The community must never forget this and should do everything in its power to ensure that there are many more of these gatherings. I really want to do some filming tomorrow in the surrounding area. There are nearby farm fields with all sorts of animals wandering around. This may sound silly but I honestly believe that livestock out here are happier than what I've seen in the States. I mean, when I look at a cow standing in a field in the USA, I see an animal that stares right through me and doesn't seem to have any real motivation to do anything other than stand there. But here in this Dutch field, I see cows that make eye contact and move around, sometimes quite fast. The calves in particular love to run across the field, almost like giant dogs. And then there are a couple of fields of ponies, including one who is less than knee high and really adorable. I'm not sure if he's one of those mini-ponies I read about somewhere or if he's just really young. But I've never seen this kind of a creature before. There are all sorts of other farm animals milling around and making their respective noises. I'm sure there exist happy farmyard animals back home. But these ones seem positively ecstatic. I should also point out that we're right near some train tracks which are just about as impressive as the livestock. We're in the middle of nowhere and yet there are four electrified tracks just outside the camp (electrified with overhead wires like most of Europe). There are more trains going past here in a given period of time than anywhere else I've seen back home including the busiest of subway stations. I honestly don't get it. These aren't even main connections between different parts of Europe. Every train I've seen passing by so far is Dutch and sometimes I'll see trains race past on all four tracks inside of a minute. They even have freight trains that go by a couple of times an hour. I have to believe that this way of doing things somehow relates to the better treatment of animals. Less cars and trucks on the road, less crowding and pollution, locations that are easier to get to, etc. We're really so close to big cities yet it feels so far away because it's not built up. I remember the same reaction to the campground at the CCC Camp in Germany in 2003 which was really only around 30 miles from Berlin. People believe places like this to be in the middle of nowhere but they're so easy to get to even though they have most of the advantages of really being away from it all. When we say the middle of nowhere in the States, we mean it. And I imagine they do in many of the places I have yet to venture to on this voyage. It ought to be a really interesting and stark contrast. Tonight we taped next week's "Off The Wall" courtesy of Radio Sub Ether, the official What The Hack radio station. It was a lot of fun: we stood around right outside the station tent with a bunch of microphones and interviewed various people, sharing all sorts of stories. We basically had most of the crew on from "Off The Hook" doing the kind of show we would have done had we not been preempted at the last minute on Wednesday evening. But this one will sound better since it wasn't done over the

phone lines. As has happened a few times already during the two days of the conference, the heavens started to open up as we were doing the program. Fortunately we had a canopy but I think it'll make for a bit of radio history having all of us standing out there while the sounds of rain and thunder gradually take over. I think it was one of our better efforts. The show will air on WUSB next Tuesday evening and will be on the net shortly after. The radio station saved me a lot of hassle by making their facilities available as I didn't have to try and figure out how to either fix or bypass my iRiver. We're going to dive into that problem tomorrow and hopefully either fix the thing or figure out how future shows will be done. The remainder of the night was spent visiting the various plastic chip accepting bars and food establishments as well as visiting with people and just hanging out. I know I'll miss this sort of thing greatly when I start to head further east.

30 July, 2005 Day 14. The camp continues to grow. I see more tents pitched today despite the heavy rains of last night. It's gotten quite a bit cooler as well but I see no deterioration of spirit here. I've spent a good deal of time talking to people about the possibilities of something like this back home. To be honest, I just don't see it. I think we're basically different species. People here are able to leave all of their valuable stuff in their tents and wander around the campgrounds without worrying at all about somebody taking anything. It takes a bit of getting used to but that definitely is the default setting here. I also see virtually no displays of anger or impatience. We have all sorts of hardships and inconveniences to deal with. Most of the showers seem to only be dispensing cold water now and many of our tents and sleeping bags have gotten soaked during the assorted downpours that occur with little or no notice. Even amongst the Americans I've been hanging out with, patience and solidarity are far more enjoyable than the traditional bitching and moaning. And then of course there's the fact that people are able to drink and ingest various other substances freely. Yet they're still able to be completely responsible and considerate. Go figure. Connectivity at times can be a challenge but it's far from impossible. You have to move around a bit for the wireless and it doesn't seem to be a problem at all to plug in. I've tried to stay away from the net (which explains the lateness of some of these reports) simply because I want to experience as much of the gathering as possible. Much of my time is spent going to the various cafes, attending a few talks, and just wandering. Mike, Arseny, and I took a side trip to the village of Boxtel in the afternoon just to see what life was like outside the camp. The camp shuttle drove us to the train station (which seems to be on yet another set of tracks than the ones that pass right by the camp) and we walked into town. I expected it to literally be in the middle of nowhere like everyone was saying but the town I saw had quite a bit of life to it. There was a fresh vegetable stand, lots of little cafes and bars, all sorts of restaurants, a disproportionate amount of cosmetics shops, and lots of people milling around. Even in New York, this would have been considered a somewhat lively place. We stopped for lunch at a place where nobody spoke English which is a first for me in the Netherlands. Things change so quickly around here. Only an hour or so away is Amsterdam where most people speak better English than many people I know. Go in another direction for an hour and the language will probably change to something else entirely.

We also visited a supermarket which is the one thing I always like to do when in a foreign land. Food stores tell so much about the people. In the Netherlands they always seem to be chaotic gathering points. All of the wheels on the shopping carts turn as opposed to only the front ones in the States. So you can push the things every which way. There seems to always be a mood of controlled chaos in the aisles with people for some reason congregating in the intersections making it very difficult to get past them. I love spending time looking at the funny names for products, the unusual fruits and vegetables, and the very weird cuts of meat. Bread too is a story unto itself with a great deal of importance placed on the particular size and style. People mill around the bread section like it was a library, waiting to find the one loaf that reflects their particular mood that day. And of course there is a whole wine section to choose from. But the best part for me was seeing a wall of magazines complete with pornography and no attempt whatsoever to cover anything up for any prudish people walking by. In fact, a child might actually see a very big picture of a very big pair of breasts staring them in the face in this store. People would serve time in prison if such a thing were to happen back home in our fundamentalist regime. It's like night and day. We walked around a bit more taking in the town. I really felt like I was in the Netherlands for real and not just a touristy place where everyone learned my language instead of me having to do anything. Here it was a bit more challenging and that's a good deal of what travel should be all about. I doubt I'll be learning Dutch anytime soon. But finding ways of communicating with people to achieve the desired effect is just as much of a learning process. We headed back to the camp later in the day. I needed to get some more footage for the movie so I spent a couple of hours doing interviews. Gweeds helped to round up another group of interesting people and we headed back outside the camp to get some more interesting backgrounds. These included the train tracks with its many passing trains as well as some farms and forests. We spent a lot of time just admiring the cows and the baby horses. And during the very last of the interviews the skies opened up and we were drenched. The timing was fantastic as it came during the last words of the last person I was talking to and I think it even added some emotion to that piece. We then had to seek shelter and we found it in the garage of a random person's house - without their permission. We knew nobody in the Netherlands would object to this which was great in itself. We got back into camp again, this time sopping wet but still having the time of our lives. There was just enough sunlight left to start drying our clothes. Mike had been trying to dry out his slightly damp sleeping bag by leaving it spread out on his tent when the real rains came and left it a soaked mess. He wasn't the only one who had to figure out where and how he was going to sleep tonight. The solution seemed to be to stay out as late as possible and just try and fit as much as humanly possible in. So we wandered to a different corner of the camp and found an entirely new group of people and hangouts. Our friend Patrice was running the What The Slack tent which served Turkish tea, showed really strange movies in the back, had bookshelves to browse from, and was adorned with Persian carpets. This was pure unadulterated magic. I'm glad I didn't find it earlier or I would have never left. The ASCII squatter types from Amsterdam were also in this "village" along with all sorts of other places where people were making food, dancing, or just chilling. A bit further down the field were the astronomy people who were doing their best to see into the heavens despite the passing clouds. The enthusiasm at finding a particular star mirrored that of the rest of the camp. I've always felt an affinity to those who studied the stars and who really got a kick out of actually seeing what's out there. We met up with Redhackt and Bernie at the Foo Bar which was run by various CCC types. That tent was shaped like a dome and had a really relaxed atmosphere inside where we hung out until dawn.

Only one day to go and then it's all memories.

31 July, 2005 Day 15. I can't believe it went by so fast. As someone who really doesn't spend a lot of time camping out in tents, you would think these four days would have been somewhat of an ordeal for me. Well, thanks to Hanneke and Sasja who got me a really cool tent that didn't let a drop of water in the whole time as well as Mike and Redhackt who helped to put it up, I never felt uncomfortable. Of course I never actually got a whole lot of sleep since everyone really had to leave their tents once the sun started hitting them in earnest as the temperature would get really hot really quickly. But I've found that only a few hours of sleep a night is just fine if what you're doing during your waking hours is interesting. I actually feel a lot better, stronger, etc. after spending time in a place like this. Despite the fact that this is the last day, I see no major indication of people wanting to leave. Not entirely, anyway. I'm sad to see so many of the people from America I was hanging out with wanting to get to Amsterdam even before the closing ceremonies at five. But everyone's threshold is at a different level. The place was absolutely packed for the very last session. The closing ceremony was where Rop basically spent a bit of time telling the story behind the conference, its various setbacks, highlights of the weekend, and of course thanking all of the unsung heroes who made it happen in the first place. I'm sure a lot of us don't realize just what goes into these events. And probably even fewer realize that despite all of the success, the conference will probably lose money in the end. But if it's not a disaster, then it is an unqualified success. That was the tightrope that Rop and others had been walking for quite some time and it sure seemed like there was no question which it wound up being. In the public relations arena, there was no doubt at all. While the mayor of Boxtel had initially expressed some reservations about letting the event take place at all, the resulting publicity actually wound up helping get people to attend. And once it had actually taken place, the owners of the land publicly said that they wished they could get rid of all of the other events they hosted and just have this one a dozen times a year. There were apparently no incidents, no disruption of the nearby community, and a great feeling that arose from the hacker occupation of the fields. Not even the Christian Youth camps that occasionally use this space evoked such praise. Despite all of this, Rop expressed a desire to have future camps on the other side of the nearby border with Germany because of the difficulty and bureaucracy involved in the Netherlands. I can't believe how things have apparently changed over such a relatively short period of time. Hearing someone describe this country as being harder to organize a hacker conference in than even the United States left me wondering if maybe our own countries just seem more difficult and that we're dealing with a "grass is always greener" thing. There's no question though that what they have accomplished in Germany is truly awe-inspiring. The Chaos Computer Club has real political clout which has evolved through decades of hard work and dedicated people. If a threat of any sort of bad legislation becomes apparent, these are the people who will use their abilities to stop it. But I still think it's wrong to simply go where this battle has already been effectively fought. We need to use the CCC as inspiration to do it ourselves where we are now. Like Rop said, borders are just lines on a map and are quite arbitrary. But they can also be used to inflict great harm upon people and to control populations. Leaving them to do this in an area where many of us exist just doesn't feel right. But whatever is decided, I'm sure we'll have great

fun the next time around. One of the best things I witnessed was the huge number of people who chose to donate the remaining plastic currency that was still in their pockets into the bins at the front of the room. They would have been exchanged back into "real" money for anyone who wanted it. But after hearing of some of the hardships being faced, dropping whatever was still in your pockets into a bin seemed like the only thing to do for many attendees. Plastic never sounded so good. A good number of people stayed behind to help with the cleanup which is a very necessary part of the operation. I wish I could have been one of them but I have to continue heading eastward tomorrow which leaves me only a single night in Amsterdam. As the operation on the iRiver device turned out to be a failure, I was now facing a real crisis in the production of future editions of "Off The Wall" which needed to be resolved as soon as possible. I really am pissed off at iRiver for selling such defective crap. It's not an isolated incident based on the number of identical stories I read about on the net. The hard drives just apparently die without warning leaving you completely fucked. Fortunately, Redbird has agreed to lend me his iRiver which hopefully won't pull the same crap. Next time I'll attach an external device to an iPod to accept a microphone input or use a smaller USB device with no moving parts. This remains the only technical problem I've experienced. All of my other hardware is functioning great. We flagged down the shuttle and got a ride to the train station. All of the predictions (from Americans naturally) of a massive traffic jam at the end of the event turned out to be completely untrue. People just weren't that eager to leave. We wound up in the same vehicle as John Gilmore, whom I hadn't seen or talked to the whole weekend. (John, for those who don't know, made our whole fight against the MPAA possible by covering our legal bills through the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He had been giving some talks at the conference.) Once we got to the station, we all tried to figure out how to use the Dutch ticket machine. I've experienced frustration before but this is the sort of thing that will quickly drive anyone out of their mind. Seven of us were gathered around this big yellow machine which was the only means of buying a train ticket. But you couldn't use a credit card or bank card, at least not any that were used in the United States. The Dutch smart cards were accepted but none of us had access to those. The machine took cash but only coins and we simply didn't have enough. There simply was no solution, something I've known about for a number of years. I don't understand why they have such a crazy system. We wound up all riding with no ticket to the first transfer point where I went to the ticket office to buy tickets for everyone and wound up with a one euro penalty for not using the machine! Ironically, nobody asked for our tickets on either train. I'm profoundly upset that I'll only get to spend a single night in Amsterdam due to my having to leave for Berlin tomorrow. It's always so pleasant here. We spent time wandering the streets and looking for food. I think we're all quite tired after a long weekend and I suspect we'll sleep quite well tonight. I hope there's time to do something tomorrow before I leave on my next leg.

1 August, 2005 Day 16. I think I actually got more than five hours sleep which felt pretty amazing. Hanneke and Sasja (my future trans-Siberian travel partners) were kind enough to put no less than four of us in their Amsterdam flat: Mike, Redhackt, Redbird, and me. We talked and played with computers long into the

night until we passed out one by one leaving only Redhackt to continue talking in his sleep. Arseny, Bernie, and Greg Newby stayed in a nearby hotel. Today was basically a recuperation day where we just set out to relax and not worry about too much. Amsterdam is a great place for this. But one thing Mike and I had to worry about was doing laundry so we set out to find a laundromat. We found a launderette instead which I think means that they do your laundry for you. We were both disappointed that we wouldn't get to spend several hours sitting in an overheated room watching our clothes spin and feeding in all sorts of coins. Instead we handed our two bags to a group of Indian men who said we could come back in an hour. The whole transaction lasted no more than five seconds. No receipt, no name, nothing. They operated on pure recognition apparently. Once again, never in America. Being one of my first tastes of Europe back in 1989, Amsterdam has always held a certain sort of magic for me. Here was a place where people seemed to trust one another, where fun wasn't a dirty word, and where diversity thrived. Unfortunately, in the ensuing years things have been changing. The government has grown more conservative leading to more restrictions, rules, and bureaucracy. The European Union has had an effect on the sovereignty of the Netherlands, with the newest changes more likely to come from Brussels than from The Hague. More recently there was the savage killing of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in November by an Islamic extremist (Mohammed Bouyeri) who was only last week sentenced to life in prison for the crime. Apparently this nut was offended by one of his films entitled "Submission" which deals with the way women are treated in fundamentalist Islamic households. Bouyeri is as representative of Islam as a box of Twinkies but that hasn't stopped a backlash against Muslims and an anti-immigration sentiment that appears to be growing. Ironically the killer was raised right here his whole life, not unlike the London bombers. But the town and country are pretty far from going to shit in my opinion. All of the negativity can be reversed and there seems to be a much greater chance of that here than there is back home. It seems possible to at least have a dialogue in the Netherlands and bring these issues out. I don't often get that feeling in the States yet I always come back with a renewed sense of optimism after visiting this place. Between the coffeeshops, red light district, mixture of the really old with the really new, and the tourists from every part of the world imaginable, Amsterdam will always be a sort of transfer point between many different worlds. I hope the Dutch defend their unique way of doing things as fiercely as they can. Because the rest of us need them. Near Centraal Station there is a really good soup place called the Soup Kitchen appropriately enough. A bunch of us met over there to get jump started and it worked quite well as it always does. We didn't really have a plan for the day so we were taking it slowly and one step at a time. It was Arseny who suggested that we do some more filming which I agreed to grudgingly since I was already drained from the weekend. So we got the camera and walked all the way to Dam Square and I'm really glad we did. We got quite a bit of good footage here with absolutely no harassment from the authorities which wasn't something I was really expecting. It's also so much easier to do this kind of thing with people helping you approach complete strangers asking them what they think about the world. Arseny and Redhackt did an effective job rounding up people. I'm not in Berlin long enough to really get anything and Warsaw and Minsk will both be tricky at best. So I'm really glad we got something here as it's a good representation of all parts of the globe in and of itself. I picked up the laundry with no hassle or ID check of any sort and got ready to meet my afternoon train to Berlin. It was great to get a sendoff from all my friends and rather emotional too since I knew I wouldn't see most of them for quite a while and when I did I will have crossed the remainder of the

globe. Train departures in Europe always have that emotional aspect to them and people often spend a great deal of time waving to those they are leaving. At this point I feel compelled to make a correction about something I said last week when I claimed that the Dutch word for elevator was "trap." It's not. That's the word for staircase. Elevators are lifts here, just like in England. I hope that didn't cause too much unnecessary confusion. The train left right on schedule and right away there was a bit of confusion. The conductor said that it wasn't necessary to change trains at Hannover like our tickets said since this train would also be going to Berlin. If we changed at Hannover, we could get a faster train (known as an ICE train) but we also had the option of just staying put. Well, that sounded just fine to me since I wasn't a big fan of lugging baggage from one place to another. I got a nice snack which consisted of two frankfurters and a small round bun. The German way of doing this involves running the frankfurter through the bun somehow which winds up leaving an obscene amount of frankfurter protruding from either end. It's just one of those things that doesn't make sense to me. But when in Rome.... We stopped at the border and I saw a couple of immigration people get on the next car. Yes, they still do have some sort of border check but it's about as loose as you can imagine. Not too loose though as I saw two guys get taken off the train. I'm not sure what kind of violation keeps you from moving between EU states. But whatever it was, it kept those immigration guys from ever making it into our car and we proceeded ahead into German territory. We arrived in Hannover while I was busy working on my computer. After a few minutes of nothing happening, I realized that I was the only person in the car. Sure enough, the German conductor came by a couple of minutes later and said that the train was finished or German words to that effect. The Dutch conductor had been wrong. Either that or he enjoyed telling people impossible things would happen in distant lands while he was on his way back to Amsterdam. So I had to scramble to get off the train and catch the next one. Fortunately, the way things are set up here, you can immediately find out where the train you need will be arriving so the five minutes I had was more than enough time. Unfortunately this new train was more crowded and my entire car was tormented by a screaming toddler who was given the run of the whole train apparently by her parents. We all just tolerated it and tried to bury ourselves in whatever we were doing. About an hour later we arrived in Berlin and I hopped onto the S Bahn to get to the hotel I was staying at. Here's something cool: when you buy a ticket to Berlin you automatically get a pass on the city's suburban and underground train system (S Bahn and U Bahn). So there's no scrambling to buy another ticket. You just move from one platform to another and get where you have to go. There also isn't a turnstile so you can keep the thing in your pocket or wherever. If you get stopped without a ticket you'll have problems so people tend to buy them. These two ways of doing things really cuts down on congestion and panic. And it makes you feel like an adult. As I was hopping onto a wireless network in the hotel, I had the TV on in the background tuned to some random German station when the weirdest thing happened. I heard the words "Queen Mary 2" and when I looked up, there it was on the television. The Germans were making a big deal of it as it was passing by Hamburg for the first time on its way to Norway. They did a 15 minute piece on it, most of which flew right by me. But it was pretty cool to think that the two of us are both still plodding eastward.

2 August, 2005 Day 17. Well, it had to happen sooner or later. So far I've been pretty good about being where I have to be, making connections, etc. So it was only a matter of time before I fucked something up royally. I even surprised myself with the magnitude of my stupidity this time. But before I get into that, let me tell you how my day began. I checked into the Park Inn in the Alexanderplatz section of Berlin late last night. They put me on one of the top floors which is always nice since the views are great in any direction. But apparently there's some major renovations underway in the neighborhood. Everything seems to be under construction in one form or another. And I guess the Park Inn was no exception. At 8 in the morning, I heard some loud talking that sounded as if it were right next to me. That's because it was. There was a man in my window talking to someone else who was apparently in front of someone else's window a distance away (far enough to have to shout). Then they started to use every conceivable piece of machinery in existence to do God knows what to the side of the hotel. It was so loud and intrusive that it was actually funny. I really try to avoid the righteous indignation that so many American travelers bring with them wherever they go. The constant complaining, the lack of patience, the assumption that if things aren't precisely the way they specified that it must be a carefully calculated personal insult, annoyance with people who don't speak English... the list goes on and on. And this is from people who are normally quite tolerant and flexible and who really should know better. It's just something that comes out of our culture, I suppose. So I always make a conscious effort not to go around making demands or insisting on compensation when something isn't quite right. Maybe that makes me a patsy but I prefer that to being overbearing. That said, the noise outside my window was making it hard to even hear the news on the television since I was now fully awake. So I called downstairs to complain. I told them there were men building something outside my window on the 35th floor and that they had been doing this since 8:00 am. They couldn't understand what my complaint was. "But that's the time they always start," they tried to explain. Sigh. Well, it was either grin and bear it or go American on them. I've got many hardships coming up so maybe this could just be considered a bit of a warmup for that. I declined their offer to move me to another room since I was already wide awake and didn't relish the idea of moving all of my stuff when I had to check out in a couple of hours anyway. I'll give them some negative feedback on their little survey form and convince myself that it'll make a difference. I had a couple of hours to wander around the neighborhood so I got a five euro day pass which allowed me to ride any train, tram, or bus in Berlin. I went down to Ostbahnhopf (the main station in the east) to see if they could help me with an upcoming leg of my train journey. You see, when you buy a ticket from Amsterdam to Moscow, you pick the trains you want to go on and you're given reservations with seat assignments for each of these trains. The problem was that for some reason this couldn't be done for the Minsk to Moscow portion and I really didn't want to try and explain this in a Belarussian train station. So I went down to the Deutsche Bahn office to ask if this could be done there. It turns out it couldn't so I have that little challenge to look forward to. I headed back to Alexanderplatz where I thought it might be nice to have food since I hadn't had any yet today. The Park Inn has one of those massive European breakfast spreads but they charge a phenomenal amount on top of the room charge which makes it no longer worthwhile. Most other hotels

include it at no charge. I tried to order at a cafe but the waitress didn't seem to understand anything other than drinks. I kept pointing to food items on the menu and all she could say was "I don't know" in a rather plaintive tone. I felt sorry for her so I got an orange juice. On top of everything else I had a sore throat which I probably caught from someone at the camp. I really wasn't in the mood to be sick in eastern Europe. But I suppose even that would be another experience to write home about. I picked up a bratwurst from one of those men who stand in Alexanderplatz all day long with a stove tied to their necks. Actually the one I bought it from was in a wheelchair but the concept is the same. For a euro, it's the best bargain around and people always crowd around these guys. Alexanderplatz is a neat area. Once the center of East Berlin with bland, billboard-less architecture, it has become completely westernized in the past 15 years, though still not as much as the western half of the city. There's a constant hub of activity yet a marvelous sense of calm as trains and trams come and go with near silent efficiency. I find this to be true throughout Berlin. Even without knowing the language, it's never too difficult to get from one area to another. I visited the Galeria which is sort of like a mall except it all seemed to be the same store which sells different things on different floors. The whole thing was in a state of construction which made getting around a bit harder than normal. Finally I found the section that had mini-DV tapes and I was delighted to discover that they now took credit cards (they didn't last year). However my credit card no longer had a legible signature so the guy at the counter wanted to see my passport. Then he wanted to see the stamp for my entry to Germany. I think he was just busting balls for no reason since you only get stamped at your entry point to the EU and he damn well must have known that. But it made him happy to give me the once over so who was I to spoil his fun? I got my tapes and headed to the train station. I still had a bit of time so I got myself a snack at Ostbahnhopf, making a careful note of where Track 3 was since that was where the train to Warsaw would be coming in. I had been to this station a number of times before but I had apparently never been in this section as there was a whole new variety of shops. Anyway, I headed up to the platform about 25 minutes before the train departed just to be safe. And that was the best move I made all day. I knew something was wrong when I looked at the yellow piece of paper that announced the trains and what track they were on. My train wasn't on there. It didn't make sense. It took me a couple of minutes and a few doubletakes before I realized that I had somehow wound up at the wrong station! Instead of going two stops east of Alexanderplatz, I had gone two stops west. I was on the phone at the time so I had just moved into the station assuming I knew where I was. There were enough clues that something was wrong such as not recognizing the place but I didn't pay attention. And it didn't help that this was yet another Berlin train station with multiple tracks and intercity trains. OK, so now I had a real crisis. If the S Bahn was late or slow, or if I made another stupid mistake, I had a really good chance of missing the only train to Warsaw. That could screw up a lot of things as a result. Luckily, an eastbound train pulled in moments later. But just to add to the fun, it also stopped right before it got to my station for a heartwrenching four minutes, something I had never had happen before. Naturally. Well, I wound up making the train with five minutes to spare. The lesson to learn here is always go to the platform early. That way you learn you're in the wrong place altogether. By this time I was well into having a cold, sneezing and sniffling for almost the entire six hour ride. I

felt bad for my fellow cabin riders who were all Polish. I don't remember ever sneezing so much. And the cigarette smoke from the corridor sure didn't help. We pretty much kept to ourselves for the entire ride - I'm not particularly good at breaking the ice in the first place but being sick *and* not knowing the language kept me reading or typing for much of the time. Still, when one of the people in my cabin left the train, he wished me a good trip in English. I thought that was really cool that he not only was able to surmise where I was from but had taken the time to learn an appropriate phrase in my language. Warsaw was hot and chaotic upon arrival. I had difficulty even finding the exit to the train station and then I had to track down the hotel I had booked which claimed to be nearby. The first hotel I saw was the Marriott which gave me directions to my hotel. It was about a kilometer away which the guy said was too far to walk. So I tried to change money in order to get a cab. But they couldn't do this unless I was staying there. Whatever. I decided to walk anyway and it wasn't so bad. I've now got a headache and sniffles. I have to focus on driving the demons out so I may not be getting out too much in Warsaw tomorrow. I'm also a bit concerned over doing the radio show from here at 1:00 am and having to catch a 9:00 am train to Minsk the following morning. I'll make it but I just hope I'm not getting sicker when I do. I'm now six hours ahead of New York time which I suppose means I'm a quarter of the way around the earth. I'll be seven hours ahead in Minsk and eight hours ahead in Moscow.

3 August, 2005 Day 18. I really hate being sick. But being sick in a foreign city is even worse. Not only do you feel completely isolated but the sense of lost time and opportunity is ever pervasive. Fortunately I got to hang out in this city two years ago so spending most of my time indoors wasn't a total loss. And the last time I stayed here, I heard about the massive blackout affecting New York City and a bunch of other places. Missing that was probably more frustrating than missing a day of walking around Warsaw. Not that I didn't walk around. In fact, I'll bet I walked around more while sick than I do when well back home. But I also spent a lot of time just vegetating in front of Polish TV. There are three state channels that don't have commercials and show all kinds of things from poorly produced soap operas to old American television programs. The dubbing is especially funny since most of the time it's just a solitary guy reading all the lines without any emotion whatsoever. You can hear the original voices in the background most of the time. This kind of dubbing seems to get popular from the Polish border eastward. I saw what may have been the worst TV show ever. It was a sitcom that took place in London called "Extr@" and it basically made "Three's Company" look intellectual. Bad acting, bad writing, bad set design... it was all there. I figured out midway through that this was actually some kind of English lesson program which explained why it wasn't being dubbed. As it turned out, it was made by Italians but I guess it could work in any country where English wasn't a primary language. I can't imagine why anyone would still be interested in learning the language after seeing what can be done with it. But most of the time I spent reading and writing. Since I actually got up early enough for the free breakfast that came with the room, I went downstairs and stocked up on fruit and tea. I think I'll be able to drive the demons out fairly soon. I really don't want to be sick in Belarus. Let me tell you a thing or two about Belarus. This former Soviet republic is widely known as the home of Europe's last dictator: Alexander Lukashenko. They never actually let go of the Soviet way of doing

things. A week ago, Lukashenko sent his thugs to the headquarters of an ethnic Polish association and arrested several of its leaders. Poles comprise about half a million of the population, particularly near the border. It's turning into a bit of an international incident, with Poland puling its ambassador out of Minsk and Lukashenko accusing the Poles of trying to overthrow him. He rules with an iron fist and has all of Parliament under his control. (There was an uprising in Parliament back in the 90s which resulted in all of them being thrown out.) He wants Belarus to reunite with Russia which doesn't exactly thrill Vladimir Putin. They even still have the KGB in Belarus! Anyway, I'm saying all this while still in Poland since it's probably illegal to type these kinds of allegations in Belarus. It ought to be interesting to keep an eye on Belarus in the months and years ahead. Maybe even in the next couple of days. So I walked all the way back to Warszawa Centralna station to make damn sure I knew where to catch my train tomorrow morning. And am I ever glad I did. Whatever good sense exists in Germany with regard to trains goes right out the window in Poland. I have never seen such a confusing and illogical system. I knew there was going to be a problem when I wound up in the main terminal where trains are listed with magnetic plates like the kind people put on their refrigerators to make funny sentences. There was nothing funny about this much bigger version though. And the yellow sheets of paper on the wall that announced departures were no help at all. My train wasn't even on there and the trains that were had all kinds of useless information, such as the time the train left a distant station instead of something useful like a track number. So I went to the information booth where the woman behind the glass just ignored me for about five minutes before simply walking away. I knew things like this would start happening as soon as I crossed the Polish border but it still throws me for a loop whenever I encounter such blatant rudeness. Anyway, I moved to a better window, one that claimed to be for international information. They told me there was a train at 6 in the morning and one at 10 but not one at 9. So I pulled my ticket out and asked why it said there was a 9 o'clock train to Minsk from this very station. Oh, well that's the train from Brussels, they said, as if that somehow explained why it wasn't listed or spoken about. I would have to "listen carefully" to the announcements tomorrow morning (in Polish, wish me luck) but it would probably be on Number 2. I never should have walked away without further clarification but I had already taken up a lot of time and gotten them angry by forcing them to admit the existence of this train. When I walked over to Track 2, I noticed big signs everywhere that said "3." At first I thought it was Track 3 which maybe was more popular than Track 2 across the platform. But no, Track 4 was on the other side. I was thoroughly confused now. Track 2, Track 4, and signs everywhere that said 3. That's when I realized that they also believe in numbering the platforms. Platform 3 was for Track 2 and Track 4 while Platform 2 was for Track 1 and Track 3. Got it? So when they told me to go to Number 2 tomorrow morning, I have no idea what the fuck I'm supposed to do. I mean, what possible good can come out of numbering the platforms as well as the tracks? If you have to even keep track of them, why not have mercy on us and use letters instead of the same damn numbers that are used for the tracks? I honestly don't know how a human mind could have concocted such a scheme nor how people keep from overthrowing the train station. Perhaps this explains the large number of menacing cops I saw milling around. So tomorrow ought to be interesting as I try to put my various theories into practice. The last time I was here I left by bus so I didn't get to experience the train system to its fullest. (I recall transferring to a Krakow bound train in Warsaw on my way back which also was pretty confusing even with the help of a Warsaw native.) Supposedly only one car of this train goes where I want to go. Hopefully I'll find it or at least some fellow travelers who are equally confused. All of this to get into a dictatorship. Since I was here last, Poland has become a member of the European Union. You still can't spend euros here however. Hopefully by the time you can, this country will have reduced the amount of

unnecessary frustrations it subjects its citizens and visitors to. I realized that this is my last night in a country with a Roman alphabet until I get back to the States. I shudder to think how much more confusing things can get when I don't even know the characters. From here on in, things have the potential to get very unsettling and delightfully strange.

4 August, 2005 Day 19. I woke up nice and early so I would have plenty of time to get to the train and figure out where it was. As luck would have it, I had to stay up good and late the night before since "Off The Hook" was airing at 1:00 am my time. It was a frustrating show since the studio kept dialing the wrong number leaving me in suspended animation for the first part of the show. There's no worse feeling than just sitting there knowing the show is beginning and not knowing what the hell is going on. I can deal with losing a connection in the middle - I almost expect that with the kinds of phone calls we're attempting to make. But the beginning is when the tone is set and missing that just throws me off for the rest of it. So I was in a bad mood *and* I got very little sleep and now I had to figure out the impossible train system of Warsaw. It looked to be a banner day. I told you yesterday about the crazy room at Warszawa Centralna with the refrigerator magnet type train schedule. Would you believe that no matter how hard I tried today, I could not find that room again? And it's a really big room! I took a taxi to the station and went in from a different side but I didn't think it would be this difficult to get back to where I had been only a day before. It was like some kind of a "Twilight Zone" episode. I swear there was this huge room that was so archaic it could have easily existed 50 or 60 years ago. And today it didn't seem to exist at all. I found the train platforms without a problem. But when I tried to backtrack my steps yesterday to wind up back in that room the corridors all led to different parts of the station and its attached shopping complex. Freaky. So I just accepted that it must have been a bad dream, one which I really didn't have the time to analyze. I had a train to catch at 9:00. Not that this was reflected anywhere else in the station. As I wandered around, I looked at the trains that were coming in. It was at 8:38 that I saw it. Minsk! My destination. For some reason the sign said the train was leaving at 8:40 but I didn't care as long as it was going to Belarus. Just to be sure, I asked a vendor on the platform whom I had overheard giving directions to someone else in English if this was indeed the train to Minsk. He said it was. But then a moment later, he had apparently thought better of it as he ran after me saying, "Polish Minsk only!" Yes, it's true. Just to make things as much fun as humanly possible, they threw another Minsk into the mix. And naturally this was the one being announced on the platforms. So much for thinking I had actually gotten somewhere. The time of my theoretical train was approaching and I was beginning to get desperate. There were no train people anywhere to help out, no signs that had the information I sought, and the only room where someone had even admitted that this train might exist had vanished into thin air. That's when I chanced upon the "Strawberry" youth hostel people. I had seen them when I arrived in Warsaw. They met incoming international trains and shuttled away anyone who was interested in staying at a hostel. Best of all, they tended to speak English. So I approached them and asked if there was any way they could help me figure out where my train would be even though I wasn't staying in a hostel. They plunged into the challenge and ran around trying to figure out which train this could possibly be. I felt somewhat vindicated that it seemed as confusing to them in Polish as it did to me in English. I got them to explain some parts of the confusing schedule board to me. It seems those Roman numerals *do* tell you the

track number. I know in Russia they're used to specify days of the week and since they had only gone up to VII (and since there were eight tracks), I assumed that was the case here as well. But this was still useless information without a train to match it to. I mentioned that the people behind the now missing counter seemed to think that the train to Minsk was somehow connected to the train from Brussels. So we set out to ascertain which track that one was coming in on. Once we found that out, all they could do was wish me luck as there wasn't a hint anywhere else that it would be going beyond this station. But those youth hostel kids were orders of magnitude friendlier and more helpful than anyone else in the entire train station. So I went to the appropriate platform and looked at the huge train from Brussels that had just arrived. As I walked down the track looking for clues, I saw that there was one car all the way in the front that looked a little different from the rest and had a train employee standing by the door. It was the fabled car to Minsk! It felt like arriving in Mecca. When you start riding on trains inside the former Soviet Union, there are many things that are done differently. The first thing they do differently is take your ticket when you get to the train. Even if you need it for a future part of the journey, they take it from you. Sometimes they even take your passport. There's no reason to panic as you get it back when you reach your destination. The person who takes your ticket and is basically in charge of your car is called the provodnitsa. This is someone you definitely want to be on good terms with as she can make things very comfortable or very miserable for you. I wound up in the same cabin as a native Minsk resident who was returning from Germany where he had been working on a documentary project that involved interviewing Bellarussian survivors of Nazi slave camps. Wow. Not only was this fascinating but it was remarkable that the two of us were both working on a film project and here we were in the same compartment. His English wasn't great but a hell of a lot better than my nonexistent Russian. We had a third compartment mate from Germany who spent most of his time in a different compartment with his family. But when he was with us he was able to translate by speaking German to the guy from Minsk (who spoke it quite fluently) and English to me. That's kind of a typical way that train conversations in Europe seem to go. I had a lot of myths dispelled about Belarus on this part of the trip. People were far from being cowed into submission. It was obvious that things were far from perfect but neither were people living in a constant state of fear. Who knows - maybe I would even get some footage out of this place. The trip to Minsk from Warsaw has got to be one of the most non-distance-related lengthy connections anywhere in Europe. First we sat somewhere outside of Warsaw for what seemed like close to an hour. Then we got to the border at around 1:15 in the afternoon. That's when the real fun started. First, the Polish border guards come onto the train and check out your documents. After stamping everyone, the train then moves a small distance and stops again. That's when the guards from Belarus come on. We had all been given these little customs forms to fill out. And when I say little, I really mean it. The line for your signature is about an inch wide and the little boxes to check are a few font sizes away from being periods. The provodnitsa was nice enough to give me one in English which obviously made it a lot easier for me to fill out. But there was still some uncertainty. One of the questions on my form was whether or not I had any high quality electronics or devices for communication. Well, I could argue that my electronics weren't of high quality especially since I was always complaining about them. But my phone and computer were obviously devices for

communication. So I checked "yes" and listed them on the back. I was a little nervous that this would make me a marked man. But I wasn't nearly as nervous as my cabin mate who also had a computer along with a pretty decent video camera. So when the guard from Belarus arrived, he immediately got into this involved exchange about what he was carrying and it looked as if things weren't going to go well at all. A large amount of money was going to be charged for bringing the equipment into the country. I wasn't sure how or if this was going to affect me but for now this commotion was at least turning their attention elsewhere. They took our passports and I was given another microscopic form which apparently was for entering and leaving Russia. I figured I'd fill that one out later since they wanted my passport number and I no longer had it in my possession. More time passed and eventually the guard who had talked to my cabin mate about his equipment returned and ushered the rest of us out so he could have a private conversation. After a few minutes the door opened and everyone was all smiles. It had been worked out. Somehow. Shortly afterwards, another uniformed guy came by with our passports and handed them back to us. When he saw that I had the microscopic form he started yammering away in an excited tone. It turns out he was upset that I hadn't filled it out yet and that I needed to do so in a big hurry now. First of all, the thing didn't even say Belarus on it anywhere so I assumed it was for when I was entering Russia since that country's name was all over the form. Second, it wanted my passport number which is the one thing I didn't have while the passport was in the hands of the customs people! It's times like this I wish I could speak Russian just so I could have made what I thought were two excellent points. So instead I just quickly filled out the form right in time for the guy to run back and grab it from me. That was it as far as border guards go. But now we had to go through the infamous Belarus change of the wheel bogies to accommodate the wide gauge track used in this part of the world. I witnessed this in reverse once before as I was riding from Minsk to Warsaw. Basically they do all kinds of track switching for each and every carriage, put them all inside a garage, and raise the carriages up into the air as they slide the old wheel bogies out and slip the new ones in. It's a slow process and it involves quite a few guys performing very specialized tasks. I took a few pictures and before I knew it, one of the workers was holding little souvenirs like belt clips and emblem patches, apparently thinking that being a tourist I would literally buy anything. He was persistent too; no matter what part of the train car I would move to in order to get another shot, he'd wind up over there too displaying his wares in the palm of a single hand. I could have taken a picture of him but that could have been a really bad move, especially if he wasn't supposed to be doing that sort of thing. And I actually got yelled at by one of the workers for using my video camera on the operation. Not knowing what is right and what is wrong means that you have to be ever cautious and always compliant with whatever you're told to stop doing. So after all was said and done, the border crossing took about three and a half hours. Add to that the hour spent outside Warsaw and the hour time difference and what seems like a 12 hour trip is actually six and a half. My cold has transformed itself into a cough which hopefully is the last stage of this nonsense. I was able to get free tea from the provodnitsa and use leftover euro coins to buy some soup which did a world of good. By the time we got to Minsk I was pretty exhausted but I vowed to try and get some real food near where I was staying. Tomorrow will be a real challenge as I have to get a train reservation to Moscow. It's the kind of thing that can literally take all day or wind up in complete failure. I spent some time walking around the streets and was impressed at the wideness of the sidewalks and the overall cleanliness of the city. But more importantly, I noticed a change in the people since I was here last back in 2003. Whereas before most everyone had short hair and conservative dress, I spotted a

lot of long-haired types as well as all kinds of individualistic fashion statements walking the streets. If this is really a dictatorship, it doesn't feel like one where people are afraid to express themselves or stand out. These are of course very preliminary observations. I'll hopefully have a chance to see more of the city and the people tomorrow.

5 August, 2005 Day 20. It simply boggles the imagination how complicated the simplest things can possibly be made if you simply put enough effort into it. And getting a train ticket in Minsk turned out to be just that. I'm not in the least bit surprised that the better part of the day was taken up by this absurdity. But I had held out some hope that there may have been a speedy solution. After all, I technically already *had* the ticket. I had purchased an Amsterdam to Moscow ticket but the one thing I hadn't been able to get was a reservation for the final part of the trip between Minsk and Moscow. I can understand now why nobody else wanted to deal with it. When I checked into my hotel last night I asked if it might be possible to get the reservation through the hotel. They told me to check with their travel assistance people in the morning so I figured, all right, *maybe* I won't have to deal with this crap. I knew full well it was a pipe dream. The good news was that I wouldn't have to go all the way back to the train station; there was a ticket office about five blocks down the boulevard we were on. The guy was even nice enough to write a note explaining my situation and that I wanted to leave on tomorrow morning's train. So I followed his directions using the local McDonald's as a marker and got to the ticket office after about 20 minutes. I waited for a while on one of those infernal queues and triumphantly handed the note to the clerk when my turn finally came up. After staring at it a while she started to mutter and shake her head. Uh oh. Then what I knew from the beginning was going to happen happened. She unleashed wave upon wave of Russian phrases, questions, exclamations, and the like at me. What could I do? I tried every way of indicating that I didn't know what she was talking about but she didn't seem to know what I meant. Supervisors were brought in and more words flung at me. It was a real meeting of the minds. In the end one of the clerks scribbled something down on the piece of paper I had handed them and motioned for me to go. I tried in vain to get them to call the phone number of the hotel clerk which was on the paper but to no avail. So I trudged all the way back to the hotel, this time taking in the sights on the other side of the street. When I got there, I showed the guy what they had written. Apparently it wasn't possible to get on the train tomorrow as it was full. So I had a choice. Either leave tomorrow night or tonight. I could think of numerous ways that information could have been conveyed without everyone having to speak the same language but whatever. Much as I would have liked to have spent more time in Minsk, it was more important that I be in Moscow for the days leading up to the Trans Siberian departure. So I chose to leave on the 21:42 which entailed another trip down to the ticket office and another note written to them by the hotel guy. I don't know what he wrote but it seemed to get them very angry. They wrote something in response and sent me on my way. Again. This was getting ridiculous. It hadn't been my intention to come to Minsk and spend the day passing notes throughout the city. So rather than go through yet another chapter of this silliness, I asked the guy at the hotel if I could just hire someone to go and get me the reservation. It turned out that I could. The bellhop would actually trek all the way to the main train station with my passport and ticket and secure me a reservation. There was no mention of a fee for this service but the guy said in a sober tone that the train people would likely charge extra for the reservation. "How much?" I asked. "About 100,000," came the reply.

Now I don't care what the currency is actually worth but whenever someone says 100,000 it carries a certain weight. In actuality that's around $30 US. I honestly don't know how people can function under this kind of a system. Everything costs tens of thousands or more. And what about things that are really expensive, like cars or houses? What about kidnappings? How in the world do kidnappers ask for a decent amount of money? Do they need to use the words trillion or quadrillion? It's quite mind boggling, really. Anyway, it actually came to much less than that when the guy returned later. I gave him the difference as a tip or a fee or whatever and the situation was at last resolved. But this literally took the better part of the only day I had in Minsk. And I wasn't really able to go outside without my passport so I was stuck there while they were trying to sort it out. But I salvaged as much as I could of the day and walked around the streets. The city seems so different than the last time I saw it. They say this country is a dictatorship but I saw nothing in the attitude of the people to suggest this. People dressed in all sorts of interesting styles, there were skateboarders all over the place, and the driving style was anything but polite. These are all signs of freedom. Of course, I wasn't getting the full picture. What I saw were merely cosmetic impressions. I still wouldn't dare approach anyone with a video camera knowing what I know about this place. And I wouldn't want to potentially endanger anyone. But I have to say that this city seems to be full of hope. The people seem happy and lively. And that spirit will eventually result in some sort of change without the help of any outsiders. I realize now why there are some people who insist that change will never come to Belarus. It's a bit of a misunderstanding actually. You see, because of the crazily inflated currency, there are no coins in this country. Just a whole lot of notes. So change is really quite impossible. That's my first attempt at Belarusian political humor so go easy on me. One thing that really hits you in Minsk is the space. The streets and sidewalks tend to be wide and there are no real queues except of course in train stations. But there's also a decided lack of tourists here and I think the reason is pretty obvious. Belarus is a real pain in the ass to visit. You need to get a visa, you have those long delays getting into the country, and you have to deal with bureaucracy in the most annoying ways. It's a great looking city and the people seem quite eager to interact and be a part of the rest of the world. But why would tourists want to come to a place that tries their patience in such unnecessary ways? Hopefully these annoyances will be shed in the near future. When the revolution comes, perhaps that could be the first order of business. (I wonder if it's illegal to be writing about an upcoming revolution while in a country that's defined as a dictatorship. Better not press my luck; I'll post this from Moscow.) Just like the last time I was here, I had absolutely no interaction or interference from any law enforcement or government agents. Maybe they were watching me the whole time but I really doubt it. People seem a lot freer here than in many other parts of the world. Just reading a copy of the Belarus Times showed me that. The free English language daily has articles with titles like "Less People Support Lukashenko," "Economic Growth in Belarus Slows Down," and "Belarusian Authorities Denied Ethiopian Pilots of Political Asylum." The news of the growing dispute with Poland is everywhere in all of the media. In fact, the front page story of the matter in the Belarus Times points out that Poland was the only country in the EU that raised the issue of simplifying visa requirements for Belarusians. That's a pretty far cry from demonizing Poland, as one might expect all of the media within a dictatorship to do. I've also been pretty hard pressed to find pictures of Lukashenko anywhere.

I remember in 2003 seeing his face on just about every news story on state television. Tonight I couldn't find him once. Are these signs of progress? Perhaps. But there are other things, such as the fact that wireless Internet is illegal in the entire country, that make you realize there's a lot that still needs to be done. I for one am quite curious how the people will decide to do it.

6 August, 2005 Day 21. This wasn't the way I wanted to go to Moscow but it seemed to be the only way I could have gotten there in the time frame I needed. So I got on an overnight train that would arrive in just under 12 hours. I figured at the very least it would be good training for the Trans Siberian. I found the train car I was supposed to be in pretty easily but locating the actual compartment took a bit of doing. They really hide that info in the depths of the ticket. And sometimes the only way to get things done is to just throw yourself upon the mercy of the people. So I just kept walking up to fellow passengers and pointing to my ticket until someone took it upon themselves to show me where to go. My compartment number was easy enough to find on the ticket - if you knew which part of the ticket to look for it in. In the end I wound up sharing a compartment with a father and his young son who only seemed interested in going to sleep as soon as the train started moving. High excitement. In this part of the world there are rules for everything. And on a train there are all kinds of unique ways of doing things. About the only thing I had a clue about was sitting down. And even that was difficult since there were only bunk beds and no chairs. But I had no idea where I was supposed to put my bags. Fortunately there was one empty bed which gave me an easy solution. But where had my two cabin mates put theirs? (In the morning I found out when they deftly opened up the bed to reveal storage space inside. This is apparently knowledge you're born with in Russia as there weren't even any pictorial diagrams indicating this was possible.) And then there was some kind of food issue. On my last train, all I could get access to was an occasional cup of tea and my fellow passenger from Minsk kept offering me things. I was determined to not only have more but to actually start reciprocating on these offers. I made sure to stop in a Minsk supermarket before departing and I had a variety of items on hand. So naturally on this train there was an abundance of food. The provodnitsa slapped some sort of package of juice, muffins, and crackers in front of me. But I didn't feel comfortable taking any of it since I wasn't sure if it was just for me or for everyone. Then when morning came, someone knocked on the door and delivered two hot meals for the others. I had to wonder if they were communicating through telepathy. In the end though I was able to get a decent amount of sleep and a good sense of what I was going to be in for over the next couple of weeks. Apart from the fact that it felt as if we were about to leave the tracks throughout most of Belarus, the ride was fairly smooth and the bed surprisingly comfortable, owing no doubt to the thickness of the pillow and padding. I fully expected to be rousted first thing in the morning by angry Russian border guards but that never happened. In fact, there was no border check of any type. I remembered this also during my trip into Belarus from Russia two years ago. Different currency but no border check. How strange. Upon arrival in Moscow, I looked around for a place to get money changed. I still had Belarusian rubles which were apparently completely worthless here. (It's very difficult to even exchange this

currency which is an awfully odd way to treat a country you have no border check with.) I went all over the station looking for a change shop to no avail. Finally I spotted an ATM where a man was cussing at the screen. When he finally stormed away, I gave it my card and was surprised to actually get money back. I was finally in business. The Izmailovo hotel complex where the Trans Siberian trip officially begins was located a fair distance away from this station. It was reachable by metro but I didn't think now was the best time to try and manipulate that system since I had a bunch of bags and I was still pretty tired. So I opted for a cab which was definitely a wise move to make. Entering Moscow by cab is really a lot like a ride at an amusement park. It's a good deal more fun if you tell yourself that you definitely will survive the experience. My driver was a madman, hitting 120 km/h at times on city streets, skillfully avoiding other cars and pedestrians, and somehow never missing a traffic light. I'm pretty sure we actually were driving on two wheels on a couple of occasions. Usually I avoid cabs at all expense. I just don't feel comfortable having some stranger drive me someplace. There are all sorts of awkward interactions and a feeling of "let's just get this over with" emanating from all corners. I sense this mostly because of how I see my cab riding friends act. They become instant aristocrats barking out orders and commands. Or they take issue with something the poor guy is doing, like having a window open, having a window closed, speeding, going too slowly, using the horn, taking a particular route, talking on a cell phone, smelling, listening to the radio, etc. It's too much fucking drama just to get from one place to another which is why mass transit is orders of magnitude preferable. But not this time. Taking a cab in Moscow was the only way to go. Now here was a city! It clearly went on forever and was teeming with people from all corners of the world. In many places I spotted 24 hour shops of various sorts. And it was completely and totally filthy. Diesel fumes were belching out of everything it seemed. Some of the old school buses (yes, that phrase is accurate both ways you read it) reminded me of Mexico. And there seemed to be construction going on everywhere you looked. This was clearly a place a lot of people wanted to be. After about a half hour of breathtaking excitement, we arrived at the hotel. It was another one of those Soviet built massive hotels with multiple sections that all looked the same. This one was built for the 1980 Olympics. I was in the "Gamma" section. Surprisingly, I had no trouble getting checked in that morning even though I wasn't supposed to be there until afternoon. They even offered me breakfast which compounded the irony of all of the food I had suddenly gotten access to. Instead, I figured taking a nap would be the best course of action and that turned into sleeping through most of the day. I checked the news when I woke up. The trapped Russian submarine was the top story everywhere. It's unbelievable how this sort of thing just seems to keep happening here. Hopefully history won't repeat itself and these guys will get out OK. I met up with Hanneke and Sasja after they checked in and we headed into town via the metro. The Moscow metro is fantastic. No system anywhere reminded me more of New York. The trains are big and loud and they move fast! New York City is still unique in its 24 hour operation and four track system. But the trains here are very impressive. I believe the cars are longer and taller than in New York. Trains are seven cars in length. And the stations are all spacious and solid. In many cases marble is everywhere. We had to make several connections and throughout the evening I don't think we waited longer than two minutes for a train. We met up with my friend Ilya who was active in the Free Kevin movement in Moscow and who

currently teaches computer hacking and has set up a hacker library for anyone interested in further research. After dinner at a Georgian restaurant where apparently Kofi Annan and Boris Yeltsin once had been, we journeyed out to the suburbs and met some friends of Ilya's where we had some watermelon and talked about all sorts of issues like the Ukraine, global economy, and life in Siberia. I was more than a little surprised that within 30 seconds of entering the apartment, a passionate discussion of the Ukrainian situation was in full swing. We made arrangements to meet up tomorrow for a taping of "Off The Wall" and to get some footage for the movie. Sunday will really be my only full day here so I'm hoping to make the most of it.

7 August, 2005 Day 22. Moscow is such a huge city and there's so little hope of exploring a significant portion of it on a single trip. And essentially only having one day makes any attempt border on the absurd. So the best I could hope for was to get a small taste of Moscow in the very brief time I had. After all, I'm still discovering things about New York after spending a lifetime there. And this place seems almost infinite in its size and the chaotic layout of its streets. The plan today was to record this week's "Off The Wall" and get it uploaded since net connectivity would be impossible once we got on the train. It would also be fun to wander around the streets of Moscow while doing a radio show. I really wanted to use the clip-on microphone I had to avoid attracting attention. But after running some tests, I heard horrendous static indicative of a loose connection somewhere so I decided to once again use the big microphone. You know, the one that got us kicked out of the London Underground. Naturally I wanted to add the sounds of the metro to the show so it would be tricky at best if the authorities were anywhere near as paranoid as those in London. I got Hanneke and Sasja to be around and we made plans to meet Ilya right in the middle of Red Square. It was a perfect plan. The little challenges that I face every day are actually rather enjoyable. Whether it's figuring out a metro system, finding a place to change money, tracking down decent food, looking for a post office, or something bigger like recording, editing, and uploading a radio show, there's very little time for aimless wandering. And between all of the projects I'm involved in, there doesn't seem to be a moment where I'm not working on something or planning how to do so. These weekly recordings have definitely proven to be a test, one which is bound to get more difficult before it gets easier. So far nothing has come close to equaling the problems I faced on the Queen Mary 2. But somehow I doubt that's as hard as it's going to get. We took the metro to within one stop of Red Square and got out to set things up. The idea was to travel a single stop since any more probably would have been a real burden to the listeners. (Like I've said, these trains are loud!) And I had to be extra careful with the huge microphone I was carrying as previous experience had shown it to be a magnet for all sorts of authority types. We made it all the way into the metro entrance, down two long escalators each with its own little guard in a glass booth, onto the train, over to the stop we wanted, and then back out again without a hitch. Of course we got a little lost for a few minutes and had to search for Red Square which must be like searching for the Empire State building in New York City. We quickly tracked it down but the damn square was closed! This made it rather difficult to meet Ilya in the middle of it and we sent some text

messages back and forth so we could meet up somewhere else. We even stopped the show so that Ilya wouldn't miss getting on the air for the last 10-15 minutes or so. And just as we were doing that, Red Square was magically reopened. What timing! We found Ilya and restarted the show so he could tell the world about the hacker scene in Moscow. And we got all the way to the outro where Ilya was introducing a Russian song he wanted to play. All of a sudden and without any sort of warning, this strange guy with sunglasses and a weird patterned shirt was standing directly in front of me looking menacing and not saying a word. I saw that at his side was a member of the police who looked to be about 14. It wasn't immediately clear what exactly he wanted but it was pretty obvious he wasn't pleased. I guessed that he wanted me to stop recording so I made a show of unplugging the microphone. But I still didn't know what was going on. And he gave no indication that he was going anywhere. I didn't know if we were being detained, were going to have our equipment confiscated, or would have to do something else to satisfy this guy. Strangely though, I didn't feel afraid. The guy was obviously FSB (basically a new name for the KGB) and he was clearly good at it (he knew not to say a word while a microphone was in sight yet was able to get me to do what he wanted solely through his demeanor), but because we were right there in the middle of Red Square and I was with my friends, I didn't get the sensation that I was in imminent danger. So once it was clear that there was no more recording going on and that we had at least one Russian speaker in our midst, an actual conversation took place. Ilya later told us the guy said we needed special permission to record in the square but he wouldn't tell us what we needed to do in order to get that permission. Since there were no threatening moves or mannerisms towards us, we tried as best we could to apologize and headed slowly away. We weren't followed, at least not obviously. After regrouping a short distance away, we finished the show. I really need to get a tiny microphone so that this doesn't keep happening. I still don't get what the fuss is all about - people were using camcorders all around us and those obviously are recording sound as well. And what's so terrible about recording sound in the middle of a huge open square? I'm glad we got to the very end of the program before being told to stop so I believe it was a success. And now I can add Red Square to the list of places where I've been hassled. After piecing the bits of the show together and making a final version, I headed over to Ilya's to catch up on mail, upload the show, and hang out with some cool Russian types in his flat. We basically traded bits of knowledge from our respective cultures - everything from Abbie Hoffman to Jim Morrison and hacker books and articles from Russia and America. There was a keen interest in the "underground movement" in the States - you know, the one that dated back to the 60s. Sadly, I feel that the Russians are more in touch with that period of our history than we are. I knew it was going to be a late night because the Internet was involved. So by the time I got out of there it was three in the morning. Ilya and I walked back towards the now closed metro stop in search of a taxi. It was pretty far too as we had taken a tram ride from the metro before and now that was also shut down. Moscow really needs to have a 24 hour transit system so people can get around easily at all hours. Why is this always such an issue in every city but New York? It was an odd walk. There were occasional people who would pass by on the almost silent road and then suddenly a loud car would race by. But what was especially strange was passing a little streetside stand with beer bottles and cans piled high in the window and seeing a solitary clerk sitting behind the glass. A flower stand across the street was also lit up and open, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. These can exist in the darkness of the Moscow suburbs at three in the morning but not mass transit?

What exactly are the priorities here? Along the entire walk to the metro station, and hence the bigger street, we didn't see a single cab. However, as Ilya pointed out, any car in Moscow is also a cab. It's true. If you stick out your hand a car driven by a private person will immediately stop and begin negotiating a price to take you where you want to go. It's a way anyone can quickly raise a little money. But I didn't feel comfortable just getting into a car with a complete stranger even though that's basically what I would be doing if I got into a taxi. The little official marking somehow made it seem safe and secure. After reaching the station, it didn't take long to spot a cab approaching across the immense intersection that only had a single traffic light. We hailed it and instantly a private car made a u-turn and tried to grab us first. We insisted on the cab which was still sitting at a red light with five other lanes of oncoming traffic. I wondered how many of those cars would try to get to us first. At least one did and there was almost a collision. Standard practice, I suppose. So I got a ride back to my hotel which took about 20 minutes. The whole time the driver was trying his best to keep his car from stalling by racing the engine every time he had to stop at a light, which there were surprisingly few of. He lit up a cigarette and sped through the streets silently. Maybe cab rides in New York were like this once. I sure don't remember a period like that however. And so ended a full day's activity in Moscow. And with that I've reached another milestone. Moscow is as far as I've ever gotten in the past before turning around and heading back home. Tomorrow that all changes. When I begin to head east on the train in the afternoon, every inch of territory I cover will be in a part of the world I've never traveled to before. From Moscow until my freighter docks in California in late September, this will all be virgin territory. The real adventure is about to begin.

8 August, 2005 Day 23. It was a good thing we weren't leaving until mid afternoon since I never would have woken up in time otherwise. As it was, I didn't actually get out of the room until 12:10. In fact, as I was about to close the door, the phone rang so I went back to see if it might be Hanneke or Sasja since we hadn't yet met up that day. Instead it was somebody from the hotel who was telling me in broken English that checkout time was 12:00. "Yes, I know," I explained. "I'm leaving now. I just came back to answer the phone." "You want extension?" "No, I'm leaving now!" "One day?" "No! Nyet!" And that triggered her to yammer away in Russian so I quickly excused myself before anything else happened. I may actually still be checked into this hotel for all I know. Hanneke and Sasja were already downstairs and we had a couple of hours to kill there in the lobby before our ride to the train station. All sorts of strange and exotic people came and went through the crowded lobby. All sorts of loud and obnoxious people too. I heard some of the noisiest mobile phone rings I think I've ever heard right there in that lobby. And in Russia, talking loudly on your mobile is apparently something that's passed down through the generations. I'm sure this is reinforced by the fact that there is reception in parts of the obscenely loud metro. And of course there's the fact that Russians seem to always be arguing or talking in a loud voice to begin with. This lobby seemed to be a part of the Hotel Pennsylvania/Regent Palace hotel network where you can basically just sit and watch as hordes of tourists flow in and out like the tide. And if you get bored, it's a short walk to the Delta quadrant which was basically an exact duplicate of Gamma. (On several

occasions I somehow made it all the way to my alternate universe room in Delta before discovering I was in the wrong building.) At one point while waiting there in the lobby, we saw four young guys all dressed in black walk purposefully by, all armed with pistols, the one in the middle carrying a large knapsack. They could have just been four guys off the street or part of the government. Nobody seemed to know or care. In Russia, you see guns all over the place. There are cops and soldiers almost always within sight but sometimes you see a kid who looks no older than 15 dressed up in camouflage with a huge bag apparently on his way to military service. And invariably they have a gun shaped box on them which doesn't do much to hide what it is they're carrying. I'm starting to feel out of touch. The space shuttle was supposed to land today but last I heard before leaving my room it was delayed. I knew I probably wouldn't be able to find out if they made it or not until we got off the train tomorrow night. People definitely don't have the same obsession with being kept up to date as so many of us do back home. But newspaper headlines everywhere were celebrating the trapped submarine's successful rescue. The time came and our ride materialized right on time. Hanneke and Sasja had booked the whole Trans Siberian portion of the trip through a tour guide. This meant that we would get rides to and from the train wherever we happened to be. It definitely simplified things quite a bit and made it all a little less intimidating. So our tour guide for the next hour or so was Dmitry who gave us a ride to the train station using a somewhat less aggressive Moscow style of driving. In New York we would just call it scary. Naturally he asked if we had a good time in his city and we all said we had. "How long were you here for?" came the inevitable question to which the answer was a mere day and a half. I don't think any of us wanted to be here for that short a period but with so much planned, it was an unfortunate necessity. "Moscow is big city," Dmitry admonished. "You need to be here longer to see more." "I'd like to be here for a month," I put forth. I wasn't kidding either. If you want to really get to know a city, you need to live there for a period of time. Moscow is a huge and complicated city and the more time the better. "A month is too long," Dmitry said after a pause. "It's too crowded. One week is good." I wasn't sure if he was telling us that space was so tight that our extended presence would cause problems or if he thought that we just wouldn't be able to stand a crowded city for longer than a week. I have gotten the distinct impression from many Russians that living in Moscow is something to be avoided and that it's not a place they're particularly proud of. Regardless, I find it fascinating and having been a city dweller for most of my life, I knew that tolerating Moscow wouldn't be a problem at all. Dmitry left us at the train station after a long and intricate explanation of how to find out our track number, get on the train, find our car, and find our seat. I guess the tour guides have to be very careful to explain everything since there are people who don't readily grasp these concepts, but it was still pretty funny and I was more than a little tempted to ask what the numbers of the cars surrounding car number 4 might be. Our train finally pulled in and we climbed on board. We were actually on the Trans Siberian at last! Although I should probably issue a clarification at this point. Our first leg of the journey to Beijing (there will be four in total) is to the city of Yekaterinburg which is just over a day's journey. That very first part technically isn't on the Trans Siberian route but on a route slightly to the south. There are still a number of tourists on board and everything else seems identical. But this train will not be going clear to the end of Russia. When we board our second train on Thursday morning, that will be a true Trans Siberian edition. That's also going to pose a real challenge in doing the "Off The Hook" broadcast as I doubt I'll have GSM coverage and using the satellite phone on the train will be spotty at best with all of the tree cover. So I may wind up missing most of this one.

We got a cabin for four but we're only using it for three which gives us a noticeable amount of additional space. There are four beds, two on the top, two on the bottom. With a little doing, you can tie the top bunks up and convert the bottom ones to seats. And since I now know where all of the secret compartments are, storing luggage is quite simple. It's really a perfect environment. There's enough space for everyone to sit, relax, do work, sleep, or just wander around the train. We have this three places in a four space compartment arrangement for three out of our four legs. We weren't able to get it for the final part from Mongolia to China so we know that some stranger will be joining us there. After leaving Moscow and passing through some suburbs, the landscape quickly changed to that of endless birch tree forests and occasional farm fields. I figured we'll be seeing an awful lot of this in the days ahead. And yet I also knew it was going to be anything but boring. We got acquainted with some of the people on the train. A woman came by and sold us bottled water the kind I like without the infernal bubbles. And after we paid her 100 rubles for something that cost 70 for two bottles, she gave us two little chocolate bars instead of change. Fortunately I had just read about this in one of my books so we were able to avoid panic and confusion. Oftentimes instead of change you'll get other little items which theoretically could be used to buy something else. Apparently little chocolate bars fit this description. We later hung out in the dining car and met some traveling South Africans who said they wanted to be in our film and would speak Afrikaans. That would be exceptionally cool. A few hours in, we made a stop at a small station somewhere. On the walls of the train is a schedule that tells you how long each stop will be for. This one was for about 20 minutes so we decided to have a look on the platform. It was filled with people selling all sorts of things from food to stuffed animals to giant vases. Somebody on our car bought one of those, in fact. I can't imagine how he's going to be lugging that thing around for the rest of his trip - it's as big as a small person. I got a snack from an old woman who has probably been doing this every day since she was a child. And then it was time for the train full of strangers to begin moving again. I've opted to sleep on the top bunk and I really hope it stays up and there are no short stops that could propel me over the edge. I also hope I'll be able to go to sleep in this thing. There will be many such nights ahead.

9 August, 2005 Day 24. Not only did I sleep in the train but I slept well into the afternoon. This bodes well. Apparently it's true what they say about the gentle rocking of the train lulling one to sleep and keeping one there. I tried to get breakfast in the dining car since Hanneke and Sasja weren't awake yet but apparently a single person can't get service at a table there. At least that's how I interpreted the scolding I got when I tried to get seated. So I walked all the way back to our car and watched the view for a while from the window outside the cabin. It was still mostly forest and field, occasionally broken up by the emergence of a small village which looked as if it hadn't been changed in centuries. We'd also pass crumbling factories and warehouses from the Soviet era, in many cases having the year of construction emblazoned proudly upon their structures: 1946, 1968, 1986, etc. It was a long time before I saw anything that looked even remotely new.

When we were all awake we dove into our own provisions rather than journey all the way back to the dining car. I still had some leftovers from the Minsk-Moscow train so that tided me over nicely. The train people supplied every cabin with a very nice looking teapot so we made frequent trips down to the boiling water machine at the end of the car and lived off tea for a while. It was hard to believe but we were only a few hours away from our destination. There were a couple more stops in small towns where anyone venturing onto the platform would be immediately surrounded by hawkers of all types. It seemed like such a hard life: pinning all of your hopes on these complete strangers who obviously had enough money to be riding on the train in the first place and devoting however much time it took to prepare whatever it was you were selling. But it wasn't like there was much choice in places like this. If you wanted to survive, this is what you had to do. I'm sure there are many more who have it even worse. And so we continued on our way. And at around 8 in the evening we arrived in the city of Yekaterinburg. And yes, it was a city by all definitions. Tall buildings, trams, a metro, lots of people and traffic, the works. And yet this was a city I had never even heard of before planning this trip. I still can't even say its name properly. Yekaterinburg is such a welcome relief to all of the forest, fields, small villages, and peasants that have been our landscape for almost the entire time since leaving Moscow. Not that I disliked any of that but I do appreciate a little variety. In my mind it had seemed as if that was all there was to Russia east of Moscow. Now I know there's more and it's a bit of a relief. One thing I immediately liked about this city was the climate. It wasn't baking hot like the rest of Russia had been. Maybe that's what made it feel a bit friendlier than Moscow but it did seem as if people were smiling more here. While there was much that was old in the city, I saw new construction and lots of modern dress. It felt like a city that wanted to catch up. An interesting fact about time in places like this. When we were leaving the train station and heading towards our hotel, I noticed a big clock on the side of the station which said it was 6:30. Odd, since the time of our arrival was closer to 8:30. It turns out that train stations only keep Moscow time. So as soon as you walk through those doors, it's like you're back in Moscow. As soon as you leave, clocks everywhere show the local time. It seems like an excellent recipe for missing trains since all of the timetables also reflect Moscow time. I guess when you have eleven time zones, you need to do things like this, although I'm not really sure who it benefits. We got to our hotel, the Bolshoy Ural. It was one of those Soviet style places with tiny rooms and extremely wide hallways that led to them. And in order to get to them you needed to follow a special procedure, one which isn't uncommon in places like this. The downstairs receptionist would give you a card with your room number on it. She would also take your passport to have it registered with the authorities. (This takes about an hour.) You then proceed to the very tiny lift or the stairs where the security guy may or may not look at your card before you head up. When you arrive at your floor, you hand your card to another receptionist who then gives you a key. Yes, every floor has a receptionist. In fact, some of the bigger hotels have one for every side of the building on every floor. It's an incredible amount of staff and once again I don't see a whole lot in the way of customers. One of the possible reasons for the lack of guests soon became clear. The place has no hot water! Apparently, for a period of ten days in August this is how it's going to be. The travel agency really

scored on this one. So after not being able to take a shower on the train and having four more nights before arriving in the next city, let's just say we're all going to be pretty ripe upon arrival. I only hope the Soviet style is less fashionable out in Irkutsk. I also just discovered that I'm actually in Asia! These are my first moments on a brand new continent. I have to say though that I think there really should be more fanfare when crossing into a different continent. That's why ocean borders are better than something like the Ural Mountains which we didn't even see on the train. Maybe tomorrow we'll take a trip to the actual border so we can better appreciate this moment. Much as I would like to see what this place can conjure up for breakfast, I'm probably going to miss it so I can get on a decent schedule for the "Off The Hook" broadcast which will wind up taking place at around dawn my time on Thursday. Nothing but Russian channels on the television but from those I was able to figure out that the shuttle landed and that somebody important in Russia died. I guess for now I don't really need to know anything else.

10 August, 2005 Day 25. My God, the people running this hotel are fucking idiots. 9:00 in the morning and they're pounding on my door like they're the fucking KGB. All to tell me what precisely? That they wanted to make the bed I was still sleeping in? What is wrong with these people? I've had sleep interrupted by housekeeping people before but never anything as ferocious as this. Is it really such an alien concept that someone might want to sleep past nine? If these fools had bothered to even *make* a do not disturb sign, I would have hung it on the door without hesitation. Now I'm all screwed up from lack of sleep and fear. Fucking morons. Of course, getting sushi last night was a monumentally dumb move on my part. I don't have my guide to the best sushi cities in the world but I'm pretty sure Yekaterenburg wasn't in the top ten. Fortunately what I got was a lot smaller than the way it looked in the picture but I still should have known better. So today hasn't been the best of days on a number of levels. But I was still able to stagger around the city to some degree. There is a decided lack of the English language here which I think is just fine. But I don't believe I've ever felt this cut off from home without being in the middle of a forest or something. I don't think I've heard a single American accent since I've gotten here. And I really have no idea what's going on back home. I suppose if there were anything major, I would have somehow gotten it off of Russian television. So I'm content to just exist in the equivalent of an alien planet for now. As long as I don't wander too far from a bathroom. It's been frustrating that I haven't been able to find a place to hook up to the net. There are connections available in the post office but I do all of my work on my laptop and the only service they offer is using their terminals which have no support for USB devices. And I haven't detected a wireless connection since Moscow. I only hope it's a little better in Irkutsk, a smaller city in Siberia. I really need it to be since otherwise there really won't be a way to upload the next "Off The Wall." Hanneke and Sasja wanted to visit the local zoo so I tagged along. I'm both happy and sad that I did. I've always had mixed feelings about zoos in the first place. On the one hand, people should see wildlife up close. But on the other, wildlife deserves to be free and, well, wild. For this zoo, though, I had no mixed feelings. It was one of the worst displays of animal treatment short of a slaughterhouse

that I've ever seen. There were filthy, small cages with insufficient space to do anything other than move a few feet in one direction or another. There were two polar bears who were fenced off from each other and had so little room to swim that I couldn't see how they could possibly survive. Bears were one of the main attractions, it being Russia and all. They all looked absolutely miserable and unhealthy. This zoo, incidentally, existed right in the middle of the city as if a square block had one day simply been allocated for the display of animals. And one thing that was noticeably absent was any sort of sound coming from the inhabitants. It was as if they were just existing in front of our eyes but not really living. The whole thing reminded me of a touristy concentration camp, the kind where people wander around looking at the various inscriptions and pretty much keeping to themselves. I had a couple of interesting experiences with some medium sized wildcats. At least two of them caught my eye and we locked gazes for up to five minutes at a time. This has happened with me quite a few times with domesticated cats but nobody here apparently had seen such a thing before. It's very hard to explain. I've been friends with a number of cats over the years and I've often felt a connection of sorts. Other people have told me similar stories. Mostly the sensation I get from them is curiosity. What I got today was overwhelming sadness. And I felt so helpless in return. All I can do is write about it and hope that someday in some way it'll have an effect and if there have to be zoos, that they are the kind where the animals might have a chance of believing they're in a natural environment. Of course, animals outside of zoos are treated like absolute shit too but there's only so much I can wrap my head around at a time. I think this is the first day I felt a genuine bout of homesickness. Not feeling well, being so far away with so long to go, and being in a completely alien environment will have that effect. Not that I'm having any regrets. This is what I signed up for. And it's a real joy to be traveling with a couple of people who share in the adventure and appreciation of foreign cultures. Not to mention the fact that I have someone to speak English to besides my laptop. And the occasional SMS from home is always great. Tonight we catch the late train out of Yekaterinburg which will truly be a Trans Siberian Express train. Of course, most of the people on it will have been part of the journey since Moscow so we'll be the new kids on the block. This will also be the longest single train ride of my life and of this whole Trans Siberian adventure. Not counting tonight, we will be on the train for two overnights before getting off at Irkutst. The ride before was a good prelude to this. And after we get past this stage, everything else will seem relatively simple in comparison. And I also have a really big challenge in the hours ahead. Just how exactly *do* I do an edition of "Off The Hook" from a moving train somewhere in the middle of the wilds of Russia? GSM is a remote possibility. The satellite phone is a better one but I honestly don't see how I'll be able to hold onto a connection for longer than a few minutes at a time unless I have a continuous view of the sky from one of the windows or hang off the back of the train. I'm sure the folks in New York will carry on just fine but it sure would do my heart good to have a conversation with the radio audience back home.

11 August, 2005 Day 26. I have to admit I was pretty surprised with how well the connection held out during "Off The Hook." We started out using a GSM phone which lasted far longer than I ever thought possible. I mean, being on the Trans Siberian Express, I think most people wouldn't be surprised if their cell phone coverage dropped out. Instead I got better coverage here than I do in many parts of Long Island! Of

course, it didn't last forever and we switched over to the satellite phone a bit later in the show. Even that fared better than my anticipations. I fully expected to only be on for a few minutes if that long but wound up being able to catch most of the show. Of course we wound up with a good amount of the "Ted Koppel effect" (confusion caused by satellite delay that first became widely known in the early days of "Nightline"). But it was really good to hear voices from home. By the time the show ended, it was daylight on the train. I managed to catch some sleep and woke up sometime in the afternoon. Time is becoming very strange as I try to stay aware of New York time, the train is on Moscow time, and the actual time zones we're passing through are somewhat open to interpretation. The scenery has been changing. More open fields and a general sense of wilderness stretching out forever. I learned that we had actually entered Siberia early in the morning. What an absolutely huge expanse! If we stayed on this train until its destination (Vladivostok), we would be traveling across Siberia for days to come. I used to wonder what it must have been like to grow up in a small town. Like a *really* small town somewhere in the middle of Kansas or Iowa or someplace. What about my friends? Would they have become anything resembling the people they are today in an isolated environment? Is there a spark that somehow ignites and propels you past whatever limited locale you happen to find yourself in? I've met so many cool people from small towns who really have a sense of the world beyond their own tiny community and it's those people I have a great deal of respect for since it must take an awful lot of determination to simply *get* to that stage. I guess I still ponder these things. Only now, seeing such a foreign environment that truly *is* in the middle of nowhere, I have to wonder if it would even be possible to transcend this environment and move on to something else. I know that's not necessarily what people want to do in the first place but I think there should always be some sort of ability to realize and achieve your goals. Do people here have any choice at all as to how their lives will go? I suppose there's no way of really knowing this short of hopping off the train at the next small station and living here for a while. We stopped in a few more little towns but there seem to have been less and less merchants selling things to the train people. We decided to check out the restaurant car later in the evening. We stopped at Novosibirsk which happens to be the biggest city in Siberia. I really wish I could have spent some time here since it looked fairly modern and non-crumbling. As we're in car 14 which is the next to last car on the train, anytime we stop anywhere it takes a very long time to walk all the way up to the front of the train where the action tends to be. So by the time I made it all the way to the main station building which had all kinds of food and stuff inside, they were calling us back onto the train. Shit. I wasn't about to go running all the way back so I got onto an earlier car despite the admonitions of that car's provodnitsa. If she truly believed I didn't belong on the train I'm sure she wouldn't have let me on at all. So I walked all the way back to our car on the inside of the train, which took more than five minutes. So once we actually left the station, we decided to get some food on the train which entailed walking through about ten carriages to get to the restaurant car. Which of course was closed by the time we got to it. Fucking great. This apparently is the only part of the train that is *not* on Moscow time. It was like they were taunting us with visions of food and then not allowing us to actually gain access to any of it. I'm not used to the feeling of realizing that there wouldn't be any food tonight, something I guess most of the world is all too familiar with. Of course, even that is an exaggeration since we had tea and

potato mix and cookies. But more would have been nice. Oh well, tomorrow is another day. Probably one exactly like today.

12 August, 2005 Day 27. I've acclimated to the train rather well. Almost too well. I think I slept more than ten hours this morning which is a bit more than necessary. It's just so very comfortable with the rocking motion of the train coupled with the realization that there's not a whole lot to do if you should happen to get up anyway. I wonder how many days I could last without going stark raving mad. There was virtually no cell coverage today so even an SMS from home would have been unlikely to reach me. It seems that every day brings with it a little more isolation. All in all not a bad thing I suppose. And definitely a good environment to get some work done. It's interesting how you perceive a place in a very specific way and then when you finally manage to get out and see it, it's completely and radically different. I had always pictured Siberia as a vast wasteland where few people lived and even fewer plants could grow. That appears to be all wrong. It's certainly vast. And it doesn't look like a whole hell of a lot of people live here. But what I've seen of Siberia so far is anything but a wasteland. I see dense forests, lush fields, a place absolutely teeming with life. Just not so much in the human sense. If that is the definition of a wasteland, then the earth needs more of them. Sure, there's no doubt that it gets pretty damn cold around here during the winter. But I see humans as being quite adaptable. I look at it this way: if plants and wild animals are able to thrive, then it's an environment that human beings can live in as well. Something like Antarctica or Mars... that's inhospitable but by no means impossible to live in for a spell. You would probably go crazy in short order if you were stuck in such a place for very long. Kind of like living in a moving train. There comes a time when you would in all likelihood completely lose it. But the parts of Siberia I've seen so far give the impression that humans could exist here quite happily year round with some obvious adaptations. For me the biggest drawback would be that it's so far away from everything. But if more humans lived here, that would become less of an issue. Then the problem would become human beings destroying yet another pristine environment. So maybe things are the way they are for a very good reason. So I've spent much of the day simply admiring the scenery and getting out for some air whenever the train makes a stop. I figure since we arrive at Irkutsk very early tomorrow morning and I woke up quite late in the afternoon, it won't make much sense to try and go to sleep again. I've adopted a rule that actually makes a good deal of sense: sleep when tired, regardless of when. I'll give it a shot anyway. We decided to record "Off The Wall" today while on the train. It made for a very nice background sound and I figured it would be my last chance to record a show on the actual Trans Siberian Express. It went quite smoothly - nobody freaked out at the sight of our microphone although some Russian officers expressed some curiosity as we passed by. We started the show in our cabin and eventually wandered all the way down to the dining car which we were extremely lucky to get a table at since the whole place had been taken over by a party of German tourists. In fact, had we gotten there a mere five minutes later, the kitchen would have been officially closed as we saw this explained in no uncertain terms to the next person who tried to get in. It's really weird - the train is on Moscow time except for

the dining car which is on whatever time it is locally. And it's almost impossible to know what time *that* is most of the time. Besides, these German tourists were using every table but one and it looked like they had been there for hours. Before they left, their tour guide (I assume) began reading to them excerpts from a Russian newspaper which he would translate to German. Since Hanneke knew German, she translated what he was saying into English for me. And that is how I know that Russian veterans will be losing their free bus passes and getting a cash payment instead and how that may be better for many of them who never take buses in the first place. I also learned that Russians are increasingly upset that Ukrainians are taking over Russian enterprises in Ukraine and that they are looking for ways to get even in Russia. Not exactly the world news headlines but every bit of information carries some value. And in this particular case, the real value was in the delivery. A part of me wants to stay on the train for longer just so I can be a part of a massive continuous train ride across two continents. Another part of me thinks the first part is out of his mind. Since that's the part that's currently writing, let me say that I'll miss life on the train but I'm looking forward to walking around a bit, having a hot shower, shaving, maybe finding out if we've started any new wars back home, sleeping in a room big enough to walk across without having to turn sideways, and hopefully getting on the net. If the latter is successful, then a whole bunch of my updates will be posted at the same time which may be too much for even the most diehard readers. What I really hope I'm able to do though is get "Off The Wall" uploaded since failure to accomplish that at this juncture may very well result in the show not making it to air next week. I never thought Siberian connectivity would mean so much to me.

13 August, 2005 Day 28. Well, today can only be described as a real roller coaster ride. It all started calmly enough. The next "Off The Wall" was finished and ready for an upload that hopefully would come somewhere in Irkutsk in the next couple of days. I worked on a bunch of issue-related stuff during the overnight as the train chugged on through Siberia. I guess I always knew the day would come when I'd be editing articles in Siberia. Somehow I always figured it would be in the winter though. Anyway, we arrived in Irkutsk on a rainy and chilly day and were immediately met on the train platform by a couple of representatives from Hanneke's travel agency who somehow knew to walk all the way to the back of the train. I've never had a setup like this before where people actually meet you in strange cities to take you to the various places you're staying and then pick you up again when it's time to go. I must say I'm impressed by the whole setup. Now hopefully the next place they took us would actually have some hot water. Luckily for us it did and we spent a good part of the day washing and catching up on sleep. I watched a bit of Russian television and found a Euronews feed in Russian that gave me a couple of hints as to what was going on in the world. I noticed that they advertised a product that looked exactly like Mr. Clean except that in Russia it's called Mr. Proper. No kidding. (No idea why they didn't use the cyrillic alphabet though.) And another really annoying feature that hopefully won't catch on in the States: many programs have a continuous scroll of classified ads on the bottom of the screen except of course for when there's a full screen advertisement. And it was a real challenge trying to watch some old American films that had been spoken over in Russian ("dubbed" just isn't the right phrase when you can still hear the original audio) but it was the kind of challenge that woke me up a bit. By the time late afternoon rolled around, I was ready to try an Internet cafe which had claimed to

actually have wireless connectivity. It was, get this, on the corner of Marx and Lenin. Out here they weren't as quick to shed the socialist imagery as they were back west. On the subject of "out here," we have indeed come a very long way. We're now 13 hours ahead of New York time which makes it pretty near impossible to communicate in real time with people back home. When we're waking up out here, it's time to go to sleep back home. Our location is to the north of both the middle of Mongolia and China. It's incredible the distance you can cover when you're on a train that moves night and day. So we walked through the streets of Irkutsk which were really quite interesting. They're filled with buildings of grandiose architecture left behind by a group of people known as the Decembrists. These guys were a bunch of aristocratic rebels from the 1800s who tried unsuccessfully to take over the government. After serving some time in Siberia, some of them wound up settling here where they basically rebuilt the town, erecting all sorts of ornate buildings, opening hospitals and schools, starting newspapers, and all sorts of other things nobody had thought to do until then. The Soviets managed not to screw it up too badly and much of the Decembrist influence remains intact. Irkutsk also has a very different atmosphere than Moscow. It's quite a bit more laid back but it's obvious the people enjoy a good bit of fun judging by the plethora of discos and gatherings taking place. That brings me to another aspect of Russian life I find really odd. That's the entertainment thing. You can be sitting in a really small cafe minding your own business when someone takes a stage not more than three feet in front of you, turns on some music, and starts bellowing away at a volume that can be heard a block in all directions. (Except that it can't really be heard owing to the numerous other establishments on the block doing the exact same thing.) The first time this happened I was with some people and I had my back to the stage (which I didn't even know existed) and I wondered out loud if someone might ask if the jukebox could be turned down. I was shocked as hell to turn around and see a trio of live singers. There's rarely an actual band however. So we eventually made it to the fabled Internet cafe which was indeed right on the Marx/Lenin intersection. Although you would have never known it if you didn't already have information that the place was there. Their sign seemed designed not to stand out in any way. Even with the info, it took a while to find the staircase leading down. Once we got there, we discovered that their wireless network was about as useful as their sign. Sure, there was a signal but it didn't appear to be connected to the net. It wasn't really difficult to see this. Unfortunately for me, the guy running the place was determined to get to the bottom of it even though it was painfully clear that his efforts were in vain. First he assigned a specific IP on my machine and made a bunch of other setting changes (without asking too which I always find very annoying and inconsiderate). This resulted in his no longer being able to see the signal at all. For the next 40 minutes he plodded back and forth from where I was to his desk apparently guessing at which IP would be the one that worked. I finally put an end to this and just did what I could do without using my laptop. I should have known it would go this way. I joined Hanneke and Sasja at the pizza place next door. You would think *that* at least would have been relaxing. No such luck. If you can muscle your way through all of the people with leather jackets who cut in front of you in line whenever they want, you then have to figure out which line you're supposed to be on, the payment line or the food line. OK, that was my fault for not knowing the language. But eventually I got it. You go to the cash register first, the exact opposite of back home, where you place your order and pay. Then you get a slip of paper with your order on it. Now this is where it gets absurd. You would think that the next step would be to wait for your order and pick it up when it's called. Again, no such luck. They don't even begin to make your food until you walk over to the next line and hand over that piece of paper to the person who's standing right next to the one who gave it to you in the first place! It makes no sense at all. Yet everyone accepts this as the system

because that's how it's always been. But these frustrations were a taste of heaven compared to what was to come. When we checked in early that morning, the hotel took our passports as is the custom in this part of the world. Technically we shouldn't have even gone outside without them but we forgot that they hadn't given them back after waking up. So when we came back from the Internet cafe and food place, we went to the front desk to ask for them. Hanneke and Sasja got theirs pretty quickly but it became apparent that there was a problem with mine. They kept looking all over the place, apparently getting nowhere. Beautiful. After about ten minutes of this, we tried to help the process along a little. First, we kept having to correct them as they were insisting I was Dutch. Of course that would mean they would be looking for an EU passport and not an American one and since they were completely different colors, that was something we needed to pound into their heads. The whole thing was really starting to piss me off. And as it became more and more obvious that they weren't getting anywhere, I honestly started to get worried. Without a passport, I couldn't even leave the building, let alone get on a train on Monday morning. How were these idiots going to replace it? Or were they even going to be held accountable in any way? The concepts of American consumer justice simply don't work over here. When you get fucked over, you pretty much stay fucked over. This completely messed up so many things I couldn't even begin to grasp it all. Mongolia, China, Japan, the freighter across the Pacific, the whole concept of the trip. And all because of yet another stupid antiquated system that made no sense. When I think of all the care I had gone to in order to ensure I didn't lose anything important and that everything was where I could easily find it and then it's all for naught because the bureaucrat I'm forced to deal with can't be trusted to do their own job. I would somehow have to get all the way back to Moscow to get a replacement and there would be no way to recover the lost time. What a fucked up way to end things. And I didn't even know how I would be able to make it home. Things had gotten pretty bleak. They told us to check back in the morning but I wanted to know what would happen *then* if they still hadn't tracked it down. After all, I had been handed the wrong passport by hotel front desks on several instances and I had always corrected their mistake. But what if someone else hadn't? After wallowing in self pity for about a half hour, Hanneke suggested we go back downstairs and get a drink to try and get it out of our minds. We tried the "London Pub" attached to the hotel but naturally they were closed on a Saturday night. Or maybe they simply observed the London pub closing time of 11:00 pm. Whatever. It was par for the course in this place. I suggested we hang out in the hotel bar in direct sight of the passport losers so they could feel our wrath. They had obviously stopped looking at this point. But as soon as they saw us, they started moving again. Amazing what you have to do to get things done around here. I figured I needed a good stiff drink so I got some Russian Standard vodka in keeping with the Russian standard mood that was all around. And it was literally the moment I lifted the glass off the table that I saw the people at the front desk wave my passport in the air triumphantly. Now I intend to see if Russian Standard is able to solve any more such problems in the future. Tomorrow we hopefully get to see some nature. I'll be keeping my passport close at all times and keeping a really close eye on anyone who takes it.

14 August, 2005 Day 29. The weather has improved greatly. Still a bit chilly but the rain appears to have disappeared for now. We decided to take a trip down to Lake Baikal which we had heard so much about. Like the fact that it's the world's deepest lake, it contains more fresh water than all five Great Lakes combined (a

fifth of the entire world's supply), and its water is incredibly clear. It's also pretty damn huge; they say one day it will become the earth's fifth ocean. First we spent a couple of hours wandering around the city, checking out various interesting looking buildings. We went into one of the churches which happened to be having a service, it being Sunday morning and all. But it wasn't like any church service I had ever seen. Basically, it was a crowded room where a bunch of people were all standing facing forward while the sound of a woman chanting somewhere could be heard. There was nothing in the front of the room to focus your attention on and I realized that whatever action was going on was occurring in the smaller room to the left. But that was *so* crowded with people who occasionally would all do some ritualistic thing like bow or chant or do something with their hands that I was dissuaded from elbowing my way in there to see what was in the front. I'll just have to leave that to my imagination. I don't really have a problem with organized religion as long as it doesn't get in my way. That happens a lot back home. Here, I was content to observe and respect their ways. And I've always liked churches the buildings, that is, not often what goes on inside them. This wasn't really an exception. You had this big ornate structure, very pleasing to the eye, and it was surrounded by all kinds of really poor people who would beg for money from anyone passing by. The contrast between haves and have-nots just seemed a little stark especially when you consider that so many people give money to churches in order that they take care of these very people. Some things just never seem to change over time or distance. Since our tour agency (the one that's been picking us up and booking us in these crazy hotels) didn't know anything about tours to the lake, we were left to our own devices. We were told that buses left from the bus station (logical) which only left us to find the bus station (not easy). We eventually accomplished this and set about finding out when the next bus would leave. At first it appeared that there was only one bus a day to the largest tourist attraction in a thousand miles but that turned out to be misinformation. There were two. (For some reason they were on completely different schedules.) And the next bus was four hours away. So we set about finding a cab to drive us all the way there (around 70 kilometers each way). I initially thought the price was a bit steep (1500 rubles as opposed to less than 100 for the bus) but that was before realizing the advantages of having our own private car. This driver was pretty amazing. Of course it was scary as hell as we swerved in and out of traffic at high speeds all the way down to the lake. Like many cars around here, the steering wheel is on the right hand side even though traffic drives on the right. This is likely due to some kind of import deal with Japan. I didn't really think about how this would make that much of a difference insofar as how someone drives. But that was before watching someone try to overtake traffic from the right hand side. The driver wasn't able to see if there was any oncoming traffic until he actually had stuck himself out almost halfway. So that was pretty hair raising. But we eventually got there in one piece and had a good look around. The lake is pretty incredible. It's so clear that you can see 40 meters down in parts, which can cause all kinds of vertigo effects when people dive in. And its size is certainly unparalleled. We explored the shoreline a bit and wandered down the streets of a lakeside village. It was all quite relaxed. A lot of local people were selling fish from the lake both on the side of the road and in a local market where all sorts of other touristy things could also be found. On the way back our driver suggested we stop at an open air museum that had a bunch of old structures. I was pretty surprised that he didn't seem to be rushing us at all but I guess he had made a ton of money by going on this excursion (even though it was really only about 30 euros) so he was

content to let us take our time. Plus he was obviously proud of these attractions. Seeing a bunch of old wooden structures is historical and educational but I was getting pretty bored. And another merchant area didn't do much to help. I've just never been one to get excited over arts and crafts and I don't think I've ever bought anything in my entire life which could be described as a "trinket." So after about an hour and a half there, I was pretty happy to be heading back towards the city, even if that meant getting scared shitless by the cab ride. We didn't really do a whole lot more except walk around town, get food, and find supplies for tomorrow morning's train ride. Since we had to be up at 5:00 am, it was a good thing that we were exhausted. What was bad was getting calls throughout the night from hookers wanting to know if I wanted a Russian girl. I don't know what goes on in the Russian hotel business but there's some kind of blatant tie-in to prostitution rings. They know what language you speak, they usually call within minutes of your checking in, and they know not to call couples. I have no moral problems with what they do except for getting the equivalent of unsolicited spam on my hotel phone. I suppose it's a fitting end to my last night in this country.

15 August, 2005 Day 30. So I've been on the road a month now and I'm not even halfway done time-wise. I'm definitely missing New York and all of the things and people I've grown accustomed to. But this voyage continues to be fascinating and educational, not to mention productive. I'm able to work so much better without the distractions I'm always being faced with back home. Of course those distractions pretty much define life. And life has always been a problem when it comes to work. So 5:00 am rolled around and we dragged ourselves downstairs where another one of those magical tour people was waiting to take us to the station. It was still dark when we arrived at Irkutsk station with its giant red digital clock proudly displaying Moscow time which was five hours earlier than local time. Our track was announced shortly and we became aware of the fact that there were a lot more tourists running for the train on this part of the trip than on any other. I always find it highly amusing when people who are tourists themselves complain about tourists. And that's precisely what we did. Some of these other people really can get to you pretty quickly though. Like the flock of Germans who felt that it was perfectly fine to cut ahead of everyone waiting to get onto our train carriage simply because they were part of an organized tour. In fact, we soon realized that these were the *same* Germans who had taken over the dining car for hours on the last leg of the trip! And in the back of my mind I began to recollect that they were also in the dining car on the first leg when I tried unsuccessfully to get seated by myself. And then there was another German who had decided to live in our cabin for the past three days even though he was supposed to have been sharing another one with some Russians down the hall. Not cool. And to top everything, our windows were sealed shut meaning we were stuck with that lived-in-by-a-German-guy-for-the-last-three-days smell. We also had some loud and stupid Dutch guys on our car which thrilled Hanneke and Sasja to no end. And then we realized that the German tour group was in the cabin right next door to us. And *they* were complaining about everything around them. If there's one thing I find annoying, it's hearing other tourists complain. Especially if I can't understand what they're saying. We started on our way and I realized that I would soon be leaving Russia. I understand now the love/hate relationship that so many people have with Russian culture. I met so many nice people on this

portion of the trip, like the provodnitsa from the last train whom I couldn't understand at all but whose words were obviously giving grandmotherly advice like put on a jacket or you'll freeze. So many aspects of life in Russia seem to be run by grandmotherly types. That can be both good and disastrous. Think of your grandmother running a country and you should get the picture. Even the backwards way of doing things and the endless paperwork will have a special place in my heart as I think back on Russia. I'll remember the arguments heard over train station public address systems complete with resounding echo as the station announcer would scold a train employee for one thing or another and he would defend himself in the same manner. I really wish I understood the language because the descriptions I've heard sound better than what you would hear listening to a scanner. Russia's train system particularly impressed me. What it lacks in speed is more than made up for in distance and consistency. Once you become familiar with it and know more or less what to expect, you're rarely surprised. I don't think I've ever seen so many freight trains anywhere. In fact, each freight car has an eight digit number painted onto it. At first I thought that was overkill but now I really have to wonder. And the sheer number of train workers you see everywhere is also pretty impressive. A network like this has to be constantly maintained and without these people, Russia would literally disconnect from itself. As we chugged towards Mongolia, I came to a realization. Our provodnitsa was a real bitch. She was only in her 30s but she seemed to carry the venom of a lifetime of bureaucracy. If she passed you in the corridor she would push or poke you out of the way. She insisted on blasting heat into the cabins which made it really hard for those of us not used to tropical environments to breathe. And she made a strict rule against plugging laptops into the wall outlets in the corridor because, according to her, they would cause a power surge and disrupt the train. Other cars had nice cool air, happy people, freedom to do whatever was needed, while we were stuck in our own mini-repressive state where people lived in fear. In fact, it was hatred and fear of the provodnitsa that actually got us on friendly terms with the Germans next door who up until then had only communicated with themselves. We would later conspire with them to get a window open using a special tool and hide our deed with the curtain. While I've been to so many different places and covered such a wide area on this trip, surprisingly I had yet to visit a new country. Until today. In fact, from this point on every country I enter until returning to the States will be a new country to me. And Mongolia is the first. Mongolia had been controlled by the Soviet Union for most of the 20th century. That's how they came to use a cyrillic alphabet and name their capital Ulaan Baatar (Red Hero). So you would think the border crossing between these two supposedly friendly nations would be a fairly painless one. Oh, you would be so wrong. Again, knowing what to expect will yield no surprises. A look at the schedule posted inside every train car reveals the staggering wait times: over 200 minutes at the Russian section, over 100 at the Mongolian part. When it's all over, you will have spent well over five hours just sitting on a dead train. The bathrooms are locked, the air is turned off, there's no entry or exit out of your car (except for a welcome bit of time spent outdoors on the Russian side), and all you can do is just sit and wait. And of course fill out forms. I'm hard pressed to think of any time in my life where sitting and waiting for five hours in a confined space is considered the norm. But when Russia and Mongolia meet, anything is possible.

We had no real problems crossing over, other than a little confusion on what to declare or not declare on the Russian form and some big confusion when the Mongolian forms were only available in the Mongolian language which I don't think a single person on our car spoke. The eventual solution was to have a representative come to each cabin and explain what each part of the form was. So far the people from this country seem quite friendly and not too obsessed with paperwork. We won't actually arrive in the capital until tomorrow morning so I'll be attempting to sleep on the train for a couple of hours. This time I get to try out the top bunk with no gates or barriers of any sort to prevent one's toppling over the side. Should be an interesting night.

16 August, 2005 Day 31. I surprised myself by not plummeting off the side of the bunk during the night. I think I had some sort of a setting inside myself that switched to mortal fear which kept me from moving even an inch to the left. But that also kept me from getting the kind of quality sleep that I demand so when arrival time came I was still quite tired. When we opened the curtains the new landscape was quite dramatic. It was mostly desert with an occasional ger where someone was living. As Ulaan Baatar drew closer, we saw more and more buildings. But it still looked pretty damn alien. We got to the train station and found our ride. We were taken to the Peace Bridge Hotel which right away struck me as more modern and friendly than any of the other hotels we had been in recently. The only problem was we had to wait for our rooms to become ready since it was only eight in the morning. So we walked around the neighborhood a bit, immediately becoming acquainted with the fact that cars reigned supreme in the streets and pedestrians had better watch their asses. It wasn't really what I expected which was what I had been told Mongolia would be like: the land of the unexpected. So I wasn't surprised. At one intersection a lone policeman was standing on the sidewalk where he would occasionally blow his whistle and make a gesture, after which a car or two would immediately pull over. This seemed to be a fairly common occurrence as drivers would then get out of their cars and walk over to him with various bits of documentation in hand. He seemed to keep half the people there to write them up for one thing or another while the other half were allowed to go. I don't know if they were committing some sort of infraction or if it was a random check of some sort. But the whole process seemed to move quite quickly and efficiently, despite all of the dangerous driving that was going on mere centimeters away. I needed to take a nap so I crashed as soon as our rooms were ready while Hanneke and Sasja wandered around town. I wound up doing quite a bit of work when I got up so I didn't actually make it outside until around 5:30. Hanneke and Sasja wanted to go to a traditional Mongolian concert featuring a Mongolian throat singer. That sounded cool but I also wanted to contact a listener named Todd who had actually emailed us from Ulaan Baatar. It would be really great to have someone local show us around. So we walked over the Peace Bridge toward the concert hall. It was way too noisy to use a phone anywhere near the road so I didn't even try until we had reached the entrance to the building. I was all set to call Todd when all of a sudden this guy materialized in front of us and introduced himself as that very person! Wow, this place really *was* weird.

It turns out that Todd had actually spotted Hanneke and Sasja walking around town earlier in the day. Westerners stand out like sore thumbs here so it wasn't too hard to figure out who they might have been. And since he already knew what I looked like, he was able to put two and two together. It's still pretty weird that he happened to be exactly where we were going (and we didn't even tell anybody, honest) but I guess it was a pretty centralized location. Anyway, we made plans to meet up after the concert at an Indian restaurant which made me pretty happy. Indian food for the first time since London. Again, Mongolia surprises. The concert was quite nice, filled with all sorts of traditional musical instruments and styles. It was rather odd seeing them doing an excerpt from Carmen with those ancient looking violins with tiny square bottoms and other instruments that are so unknown to us in the West. But the real highlight for me was when the Mongolian throat singer came on stage. I'd heard about this type of singing but had never actually heard it and certainly had never seen it done right in front of me. I had no idea human vocal chords could do this kind of thing. It sounded almost like that guy from "South Park" with the thing in his throat except that the range this guy had was fantastic. He was able to hit really low notes that made the place resonate with bass. But then he could switch to something so high you had to look around to make certain there wasn't another stringed instrument in the area. I can't imagine what doing that with your voice must feel like but the audience seemed to feel the same way I did: captivated. I could have easily watched that for the entire time of the concert. I wound up buying a CD just so I could play it on "Off The Wall." After the concert we went over to the Taj Mahal where Todd was waiting for us. It was actually located inside a hotel where it had recently moved from a different part of town. Todd told us there were only about 20 Indian people in town yet there were several Indian places. I think that alone is a good sign. Todd had been living here for about five years working for the Canadian consulate and the United Nations, making frequent trips out to the country, becoming almost fluent in the language, and starting a family. A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was actually the first native English speaker I was able to have a conversation with in person since leaving Amsterdam. That was pretty neat and somewhat therapeutic. I'm still amazed that people listen to our radio shows in places like this. The Internet has sure changed everything. And hopefully the net would be something I would have access to before long. Not since that Internet cafe in Irkutsk had I been able to do anything on the net and I needed to upload my travel logs, check mail, etc. Plus I was hoping to tape the next "Off The Wall" out in the wilderness later in the week and upload it from Ulaan Baatar. That alone would be a great feat to pull off, one that I never imagined would be possible. For now though, Internet access for me remains a challenge. None of the numerous net cafes could deal with a laptop. The solution was something known as an Internet card, which basically allows you to dial up a modem and go out on the net that way. But nobody seemed to have these things, no doubt because there wasn't much demand for them. Not many people have their own computers around here. After looking in the immediate neighborhood, we hopped in a cab and drove around town searching for a place to get one of these magic cards. We were unsuccessful on all fronts. Being tired and worn out, I decided to take up the challenge tomorrow and hopefully connect then. But it wasn't a paramount concern. I wanted to focus as much attention on the fact that I was actually here, in one of the countries I always considered to be one of the world's most mysterious. And on all levels, I felt right at home.

17 August, 2005 Day 32. What a place Mongolia is! It's always somewhat uncertain when you're in a foreign land for the very first time just how things are going to turn out. I have to say that this has far exceeded any expectations I had. The people here are so incredibly friendly and relaxed. None of the crazy bureaucracy we were subjected to in Russia. And none of the harshness I'm told to expect in China. Add to that the nice crisp air that's all around us and I really must confess that this country is the biggest surprise of the trip so far. We started the day with a nice dose of confusion just for old time's sake. Last night the people at the front desk had called our rooms to ask us what time we wanted to have breakfast. That was nice, I thought, since I didn't even know it was included. And all three of us independently came up with ten o'clock as the best time. So when we went downstairs, the guy on duty tried to tell us that we were too late. "Breakfast finished" was the way he put it. But Hanneke had managed to get a piece of paper from the receptionist the night before that actually had the time we requested on it. In another place we probably just would have been refused and maybe even yelled at in a foreign tongue. But here they actually went back into the kitchen and made food for us since there had clearly been a misunderstanding. They seemed to really care about doing the right thing. Later on, we met up with Todd who offered to show us around the city a bit and also help to get some footage for the movie. I really never expected to get much from Ulaan Baatar but the place had already surprised me plenty. Who knows what might happen? We caught a cab to the Soviet war memorial on the outskirts of town. Todd discovered the driver was using a rigged meter and some words were exchanged. We paid the amount Todd deemed to be fair and that was the end of that, although the driver clearly wasn't overjoyed. This is why it's so great to have someone around who's familiar with how things should be. Otherwise you run the risk of really being taken. Apparently the presidential compound was down the same road that the memorial was on. Various motorcades kept coming and going throughout our stay there, none having more than four cars total. Todd told us that if you tried to walk in that direction on the hills, you would be picked up by the police in very short order. At the bottom of the memorial is a tank that was used to fight the Nazis in World War Two. This one had the distinction of having made it all the way back to Ulaan Baatar from Moscow. In fact, it was such a treasured relic that it had been painted over many times, so many that it didn't even look like a real tank anymore. We had to practically climb a mountain to get to the top part of the memorial. From there you can see the city and surrounding countryside. There's also one of those typical Soviet murals that tells the story of how good triumphed over evil amidst many sacrifices and how the Soviets basically just wanted to be friends with everyone. After admiring the view and investigating the memorial for a while, we started back down. There was a guy selling paintings and doing some of his own throat singing so we stopped to chat with him. He actually wound up agreeing to be in the film and he gave a demonstration of his vocal abilities. We must have talked with him for a half hour and he obviously had a great deal of pride in what he did

along with the accomplishments of his relatives. He said everyone in his family was an artist of some sort. He was also selling pictures that he and other family members had drawn. So much information and knowledge just from making a random stop on a mountain. We wound up buying a bunch of his stuff and also attracting quite a crowd with our camera setup. Someone mentioned later that we probably made his day. I hope so because he certainly made ours. We then headed over to Sukhbaatar Square where earlier there had been a demonstration by some elderly citizens, presumably to voice an opinion on the state of their pensions. They weren't there when we arrived but plenty of other people were. With the help of Todd and his wife (who was native to Mongolia), we were able to talk to a few people and get them to be on camera. The people we talked to were also selling various works of art, many of which had their signatures on them. There was one little kid who was occasionally lapsing into his own throat singing which was really really cool. And while we were talking to him on camera, all sorts of other people started swooping in, by foot, by bicycle, in much the same way that pigeons arrive when one starts getting fed. Everyone was curious about what we were doing but in a totally non-combative way. We talked to a few people, bought some more pictures, and moved to another part of the square. This is where we saw the payphones. Now when I say payphones, forget about the picture that just flashed into your mind. These payphones are different. They're human. Yes, human payphones. It's what everyone calls them. They sit around on corners and on stoops holding a desk phone. You walk up to them, give them money, and you can place a call. The phones are on a CDMA network. Sometimes the payphones wear masks, supposedly to cut down on germs. We talked to one of the people involved in this but didn't make any calls. I was taken with how friendly these merchants were, completely unlike what I was used to. Across the street we found one of the elusive Internet cards at a kiosk. I bought that and a prepaid phone card which would allow me to call the states for around eight cents a minute. We'll see about that. After stopping at a cafe in search of Mongolian Coke in a glass bottle (which we failed at and were forced to settle for Hong Kong Coke in a can), we headed back to the hotel after saying goodbye to Todd. After a bit of fine tuning, we got the connection established at a whopping 28.8 kbps. This certainly brought back some memories. Later we took a walk back into town to get dinner. We had heard of a place with a California motif so we set out in the direction we had been told to go to get there. I have to say, of all the cities I have ever been in throughout my life, Ulaan Baatar has got to be the single most pedestrian unfriendly. Cars don't slow down in the least for people who are crossing. The white crosswalks mean nothing. Traffic lights are few and often inaccurate. A green walk signal may very well be overridden by a green signal in the other direction for the cars. The streets are wide with traffic flying from every direction, everyone honking at each other, cars cutting each other off in the narrow lanes, total and utter mayhem. And yet, I haven't seen a single accident or even someone getting noticeably angry. This was truly as different as I've ever seen. But crossing the street was only half the fun. Once you're actually on what could pass for a sidewalk, you had to somehow find your way down its completely dark path, often being forced back out onto the street because of something blocking your progress. You most definitely have to be careful when doing this as all sorts of things are hiding in the darkness, from garbage to potholes to metal just jutting out of the pavement. And then I saw it: a manhole in the darkness with no cover at all. The guide books warn tourists of just this sort of thing, it being a two meter drop to the bottom. I honestly don't know how the people survive.

The California place was closed when we got there so we wound up going to a different one that claimed to have the best Chinese food around from an actual Chinese-born cook. When we got inside though, all they had was German food. That and a projection on the wall that showed fluctuating beer prices. Depending on when you ordered it, the same beer could cost anywhere between 1000 and 3100 togrog. Very weird. We closed the day with a bit more confusion. Hanneke only wanted some fries at the German/Chinese place but we had trouble making that clear. The rest of the food eventually came so we asked them if her fries were coming. To illustrate the point, we pointed to the fries on my plate and gestured "two" since Hanneke wanted to get two portions since she wasn't getting anything else. More time passed and eventually the waiter came out and triumphantly placed a carbon copy of my dish in front of Hanneke. Completely not what she wanted. After asking for some clarification, we realized why they thought they should bring another one - we had pointed at the fries that were in front of me and that was interpreted as "bring another one." After some discussion, we found out that it was impossible to order what she did because fries were only a side dish that came with something else. We all realized that we weren't going to get anywhere so Hanneke relented and we figured out ways to divide the food we had so everyone got what they wanted. I wonder how many people I know would have gone the diplomatic route in a situation like this. It was clearly the right move to make since it was a genuine misunderstanding and the guy probably would get in some trouble for bringing the wrong thing. In Mongolia, life is about making changes to what you wanted in the first place and accepting that things are going to be somewhat unpredictable. From where I'm sitting, it's not such a bad way to live.

18 August, 2005 Day 33. Today started out as another challenge. Actually, it began late last night when I finally signed off from my 28.8 connection after dealing with only the most urgent crises and updating the travel log. Since I had to do "Off The Hook" at eight in the morning and we had to leave for the ger camp immediately afterwards, I figured a 7:30 wakeup call would be nice. But that's not how the front desk saw it. In broken English they told me I had to ask for this in the morning. I tried to point out the absurdity of waking up later to request a wakeup call but I could tell I was getting nowhere pretty fast. So I sent an SMS to Mike in New York to ask him to call my room half an hour before the show. We had a pretty good setup involving Voice Over IP that cost a whole lot less than a "normal" call from New York to Mongolia. It was odd that the show from Mongolia would probably have one of our better sounding connections and certainly one of our more stable ones. In fact, it would be the first one to be done completely using a land line on both ends. I always figured when we had to do a show from here it would be next to impossible. Of course, if we had done it a day later when we were out in the wilderness, our only option would have been the satellite phone. Anyway, I woke myself up a few minutes before the call came and got myself alert for the show. It ran a lot smoother this week, although it was definitely tricky with the big satellite delay. But I think we're starting to get used to doing these weird shows. So for the first time ever, my day began right after "Off The Hook" ended. I went downstairs and waited for our ride to the ger camp. As God is my witness, I will never complain about the Brooklyn Queens Expressway again. There are no potholes there to compare with what is defined as normal pavement in Ulaan Baatar and this doesn't seem to bother anyone. I can't imagine how people are able to travel without seat belts but judging from the length of time it took me to dig mine out of the depths of my seat in the minivan, very few people

do. Our driver and guide both didn't. I definitely would have hit my head on the roof several times were I not strapped in. And then we hit the dirt. Actually, I was looking forward to the dirt since I thought that would make our driver slow down a bit. Well, not quite. In fact, this guy even managed to pass another vehicle on a single lane dirt road that obviously had seen its share of flash floods judging from the deep gullies on the sides. I thought back to the taxi rides in Moscow and just thought of the whole thing as another attraction at an amusement park. But this was one hell of a scary ride. We made a couple of stops at scenic spots. The one I'll never forget was when we saw a herd of camels grazing off the side of the road. These are some crazy looking animals with some of the best facial expressions I've ever seen. They also seem so incredibly mellow and in control. They had no fear at all of us as we walked over to them. I'm told not everyone gets to see camels quite so easily so it was indeed a bit of luck. It took about two hours but we made it out to the Hustai National Park. I was actually (once again) very surprised by how accommodating it was. I mean, this was where we were supposed to really go native and yet this ger camp had running water, electricity, and Western style food. Hell, they even had a makeshift baggage cart to help bring your bags to the ger! This was something else. We settled in realizing that if we were planning on being uncomfortable, this wasn't going to be the place to do it. The ger was pretty spacious, with easily enough room for three people. Hanneke and I both managed to slam our heads into the door frame while trying to exit since it was even shorter than we had compensated for. But that's about as close to discomfort as we were able to get. Come to think of it, I seem to be hitting my head on things a lot in this country. Usually this happens only to Sasja since he's the tallest in our group. But I suppose he's used to it and is managing to be extra careful. I'm sure that door will get him at some point. We had lunch in a dining hall that consisted of chicken, rice, and some kind of other meat. It was sufficient but it wasn't Mongolian. I was determined not to leave this country without knowing what their food was like. I noticed there were some American tourists at another table and it brought back memories hearing the accents. But for some reason in places like this, tourists seem to ignore each other and everyone sticks with their own group. There are always exceptions but that seemed to be the dominant attitude. Hanneke and Sasja went for a walk in the hills and I decided to avoid the noontime sun and do some writing. I didn't expect to actually have power to charge my laptop while I was out here so it was like getting a new lease on life. The afternoon flew by and before we knew it they were feeding us again. As dusk drew near, our tour group (which was basically the three of us plus our driver and our guide) took a trip out into the hills to try and spot some wild horses. Mongolia is known as home to the Takhi, the world's only species of wild horse. We drove for about a half hour on a really bumpy dirt road that I assumed our driver was very familiar with. At least I sure hoped so, judging from the way he was driving on it. We passed occasional structures, a few gers, and even some other vehicles. We got to the spot where the horses were likely to be seen. And then we spotted them. Tourists. A group of about a dozen wandering in a field. These ones were French and of course we all ignored each other. As they slowly filtered out, we became the only tourists there - at least for a few minutes. In the distance we were able to see horses so we started walking in that direction. As we drew closer, Sasja discovered a hedgehog curled up in a ball on the ground. Another first for me.

The horses were quietly grazing and didn't seem to pay us much mind. We took a bunch of pictures and marveled at the fact that these were indeed wild horses who could do as they pleased but apparently were predictable enough that packs of tourists always knew where to go to find them. A Japanese group appeared next and moved a lot closer to the horses to take pictures. That's about when the horses decided they had had enough and slowly ambled away into the distance. Those horses must be pretty damn content. So we headed back to the ger camp and did a bit of stargazing. Believe it or not, this was the first really clear night of stars I had since leaving from New York in mid July. There were a few stars visible one night in Moscow but nothing like this. Of course, it was only a fraction of what it could have been if the goddamn moon hadn't been nearly full tonight. But it was a good conclusion to an interesting day. Tomorrow we would see quite a bit more of the countryside. Tonight we'd all get to sleep in a ger for the first time.

19 August, 2005 Day 34. We got up nice and early so we could spend the entire day exploring the area. After breakfast we headed out again in the minivan which by this time I was starting to feel really sorry for. I can't imagine beating on a vehicle like our driver did to this one. The poor thing reeked of gasoline, had little or no suspension to speak of, was very reluctant to start as were most vehicles in this country (can you blame them?), and in short was simply not a happy minivan. It doesn't bother me nearly as much as seeing animals abused but I still feel empathy. We headed down the same dirt road we traveled on yesterday to see the horses. Oddly enough, I didn't feel nearly the same amount of trepidation as the first time we made this trip. I suppose off-roading is something you can very quickly get used to. But I don't think I could ever reach the stage that the driver and guide were at, happily chatting away in the front seat, not wearing seatbelts, and driving like mad on steep dirt roads. The plan was to head out to see some ancient monuments that dated back to the fifth century. It was about 30 kilometers from the camp. Along the way, we saw a surprising amount of wildlife wandering around. One animal in particular looked rather strange to me, like a giant rodent of some sort. I asked the guide what it was. She answered proudly, "That is a mammal." Sigh. It was a cool looking animal, trust me. We reached the monuments which were basically a pile of sculptured stones inside a gate. Definitely not a well looked after historical site. And as we walked around marveling at the amount of time these things had been here, our driver decided that was the perfect time to crank up the car stereo and blast the entire area with a live rendition of "Hotel California" by the Eagles. Now this just wasn't fair. I'm in the middle of fucking Mongolia and yet I'm still subjected to this crap. And *that* was followed by the Bee Gees! What a world. The guide and driver enlisted Hanneke's help moving a statue that had fallen. I wasn't so sure we should be messing around with things from the fifth century but apparently they had done this before and it wasn't a big deal. It would have been back home, that is, if we *had* anything from the fifth century. We continued on our way. Our next goal was to visit a native family and see what a "real" ger was like. I'm not quite sure how this

sort of thing works but it seemed as if we were simply stopping at various gers and asking if they would let a minivan full of foreigners traipse through their home for a little while. The first family we tried this with seemed to react with abject horror at the prospect. I liked them. We kept on driving. After another 20 minutes or so we encountered what looked like a hundred goats and sheep crossing the road in front of us. We all got out to witness the event up close. I have to tell you, that amount of goats and sheep really makes an unbelievable racket. I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss is about but these animals are constantly going on about something. It took a while but they all got across the road and we were able to move on. We came to another couple of gers and the family belonging to them was a whole lot more hospitable. They invited us into their main ger which wound up easily holding the five of us plus the family of seven: the mother, father, grandmother, son, and three daughters. So this was a taste of real Mongolian living. And we quickly got a taste of real Mongolian food. Everything seems to be based on mare's milk. There were these really hard cracker-like things that you were supposed to dip into a cheesy substance. Then there was the fermented mare's milk that was passed around in a bowl. And finally there was some rather weak vodka. Of course we had to try everything and that in itself wasn't a problem. The difficulty came when the dishes and bowls kept coming back after being passed around. I'm sure all of this stuff is an acquired taste but the thing about acquired tastes is that it takes some time to acquire them and all of this was thrust upon us in the space of a few minutes. So it was a bit of a culture shock but one which we were able to withstand with a slight amount of difficulty. We tried to communicate as best we could with the family, our guide acting as interpreter. They owned a bunch of horses plus all of the goats and sheep we had seen crossing the road. They moved their gers four times a year, but never more than a couple of kilometers away. The children went to school in a nearby village. The kids at least seemed pretty fascinated by us; the adults were unfazed. The youngest girl occasionally would whisper something to one of her sisters and laugh. She was alternately amused by my hair and the size of Sasja's camera. Both, in her words, were too big. Throughout all of this, the grandmother was quietly constructing a rope out of horse hair and doing a hell of a good job too. She smiled at us a lot and exuded a real sense of hospitality. I couldn't imagine actually living in such an environment but I could easily imagine being around people like this. It seemed very familiar. We walked around a bit on their land and saw some of the horses they were raising. The eight year old son rode around on a horse like he was some kind of a cowboy, obviously showing off to us. We watched some mares being milked and wondered aloud why mare's milk isn't used in our respective countries. On the way out we made the mistake of walking over a lasso which is considered bad luck. So we had to go back and walk to the left of it. Close call. We had a picnic lunch down by the water where some of the horses were standing. It was cool watching them interact with each other. Occasionally one horse would break away from one group and run down to a second group. I wondered at the social complexities that were at work here. Had the horse been insulted? Did he realize the second group was cooler? Or was it just some kind of involuntary reflex? Before I had a chance to really ponder this, a herd of about six horses came galloping down the hill to the water. Did one horse decide it was time and the rest just followed? It was all pretty fascinating. We headed back to the camp where I made plans to actually *ride* a horse later that afternoon. I have mixed feelings about riding on another animal's back but if they really didn't mind it, I was okay with it. Originally all three of us were going to take part in this but Hanneke had second thoughts and Sasja wasn't feeling well so when the time came it was only me.

I thought it would be a nice simple process of getting on top of a horse and knowing exactly what to do. But no. First they had to *catch* the horse. Splendid. I was about to get on top of a horse that had just been captured after trying to get away. The perfect animal to take a nice leisurely ride on top of. And it didn't help matters any that nobody in charge seemed to speak any English at all so most of my questions were met with either a polite laugh or just the word "yes." I was wearing the iRiver and a clip-on microphone so at least part of this event could be captured for "Off The Wall." Or for evidence of my fate. My horse was finally obtained and I was told to put my foot in the stirrup and climb on. I was still really uncertain and very nervous, having only done this once before a long time ago on a horse that had very little life in it. I kept looking for a safety belt. After getting used to being on top of this huge animal and getting a rudimentary sense of the basic horse commands, we started off. I guess my lack of experience was quite obvious as the guide kept his horse attached to mine at all times. This made me feel better but at the same time I sort of wished I could break out on my own. Just like with the offroading, over time I got used to this feeling and became much less uncomfortable, even when we went up and down steep hills. We rode around for an hour and then returned to the camp. It was time for dinner, after which I had to try and make the recording of the horse adventure short and interesting so that it could be inserted into the next show. After doing that, Hanneke, Sasja, and I recorded the main part of "Off The Wall" from inside our ger. Another day had come to an end. Tomorrow we leave this place and head back to Ulaan Baatar for our last night in Mongolia. I've really seen only a little bit of this place. Next time I wouldn't mind checking out the Gobi Desert in the other part of the country. But for now, heading back to the city will feel like returning home.

20 August, 2005 Day 35. For some reason our ger was infested with beetles during the night. We didn't do anything differently than the night before but inexplicably they were everywhere and it was a royal pain in the ass. Even while we were recording the show, I was noticing them dropping from the ceiling and crawling over everything including our beds. It's never pleasant going to sleep when you know you're going to be crawled upon by hordes of insects. I think they must have been attracted by our light although why they weren't the night before was anybody's guess. When we turned it out, we could hear them dropping and hitting various objects as they fell. Miraculously, I only had a single encounter with an errant beetle and he was quickly dispensed with. Dawn arrived and it was just about time to go. Both our driver and guide had gotten sick from dinner the night before, which to us had seemed perfectly fine. But people who are native to this part of the world often have trouble with Western-style food just as we often have trouble with theirs. When you get accustomed to something, you can't just switch without side effects. That's why if you choose a vegetarian diet you'll often get physically ill if you ingest meat in the future. Many people wrongly assume this is just a psychological reaction. Often it's more than that. So we drove away from the camp and headed back towards Ulaan Baatar. (Incidentally, the official

spelling is now Ulaanbaatar. I had been used to writing it as Ulan Bator so I'm partially cut over. However there is a move to rename the city Chenghis City - Chenghis being the proper way to write Genghis as in Genghis Khan - so the whole effort may be a waste of time.) As always, when you're in a place you become more familiar with it and things you've seen only once become comforting when you see them again. The dirt road that we drove out on no longer was in the least bit intimidating and at one point it even resembled a four lane highway to me. And once we hit the pavement, it was like being on an expressway. And then seeing the city again which had been so alien only a couple of days earlier was like going back to our old neighborhood. I find that's always the best way to get to know someplace strange: go to a city, explore it a bit, then go someplace else, and return to that city. You'll be surprised how comfortable you feel. We went back to the Peace Bridge Hotel and made arrangements to meet Todd later in the evening as it would be our last night in Ulaan Baatar. We walked around the city a bit and took in some sights. One of them was a stripper in the middle of a major intersection. We concluded that it was a man dressed in women's clothing. What was amazing was that traffic just continued, occasionally honking but then traffic here is always honking. Pedestrians were pretty entertained by the whole thing. And oddly enough, not a single cop was anywhere to be seen. It was yet another Mongolian surprise. We had dinner in a decent Thai place and said our goodbyes. I leave Ulaan Baatar with a great deal of affection. This is a city that doesn't put on any airs. It is what it is. dirty, extremely scary for pedestrians, incredibly loud with cars honking at each other every couple of seconds, and still completely Mongolian. While I hope to see the infrastructure improve and the air get cleaner, I pray that this place won't be transformed into yet another Mecca for Western commercial interests. So far there are no McDonald's, Starbucks, or chains of any sort. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

21 August, 2005 Day 36. I actually managed to bargain a wakeup call from the hotel for 6:30. It came at 6:50 in true Mongolian laid back style. Fortunately I had woken myself at 6:25. We had to meet in the lobby at 7 to get taken to our train which left at 8. Theoretically I could have woken up at 7:45 and still made it in plenty of time but playing by the rules is very important to me. I had spent a good part of the night connected to the net through my Internet card at 28.8 attempting to upload the latest chapter of my travel log. After three hours and two attempts, it aborted. Not only that but the hotel saw fit to charge for every minute I was connected which for that night alone came to around $40. Not exactly a bargain anymore. But such is life. We found out at the last minute that the travel agency had been nice enough to book Hanneke and Sasja in with two other Dutch people and throw me into another compartment altogether. Oh, this was going to be swell. We tried to get two people in my compartment to switch places with the two other Dutch people to no avail. I'm not quite sure why. But it was only for one night. Unfortunately it was our last night on the Trans Siberian (technically the Trans Mongolian) and it would have been nice to spend it together as we had spent all the others. I was in a car with a Mongolian couple who seemed mostly interested in talking to each other and a German guy who seemed mostly interested in sleeping. He also had an obscenely huge bag that pretty

much obliterated any floor space we might have hoped for. I guessed I would be getting a lot of work done on this part of the trip. The problem with laptops of course is that their batteries eventually get used and you have to recharge them. The only outlet near me was in the hallway by the door and I had to stash it there for around five hours while it charged after working on it for another five. We had gotten these little pieces of paper when we got onto the train that had Chinese writing on them. These turned out to be breakfast vouchers as we soon found out which was a pleasant surprise since I hadn't had a thing to eat yet since waking up. We were on a Chinese train now (they alternate Russian/Chinese out of Moscow) and there were definite differences. Free breakfast was one. No air conditioning was another. No provodnitsas here. Instead we had Chinese guys with uniforms who didn't really interact all that much. And the food they gave us wasn't bad. Rice, potatoes, bread, what I think was beef, and some other vegetables in a little container with chopsticks. I'm sure the bread and potatoes were a nod to the Russians; I didn't expect to be seeing much of that once we got to China. We made occasional stops in tiny towns in the Gobi Desert. Sometimes we got out, sometimes we just hung from the window as local merchants tried to sell us stuff. I decided to get a bottle of water with some of my remaining Mongolian money. I was reaching to get the bottle when one of the women shouted loudly as if in protest that this was her sale so I instinctively handed the money to her. I regretted it almost instantly as I saw that she was young and well dressed while the person I would have otherwise bought from was old and frail and obviously not able to engage in such aggressive tactics. I later saw the well dressed woman get a few more sales in the same manner. I should also point out that the water I got looked like it had been used in a game of camel polo. Yes, that does exist. Hours passed and we eventually made it to the border. The Mongolians gave us some forms to fill out which were pretty straightforward. I was expecting them to do something with the customs form they had given me at the Russian border but they didn't even want to see it. The Chinese border was quite a story though. Getting into the country wasn't an issue at all. My visa was completely in order. I suppose now would be a good time to reveal that initially I was rejected from entry to China because of my job description: editor. Yes, that's right, they don't want anyone who seems even remotely capable of being a journalist to enter their country. It was easily solved though. All I had to do was write a letter saying I was only a technical editor and not a real journalist by any stretch of the imagination. Ironically I had to do this the very same day I gave my deposition against New York City where I was stating that I *was* in fact a journalist. To clear up any confusion this may cause: I work as a journalist but sometimes I'm merely a tourist. I usually stick to being a journalist in my own country however I will always write my observations down. I trust that this won't offend any of the authorities. While we were parked in the station having our papers checked, we heard all kinds of announcements in all different languages greeting our specific train (number four). They told us that "anything you want" could be bought in their shops and we could visit the bar on the second floor. For people who have been locked in a train car for the past twelve hours, that sounded pretty appealing. We were supposedly going to be given a choice: we could stay on the train during the changing of the wheel bogies or we could wait outside and presumably take advantage of the marvels of the station. We chose the latter. All we had to do now was wait to be let off. Well, we sat there at the station for a while and listened to the various trains blowing their whistles at

each other. It was really something hearing this. Not five seconds would go by before someone blew a whistle. I don't know if this was some sort of rudimentary communications system to replace two-way radios or if there was a whole lot more going on than what we could ascertain. But one thing was certain. It was annoying as hell. And after sitting there our train started to move backwards, presumably to the place where they changed the bogies. We were split as to whether that meant we had to stay on the train or not. After bouncing around the tracks for another 20 minutes, we parked inside the factory looking place where they change bogies and people actually began to exit. So we took the opportunity and joined them. The problem was we were now pretty far from the station and had to walk quite a distance to get back there. But we were take in by the broken English advertising we had heard on the loudspeakers so we followed the crowd like lambs to the slaughter. I guess that analogy gives a hint as to how pleasant our adventure wound up being. The first problem came because we were so happy to be out of the train car and able to move freely. So we moved a little too freely and before we knew it we were at the head of the pack. And shortly after, we couldn't even see the pack. We then found ourselves on this weird little street that reminded me of something out of a Western with little shops on the side, people sitting in circles playing cards, and the theme from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" in the background. Slight exaggeration but you get the idea. We were in a strange place. Not lost, mind you. But definitely a little bewildered. Nevertheless we continued onward, knowing that the station was straight ahead and on the left and that we could buy anything there and there was a bar upstairs and we could probably change money and go to the bathroom and so much more. That's when we hit the second problem. Arriving at the actual station. It didn't look at all the way it was advertised. In fact, it looked more like an airport waiting room, complete with baggage scanners. We went in and naturally they wanted to scan our bags. How strange was this, that we had just gotten off the train with our bags and now in order to go to the station where the train presumably was going to show up we had to have those same bags scanned? Hanneke and Sasja were reluctant but I convinced them that absurd as it was, it was apparently the only way to get into the station which was where we wanted to go, wasn't it? So we went through the baggage scan and I tried to get some information from the four people standing there. I asked if this was where the train would be. No luck. Eventually, they pointed me to a guy who allegedly spoke English. "Train here?" I said to him. "Slower," he said. I said the two words as slowly as I could. But slower didn't help. The billboard with the train number did however. So we were in the right place. Now we just had to find all of those promised wonders that the lady on the loudspeaker had told us about. I heard music coming from upstairs. The bar! We looked for the stairs and found a nonworking escalator. We made it to the second floor and quickly found the source of the music. It was a large screen television with two guys sitting next to it. The TV had some awful music videos playing. We approached and they jumped up, very excited to see us. But there wasn't another soul around. They motioned for us to sit at a table and we tried to figure out how to tell them that we didn't have any Chinese money - yet. After sitting there for a while trying to figure out how to do this, we came to the conclusion that they weren't at all interested in selling us anything and that maybe they didn't even work at this place. They were just completely fixated by the videos. So we figured we might be better off after all heading back towards where the train was and maybe finding a place to change money or an ATM along the way.

As we went back downstairs we noticed that portions of the building were being padlocked and that it was no longer possible to get back upstairs if we so chose. Leaving definitely seemed like the right thing to do. But not to those four people standing at the door by the baggage scanner who jumped up and prevented us from passing when we tried. Oh great. We were now prisoners in this building, unable to leave until our train arrived. We wouldn't get any money, food, or exploring. Instead we had to sit in an almost empty waiting room for over an hour while somewhere our train was being modified. In retrospect, staying on the train and witnessing that process would have been so much better. But it wasn't really our fault. There was nobody in charge who could tell us what to do. People who spoke Chinese seemed as bewildered as we were once they were lured into the train station. A train station that didn't have a soda machine or a water fountain anywhere in sight. It really was very much like being imprisoned. What a bizarre way to get acquainted with a new country! Our train arrived much earlier than we anticipated but it still wasn't ready for us to get on. We saw the people who had stayed on looking out at us, probably wishing they had gotten off the train and gotten food like we must have done. Then half of the cars pulled away from us, as they had to replace the now detached Mongolian dining car with a Chinese one and that involved inserting it into the middle of the train. And throughout all of this, every engineer within hearing distance was blasting his horn, sometimes once, sometimes two or three times, sometimes for five seconds continuously. This was as mind-numbingly annoying as you can possibly imagine. It was like watching kids playing with toy trains making as much noise as they were capable of making. But I'm sure it was more complex than that. Maybe it was even a language of sorts. All I know is it bothered the living hell out of all of us as we stood on that platform, tired, hungry, thirsty, defeated. But we were in China and that's really all that mattered. In the back of our minds we all knew that. Eventually the train came back for us and we piled on, along with all of the other people who had now shown up at the station. Once again, it felt like coming back home. I figured it must have been a practical joke, some Chinese initiation ceremony of promising great things on a loudspeaker and then sticking you into a "Twilight Zone" episode where you get to wander around an abandoned train station that you're forbidden from leaving by people you can't communicate with at all. As I drifted off to sleep in my compartment filled with strangers, I knew that China was going to have all sorts of strange things like this. Which is exactly what I've been asking for. So I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

22 August, 2005 Day 37. Despite being in a train compartment with three complete strangers and despite the fact that none of them wanted to keep the fan going to keep the heat from becoming unbearable, I was able to sleep quite well. I really think there's something to the theory that the motion of the train is the secret. It might be a cure for insomnia to install little train rocking simulators to the beds of those afflicted. When I finally got up I noticed that there were two pieces of paper on the table next to my head. One was a voucher for breakfast, the other for lunch. Breakfast had been from 7 to 8 so that was impossible. Lunch however was 11 to 12 so I had that to look forward to. I looked outside and was struck by the difference in what was now visible. It was no longer desert, no

longer small little towns isolated from the world. What I saw was lots and lots of activity in one form or another. There were farms, houses, industry, traffic, shopping areas, you name it. What I had seen in eastern Russia and in Mongolia were people existing and living their lives in much the same way as they had lived them for centuries. But here I saw people moving forward, building, and just being very active. Everyone I know who has been to China has told me how fast things are changing. And I could see it with my own eyes now. And this wasn't even Beijing yet. The landscape changed from farm to forest to mountains to city and back and forth. At one point our train stopped at the base of the Great Wall towering high above us in the mountains. The history that was staring us in the face was simply awe inspiring. We got our free lunches by walking all the way up to the restaurant car and presenting our pieces of paper to a guy who ceremoniously presented us with a container of rice and some vegetables. There were no tables free so we had to walk all the way back with this. But it was a nice welcome to the country. And as the afternoon began, we started to see the signs of Beijing. Everywhere you looked there was construction of some sort. Huge apartment buildings, multi-lane highways, schools, etc. It just seemed to go on forever. It made sense that it would. Beijing, after all, is absolutely huge with a population of nearly 14 million. But what really struck me was the modern look it had. We all have our perceptions of what a place should look like. And the way China has been portrayed to me had me expecting teeming masses of people pushing and shoving everywhere, peddling all kinds of crazy food, and not being overly hospitable. Instead I saw a city that looked more modern in places than New York. I saw all kinds of Western chains and people in modern dress. And I felt nothing but friendliness - and curiosity - from the people milling around. We were met at the train station by our travel guide who had a great deal of trouble finding the van that took us to our hotel. After a bit of a long walk, she finally tracked it down. By the way, if you ever want to see some real fun, check out the entrance to the train station where all kinds of people mob the entrance looking to carry bags, give cab rides, and whatever else they do. It was like arriving at the Oscars the way we were mobbed. We passed McDonald's and KFC on every other block it seemed. Air conditioning was in use everywhere. Drinks were sold with ice! This was really one of the last places I expected to find these kinds of Western values. I was thrilled to discover that I had broadband in my room and the fastest connection since leaving home. Beijing looked to be full of surprises and all kinds of places to explore. But having access meant finally getting some significant work done which kept me inside for a few hours. Besides, I would be here until Friday so there would be plenty of time for all sorts of stuff. We went to a tea-themed place in the evening called Real Brewed Tea. The RBT apparently was close enough to the word rabbit that they made a rabbit their logo. I had New York style beef spaghetti. I must remember to find out where they sell that in New York.

23 August, 2005 Day 38. It was time to explore. I knew we had a few days here but I also knew I'd probably want to rest from all of the wandering around I'd been doing as well as use the net to catch up on various things.

I met Hanneke and Sasja early in the afternoon and we headed off in the direction of the Forbidden City. It was somewhat hot and muggy but not nearly as uncomfortable as I had feared. So we walked somewhat leisurely, taking in the various sights along the way. At some points it felt like any modern cosmopolitan city. And then we'd find a guy selling baby ducks out of a hat. I had the sense that there were two worlds at play here. At the very least. We found an interesting little park where people were grouped in circles playing some kind of card game that obviously involved gambling. It was pretty wide open so if there was a law against this sort of thing, it wasn't being very aggressively enforced. As we explored a bit more, we found one of those neat exercise playgrounds like the one we had seen in Mongolia. Only this one was much bigger. What a great idea to have people go to a park and work out on playground-like devices for free. If I can figure out how to get a Smart car into the States, getting one of these in ought to be a breeze. We climbed up a stone staircase and found ourselves looking out over the city. Or a small part of it anyway. The park was very picturesque. Apart from the guy who kept chasing us around asking in English if we wanted a massage, it was all quite nice. That's an aspect to this place I noticed very quickly. The people chasing you around thing. I suppose because it's obvious that we're Westerners, we must have the equivalent of the word "sucker" painted on our faces. Or maybe people just assume we're constantly in need of certain items. Whatever it is, as you walk down any street, people greet you with a persistent "Hello!" which will quickly be followed by an opportunity to buy something from them if you acknowledge the greeting in any way. It's not especially unpleasant but it can keep you from moving down a street at the pace you may wish to. Some of the more persistent of them actually grab you by the hand on occasion. Not a good thing to try on a New York native. We wanted to find the Forbidden City and the adjacent Tiananmen Square. On the map it had looked pretty close but it obviously wasn't. Plus we went in the wrong direction at least once. But it didn't matter. Everywhere we went, we saw something of interest, something that we wouldn't see at home. Like crossing guards with red flags especially designed to get cyclists across major intersections safely. Or people flying kites at those same major intersections. Weird looking cars, bicycle taxis, new buildings, old structures.... This was a city I could spend one hell of a lot of time just walking in any direction looking as awestruck as a Chinese tourist in Manhattan. But we finally walked in the *right* direction and came upon the entrance to the Forbidden City. We decided not to actually go in today. In all honesty though, you could spend a day just looking at the entrance. The huge portrait of Mao, the ornate entryway, the ceremonial guards, the throngs of tourists, and the mere realization that we were in such an historical spot on the planet. This was where all of those massive May Day rallies and parades with a million people would start. This was the heart of the biggest communist nation ever. What am I saying? This was the heart of the biggest nation period! With 1.2 billion people in this country, the United States barely can hold a candle. No wonder it's widely predicted that China will have the biggest and most important economy on the planet within mere decades. Those are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head when you stand at the entrance of the Forbidden City. After a while though it was time to move on. And there wasn't very far to go.

Directly across the street was Tiananmen Square, an absolutely huge expanse where I'm sure you could pack a million people with room to spare. I do believe it's been done. And to us in the West, it represented the battleground for the pro-democracy movement back in 1989 when all those people got mowed down and otherwise killed by soldiers. There are no memorials of any sort and it's the one thing you're not supposed to talk about. Well, fuck that. I'm not going to run up and down with banners or insist that people answer my questions but I'm sure as hell not going to pretend along with the rest that everything is all fine and peachy. Innocent people were killed right here and it's a real blemish on this entire nation, even more so for not acknowledging it. The United States along with much of the industrialized world also shares responsibility by continuing to help China prosper without taking the necessary step of addressing human rights issues. There are so many more examples that would take up a huge number of pages and just wind up depressing everyone. My point is simple: you can't forget this kind of thing. You need to acknowledge mistakes. And the world has a responsibility to every country to not back down on these matters. I wish this were being done right now to my own country. I feel obligated to say something about this on "Off The Hook" Wednesday, possibly towards the end of the show to see if I'm actually being monitored and wind up getting cut off. I suspect I'm not and I think the kind of control the government has over the people here leads them to not be overly concerned about subversion. But the large police presence at the Square tells me they're not resting too comfortably. One day the regime and the forward thinking people will collide again and I think the next time it may be a whole lot harder to put the genie back in the bottle. But that's not my call. Anyway, I stood there for a while in silent repose, happy in the fact that we still live in an age where thoughts can remain private. Although I hear they're making amazing strides back home to fix that problem. Inside the Square, we were quickly approached by two really friendly girls who spoke English to us and wanted to know where we were from. We told them and they said they were studying English at their university, blah, blah, blah. It was kind of strange how friendly people were. Just walking up to foreigners and starting conversations. But then we realized what was really going on here. They started talking about an art show at the National Museum and how this was the last day it was being held. Fine. We said we'd consider going after seeing the Square. But these girls would not take no or even maybe for an answer. They insisted we come with them *now* and they would take us to the show and it would only take five minutes. What kind of an art show takes five minutes? A peep show maybe, but art? This was getting pretty weird. I hadn't been this aggressively pursued since I managed to get surrounded by Moonies in New York years ago. It took some doing and some actual running but we managed to get away from them. And then it happened again with someone else. And again after that. It got to the point where "National Museum" became trigger words meaning "run like hell." At first I thought these people were some kind of weird "minders," sent by the authorities to keep an eye on the foreigners and corral them into a safe and manageable place. But then I realized that this was probably just another tourist trap (almost literally) where unsuspecting slobs were led into some sort of a really aggressive art marketplace were they felt obligated to buy something from the nice people who led them there. Wow. This place was *not* what I expected. We walked around a bit more and decided to try to find lunch somewhere. We found a really nice street with all kinds of shops and a huge amount of people milling around. We found a "Muslim" restaurant which basically seemed to mean that they didn't have pork on the menu but instead they had stuff like sheep's head. Interesting flavor and texture. After lunch we went across the street to a crazy shop that we had pointed at earlier. People seemed to

be diving into merchandise bins like they were going out of style. The whole inside of the shop looked like sheer pandemonium. So naturally we went in and inside of a minute we got caught up in the spirit. You would see an item, they would tell you how much it was, you would walk away, they would chase you and tell you it was now a fraction of that cost. I accidentally haggled a really good price on some cool looking masks simply by asking how much they were (turned out to be around $50) and then going outside and having a conversation with Sasja. In ten minutes, one of the salesgirls came out and told me she would give it to me for $12. I had forgotten all about it but that was a really good deal. Oddly enough, when I came back inside and tried to negotiate two for $20, I couldn't budge them an inch. The secret seems to be to walk away. We wandered around inside a huge bookstore that seemed to have an infinite number of floors. And on every one of those floors there were instructional videos, books, and computer programs on how to learn English. There was also a CD and DVD department but their selection was rather subdued. I mean, their idea of good music seemed to be The Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey. I couldn't find anything that wouldn't make me want to slit my wrists if I heard it more than once. But the bookstore itself was fascinating even though we couldn't read 90 percent of what was in there. We must have spent at least three hours in the place thumbing through the various collections. And I had one really bizarre experience when the first DVD I picked up at random turned out to be produced by people with the web site of www.2688.com. I backed away slowly. After that we wandered down the street some more and came to a really interesting street market that stretched for an entire block. Now *this* was the China I was expecting. They were selling grasshoppers on a stick, maggots of some sort, all kinds of eels, and plenty of stuff I couldn't identify. Each and every merchant would call out "Hello!" as the Westerners walked by. I found it interesting that I could handle a sheep's head but the thought of a single grasshopper thoroughly repelled me. The things you learn about yourself. We got on the subway for the first time and rode it back to the hotel. I was amazed at how simple the system was. You walk up to the ticket counter, hand them three bills (around 30 cents), they give you a ticket, you give the ticket to someone else who rips it and gives you back half (this is the old communist system at its finest), then you head down to the train which is labeled in both Chinese and English with maps everywhere. You simply cannot get lost in this system. Unfortunately it's still tiny so finding an actual station can be a bit of a challenge. Overall, a pretty exhausting and revealing day. I look forward to doing even more in the ones to come.

24 August, 2005 Day 39. I must say I like this hotel. Check out what it says in the hotel guide: "No clamouring, quarreling, fisticuffing or indulging in excessive drinking and creating disturbances in the room, the corridor and the lobby." Any excuse to use the word fisticuffing is a positive thing in my view. Got a fairly late start today since I think I'll be staying up for "Off The Hook" at 7 in the morning tomorrow. Now I know why we don't have very many live listeners in China. What a pain. There are a couple of malls across the street so I figured I'd go check them out. Actually, the way malls work over here is a little different. Each one seems to all be one big store with a huge variety of things to buy and a whole lot of floors. There are plenty of fast food places as well on the street level:

McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks. But I sure as hell didn't want to go to those. I admit going to McDonald's when I first got here just to get some fries and a drink with ice. But I'm over that. The mall was a scene of frenzy as I expected. Every aisle you walked down, some salesperson would call out to you. I guess it's normal here but I found it particularly annoying, especially when they did it in English. There doesn't seem to be much patience towards casual browsers. I wanted to look at the cell phones they had on display but I just couldn't do it with the salesman breathing down my neck, practically panting with enthusiasm at possibly making a sale. No matter what you do, you can't seem to get them out of this mode. The same holds true at restaurants. You walk in, sit down, and they stand by your table waiting for you to order. This also happens when the bill comes. No time to yourself. Anyway, I wandered through the mall a bit avoiding the hounding. I noticed the fifth floor was a food court and medical clinic. How convenient. I decided to give the first a try and make a note as to where the second was. This was not your standard American-looking food court. There weren't any clearly established themes and certainly no fast food that I recognized. In one section customers were sitting at counters with all kinds of steamed stuff cooking around them. Another was more of an open seating area where people brought stuff they got at the surrounding vendors. I did a little walking and picked a place that had a bunch of pictures on the counter. I pointed to one and the woman behind the counter sprang into activity. She said a bunch of things to me and handed me two pieces of paper and pointed to another counter on the other side of the room. The cashier. OK, I get it. Pay the cashier and bring the piece of paper back. There's a kosher deli by me on Long Island that has the same bizarre system but the square footage here was much bigger. So I walked over, gave the guy the papers, he rang up the total, I gave him the money, he gave me my change, and handed back one of the papers. I figured at this point the thing to do would be to go back to the woman behind the counter and give her that piece of paper. As it turned out, that was exactly the right thing to do. And, unlike Russia, she had actually started making the food before I gave it to her. There was a place on the other side of the room (which was a pretty big room considering it took up nearly the entire floor) that had stuff to drink so I had to repeat the entire procedure to pull off that feat. This whole system is apparently a relic of communism. I can't imagine what they were thinking when they devised this. But it sure is annoying having to ping pong your way all over the damn food court just to get a couple of items. I imagine you get pretty used to it over time. Nobody here seemed to think there was anything at all unusual about it. But the Western style fast food places downstairs were using the more modern system of "buy and pay" and I got the sense that it was only a matter of time before that system (if not those actual places) made it upstairs. My food was ready and I was really taken aback at how much there was. Plus it came on real plates. There were all kinds of dunking and spreading routines that I was expected to know so I just watched what other people were doing and tried my best to play along. That's actually half the fun. The entire amount I spent, drink included, was less than three U.S. dollars. And it was really decent stuff too. I went back across the street, opting to go over rather than under. Let me explain. There are numerous undergound crossings which will get you to the other side of the street without incident. But the real fun comes in trying to cross the street on the surface. I don't know how I managed to avoid seeing anyone get killed attempting this. But New York streets are minor league compared to this. They have traffic lights and they have crossing guards. (You're really crazy if you attempt crossing

where these don't exist.) Somehow those aren't nearly enough, at least not for the wide streets as this one was. First you have to watch out for the bicycles which are about as dangerous as the cars. Not to mention that there are some cars (as well as motorized bicycles and bicycle taxis) that also come down the bicycle lanes. Oh yeah, another important part to all of this: there isn't anywhere near enough time to actually cross the street unless you start in the middle when you get the green signal. And there are no little traffic islands to stand on if you get trapped. But having the green signal doesn't really guarantee you anything. You see, cars are allowed to turn right on a red light. And they don't have to stop or even be in the right lane when they do this! So you may be crossing the street with the light when you see a car, taxi, or bus coming towards you in the middle of the road full speed like it's not going to stop. Guess what? It's not going to. And people seem to know and respect this. I witnessed maybe one or two instances where a pedestrian stood up to a motorist or bicyclist and forced them to yield. But I suspect there isn't always a happy ending to such a challenge. It's not Ulaan Baatar but it sure as hell isn't New York. You had better be alert if you attempt to cross the streets on the surface here. I'm sure there's some kind of symbolic reinforcement of some value system at play here - perhaps the futility of man versus machine or death to those who fight the status quo - but I didn't care and you won't either if you just make it to the other side. Throughout all of this and just about everything else I've done here, I've been hounded and chased by various merchants, always starting their harangue with that infernal "Hello!" I think I've purged that word from my brain and if I ever hear it in the future I'm simply going to put on a blank stare and keep moving. I hope people don't take offense. I had plans to later meet up with Hanneke and Sasja to get some Beijing duck, us being in Beijing and all. But food was the last thing on my mind at the moment and I had quite a few hours to explore. The first thing I needed to do was change money. The money system here is a bit weird. I'll try to explain. The currency is known as Renminbi and is represented as RMB. That actually means "people's money." The yuan is the basic unit of the currency and we found that dividing by ten pretty much gets you a euro. So if you spend 20 yuan on something, you basically are paying about two euros. A ride on the subway costs three yuan or 30 euro cents. You get the picture. But wait. There's more. The yuan itself is divided into ten kuai (also known as jiao). And *that* gets divided even further into ten mao (also known as fen). The latter is of so little value that people won't even pick it up off the street if they see it there. I'm sure I could make some kind of crack about how the currency with the least amount of value shares a common spelling with their most revered leader but I wouldn't dare. What's funny is you probably think that's the end of it. Think again. There are all different kinds of yuan bills. The biggest is 100, the smallest is one. And then there are old and new bills, the newer ones tend to have pictures of Mao on them (yuan, not mao or kuai). It's rumored that there used to be (or maybe still is) currency just for tourists. There are one yuan coins, at least three different kinds and sizes. There are plastic coins for even lower denominations. I'll end it here even though I could mention the fact that different currencies are used in Hong Kong and Macau. Not to mention Taiwan which China still considers to be a "renegade province." I decided to take the subway to a couple of random stops to just have a look at some other parts of the city. Again, the simplicity of the system and its well marked stations and maps was really reassuring. If

only it weren't so damn small. I visited the "Fuxingmen" district (sorry, couldn't resist) and saw a part of town with immense office buildings on a huge boulevard. It was a bit like Park Avenue only the buildings had huge lawns. Damn, this place was big and apparently getting bigger by the minute. My only regret coming here was not having come here five years ago, ten years ago, and more so I could see just how much things had changed. I was half expecting something grim and gray like the East Berlin I had once visited. This kind of prosperity and opulence was beyond anything I ever expected. Time goes rather quickly when you're awestruck so before I knew it it was duck time. I met Hanneke and Sasja at the hotel and we set out for a place near Qianmen (next to Tiananmen but different) that was supposedly the best in town. We hadn't been to this part of the city at night yet. It was lit up in a very spectacular and celebratory way which made it look completely different than it had earlier. We stood around taking it in, snapping pictures, and getting our bearings. We finally figured out what street to go down and managed to track down the place. It was one of Beijing's oldest restaurants, built in 1862. It had also just closed at 9 pm. Fuck. However, in that helpful manner I've noticed so often around here, the guy in charge told us of another branch they had only a few blocks away. So we set out in search of this place and within a few minutes that same guy had caught up to us and actually offered to lead us there. The place turned out to be absolutely awesome and the amount of food they brought us was insane. For example, I thought it would be nice to order some dumplings to go with the duck and figured I'd get around four. They brought 20. And after you're all done they bring you duck soup with the bones of the duck you've just consumed. Pretty damn cool but way too much food. I don't know how these people aren't as big as houses. Probably those exercise playgrounds. After we finished eating and as the place was closing down, one of the owner's kids decided to go tearing around the restaurant full speed on his roller blades. I have to say he was pretty damn good considering he was probably around eight. But the relaxed atmosphere of the place, and of most of the others we'd seen so far, was impressive and inspiring. Obviously, not everyone here is happy. There are far more homeless people and beggars than I thought I'd see in this place. But the majority seem to have a definite purpose and an overall upbeat and somewhat feisty attitude. I haven't been able to determine if they're too busy to speak freely and openly about the things around them or if it even means that much to them. But from what everyone has told me, things change so fast around here that this will be a completely different place in just a few short years.

25 August, 2005 Day 40. As it turned out, I was pretty damn tired last night after the whole duck thing so I crashed as soon as I got back which meant by the time the show rolled around at 7 am, I was pretty well rested. I couldn't have been more surprised. The show went well with one major catch. I had been planning on talking rather openly about some of the problems here and doing that in the closing minutes of the show. I didn't know what to expect, especially if the reports of foreigners' hotel phone lines being monitored were true. But if I was cut off, that would be pretty revealing. As it turned out, I *did* get cut off but not by the Chinese authorities. Because of a problem in the studio, my line was cut and a call back was never initiated, leaving the issue forever unresolved. It was pretty damn frustrating to say the least. Especially so since I sounded

like a fucking cheerleader for the Chinese government during the first part of the show where I played it safe. Trust me, I had a lot more to say on the subject. Maybe I'll do something for "Off The Wall." But it won't be the same not being on a live phone line. After the show it was still pretty damn early in the morning. We had planned on going to the Forbidden City at just such a time in order to avoid the usual mob of tourists. Well of course, *that* didn't work since there's *always* a mob of tourists. But we bit the bullet and dived in anyway. We'd seen the entrance to the Forbidden City a couple of days ago. But actually walking into it is a whole different experience. You're struck by the size and the sheer number of these majestic buildings. You just keep on walking and taking it all in. You forget about the thousands of other tourists around you and you don't even notice the oppressive heat as the temperature rises. You just feel the majesty and the history. There's a lot more you can read about this site in a number of places so I'll just point out that this was the center of the Ming and Qing dynasties and it was completely off limits to commoners for about half a millennium. Now anyone with 60 yuan can get in, although they still won't let you traipse around the inside. So we made it through the entire complex with only minor symptoms of heat stroke. But we knew if we didn't find a place to sit down and get sustenance soon that we would be in trouble. So we walked a few blocks and came to a district with shops and places to eat. It's amazing how (with the exception of those fries from McDonald's) I've had nothing but Chinese food since getting here yet every meal has been completely different. What we see in America really represents only a fraction of the food that's available. I doubt I'll ever feel satisfied walking into a Chinese restaurant again. This was our last full day in Beijing together and the last full day before I went on my own to Shanghai. I figured we should do the taping of "Off The Wall" tonight in Tiananmen Square as a sort of farewell. So I headed back to the hotel to get the equipment ready (and well hidden since I didn't know what to expect if I was detected as being wired) and Hanneke and Sasja did some more walking around. I figured it would be a cinch to hop on the subway since I knew approximately where a stop was. But that's the one failing of the system. The stops aren't marked very well from the street. And since there aren't a whole lot of them, your odds of finding one go down substantially if you aren't looking in the right place at the right time. Eventually I tracked one down after I was almost all the way back to the hotel by foot. I had some extra time to kill so I perused the offerings on television. Not very much if you don't know Chinese. In fact, only one station (CCTV9) broadcast in English at all. There were about 14 State television channels (all known as CCTV followed by a number or a Chinese character) and a few others, all sanctioned by the State. They each had quite a lot of commercials but there were notable differences between what I had seen on foreign commercial television up to this point. No ads for sex lines. No MTV-like channels. Not a whole lot of Western style programming of any sort. I'm not saying any of this is necessarily a bad thing, just very different from what I'd seen so far. And of course nearly all programming is subtitled so that the Cantonese audience can understand it. Mandarin is the official tongue of China and what people speak in Beijing. But the written language is for the most part identical. If I understand all of this properly, this means that the subtitling also serves as captioning for people who speak Mandarin and choose to have the sound off or who are hearing impaired. One thing I saw a few times on CCTV9 (which you can get in the States in many places and which, although it purports to be a "world news" channel, is really just a propaganda tool of the Chinese government in English) was a "documentary" on the new replacement for DVDs that will be known as

EVDs. And since this was invented by the Chinese, it means, in their words, that the Chinese people will have control over the content at last. They spent a half hour reinforcing all of this which left me skeptical at best. But it did rather indirectly point out something which is quite prevalent here: piracy. It's not even hidden at all. Counterfeit copies of DVDs and CDs prevail. Sasja even noticed that the copy of the Lonely Planet guide to China that I had bought in the hotel lobby was clearly a fake copy. If you looked at some of the pages you could see print from the pages on the other side - which didn't line up with what was actually there. Like someone had made a bad photocopy. It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to go through especially since they were selling it for the normal price but apparently they have a pretty well developed system. I suspect this won't last too much longer though if China indeed becomes a leading member of the world community. Certainly by the time the Olympics roll around in three years, Beijing at least won't want to be seen as a place where piracy prevails. I can never get over how people stare here. It's not like they even try to hide it. I know we look a little strange as foreigners but I wasn't expecting this. There must not be a whole lot of foreigners passing through. And this is the capital! Imagine what it must be like in small town. Sasja gets it far worse than I do, being well over six feet tall. People have dropped things when they turn to stare at him going by. He told me earlier of the commotion he caused in a grocery store when a couple of Chinese basketball players saw him. I guess up until that point they had been the tallest people in town. The shock on their faces was quite apparent. It was also in a grocery store that one of the store workers had grabbed Sasja by the hand and led him to a particular aisle. "Beer," she proclaimed proudly as if she had invented it. I guess the reputation of Westerners has preceded us. We headed down to the Square again, with me wired up for sound, this time using the lapel microphone that had never worked quite right. I didn't have a choice this time. There was no *way* I was going to walk around Tiananmen Square with that huge handheld thing. I may like to live dangerously but that's just a bit much for me. The show went well with some recounting of the many experiences we've shared, both in China and on this trip. Since this was the last of the programs that Hanneke and Sasja would be a part of, we said our goodbyes here. I had a few minutes at the end to say some of the things I didn't get to say earlier on "Off The Hook" and it felt good to get it out. The whole thing was probably a lot less worrisome than I had made it out to be; the only people who approached us were merchants, although I'm sure I turned a few heads during the part when I seemed to be talking to myself at the end. (I did hold a cell phone to my ear for at least part of that time to make it seem like I was actually talking to someone. Naturally I got an SMS chime in my ear almost immediately.) I went back to the hotel to get the show ready for uploading, which would be a breeze considering the stable connection I had. Later we went out for a late night snack at the Real Brewed Tea place across the street, which now seemed quite familiar to us. It sucked that I had to leave so soon. I felt like I was just beginning to get to know this city. But I had to keep moving if I ever wanted to get across this globe. And part of what I'm doing is marking places down that I want to come back to. Beijing is definitely on that list.

26 August, 2005 Day 41. My time in Beijing came to an end far too fast. I feel like I've only seen a very small fraction of what the city has to offer. At the same time, there are so many other places to see and explore. I'm

sure the capital isn't all that representative of the rest of the country. What I'd really like to do is see what it's like in the country. Unfortunately that just isn't in the cards on this trip. I do have a schedule to keep to and Shanghai is the next stop. I still had the afternoon though. Unfortunately I blew a couple of hours waiting to meet a friend from America who never showed up. I haven't seen a familiar American since Amsterdam. (Come to think of it, I haven't seen a single black person since Berlin. Not counting TV.) Anyway, this incident has led me to issue a decree. And I'm sorry if this sounds dickish but it has to be said. I'm no longer making plans to meet people who don't carry phones or at the very least some sort of a device that can send and receive SMS. For crying out loud, everyone in Mongolia and China seems to have one of the things so it really shouldn't be that big a deal. I can't tell you how many times I've had to deal with people from back home who have absolutely no means of communication when they're traveling and it's a royal pain in the ass when you try to make plans with them. So be forewarned if you're one of those people. Life is too short to sit around waiting for you or figuring out how to convey messages. I really don't think this is at all unreasonable. Glad I got that out of my system. Anyway, I got to hang out in the hotel lobby for a couple of hours which was too fascinating to put into words so I won't even try. Afterwards I really only had time to head across the street to the mall once more to grab something at the food court. This time I was a little bit more daring, opting to sit at one of those counters and order what is known as a hot pot. That's where they bring you a pot of boiling water and a bunch of raw meat. The idea is for you to cook the meat in the boiling water. Now, as someone who can barely manage to make tea, this was a bit of a challenge as I wasn't sure when I should put what in, for how long, etc. But I figured if I did do something really out of line they would have come running over to correct me. Unless they just didn't care, which I could see working in a mall. But they seemed helpful enough and it was a huge amount of food. Plus I got a really big mug of beer. Total cost was just over three dollars. And they say food in the countryside is even cheaper. Something else that struck me as rather remarkable in the past few days has been my sustained interest in the actual language around me. Usually I just kind of filter it out and resign myself to the fact that the language being spoken around me is another one I'll never know. But there's something about Chinese that makes it fun to learn. I took a semester of it in college and I remember that fact. It's almost modular in its construction and it's really cool when you start to recognize characters on signs. Speaking it is a bit trickier and certainly understanding what someone is saying to you can be next to impossible. But with a little practice and determination, I could really get into this. Sometimes it's the most unusual things that wind up being the ones you accomplish. My ride showed up right on time at the hotel. I said my goodbyes to Hanneke and Sasja and wished them luck in their new and intriguing destination. I really wish I could be going too. But Shanghai, Japan, and the Pacific Ocean ought to be fascinating as well. No regrets. The guide got me to the station and explained everything quite thoroughly as to where the train would be, what time they would let people in, etc. One thing I noticed about this train station was that it was an absolute madhouse. It was jammed full of people who all had this desperate manner to them. Imagine Penn Station at rush hour times ten. I didn't understand it. And I sure as *hell* didn't understand it when they started letting people go down the stairs to the platform. It was like this was the last train ever. I really was afraid of getting trampled. What was the big deal anyway? We all had assigned seats! What the hell difference did it make who was first? A very

strange way to leave Beijing. The train itself was surprisingly new and modern. According to my counterfeit Let's Go guide, the trip was supposed to take 14 hours but this train was claiming it would take only 12. I suppose this was another improvement in the way of life around here. Now if they could only calm the people down a bit while boarding, it would be *really* nice. I wound up sharing the compartment with three Chinese people, none of whom apparently knew each other. Everyone pretty much kept to themselves. We all got tea, a toothbrush, and a free dinner. (I always seem to get a free dinner after having a late lunch.) The food was so unbelievably spicy. That's one of the differences Sasja noticed about food in China as opposed to Chinese food in the Netherlands. It had so much more spice here. And I suppose that's true about America as well. We're a little too cautious about such things. What I wouldn't give to see the reaction to a meal like this on Amtrak. The train ride was very smooth and it wasn't long before we all drifted to sleep. Again, the motion of the train completely put me under. At 7 am we would be in Shanghai.

27 August, 2005 Day 42. As God is my witness, I never intended to wind up at KFC tonight. Had I known this would be my fate, I would have done anything to avoid it. Quite literally. Please don't judge me until you hear how it came about. It all started when we arrived at Shanghai right on time. From what I could see out the train window, this city looked to be big and intricate as well. But first things first. I had to find the hotel the travel agency had booked me in. I love it when fate gives you a good kick in the ass. Any evidence that higher forces have a dark sense of humor is somehow reassuring to me. So here I was, in a weird city I had never been in before where I couldn't understand the language *or* the characters. And for the first time since Hanneke's travel agency took over, I was by myself. Also for the first time, they weren't giving me a ride to the hotel. The reason for this was because the hotel was already right next to the station. Did I mention that I didn't understand the characters? Yeah, well that made it rather impossible for me to read which of the towering buildings was my hotel without having to walk in every direction and go to them all. Oh yes. I forgot to mention that for the first time on this trip it was pouring rain. So I was getting the total royal treatment in the opening minutes of Shanghai. And I knew it would eventually get better. I picked a direction to walk in figuring I could only get that wrong three times. I don't know why or how but my bags had seemed to be getting heavier over the weeks. And I really wasn't accumulating very much. I'd been adding lots of data to my hard drive but that shouldn't really have been noticeable. Regardless, I was getting soaking wet while walking towards a sign that said "hotel" and figuring that they would at least know where mine was since there's no way I could have gotten it right the first time. Despite the downpour, I was getting the same damn "hello!" treatment from every other person I was passing. No, I don't want a guide, no, I don't want to buy a watch. I just want to get out of the rain and to my destination which is the one thing I bet you can't help me with. Wow, I was really developing an attitude. I made it to the hotel and felt almost as good as if I had arrived at my destination. Of course I knew I

hadn't. And when I asked the guy at the front desk where my destination actually was, he said it was in the other direction - maybe. Great. Well, it was now coming down in sheets so I figured I'd just stand under the awning for a while and wait it out. I saw a taxi pull up and concluded that this was a perfect time to break my anti-taxi rule. This is what they were for. If the hotel was really on the other side of the station, it would only take a couple of minutes but save me from getting soaked and lugging heavy bags which were probably getting even heavier with all the water they were absorbing. So I put my bags in the trunk and told the driver the name of the hotel. He looked at me like I was speaking Klingon. I showed him the address which of course the travel agency hadn't printed in Chinese and so it didn't help at all. He kept making gestures with his hand and a whooshing sound. I finally figured out he was imitating an airplane. I tried to convey that I didn't want to go to the airport. Just the hotel that was probably one damn block away. He enlisted the help of some other random people walking by. They either didn't know the name of the place or they didn't want to help. Throughout all of this he seemed to be trying to convince me to go to the airport because he kept making that same gesture and whooshing sound. Why on earth would I change my mind and decide to go to the airport when that's not where I had to go?! Jeez. I offered to call the hotel and have them tell him how to get there. But he wanted no part of it. Instead he got out and took my bags out of the trunk. Yep, he kicked me out of the cab, that motherfucker. I couldn't believe this was happening. If I was anti-taxi before, this really solidified it. I only hope that one day this jerk moves to New York and pays $150,000 for a medallion and pulls that kind of shit on someone so he can have his license yanked. Asshole. So there I was back at square one. It wasn't raining quite as hard now so I went back to where I had started and headed in the opposite direction, fending off all the "hello!" people. I stopped outside a convenience store and the guy running it actually came out to try and help me. At least that's what I think he was doing. He wasn't able to figure out where I should go either. I concluded at this point that the only thing to do was call the hotel and get them to tell me where they were hiding. They didn't speak very good English so it was quite a challenge to understand them. And then I asked the magic question. Were they anywhere near a McDonald's? As it turned out, that was the marker that filled in the mystery as they were able to tell me exactly what to do from the highly visible McDonald's. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Yet again I managed to get put into a hotel that was undergoing extensive renovations. At any time, the warning signs read, electricity, water, air conditioning, the elevator, and/or the phone could be cut off from now until the 25th of September. Whatever. Just get me out of the rain and into a room and I won't ask for anything else. Of course I asked if they had Internet in the rooms which I was happy to hear they did. And when I got to my room, the little sign with the Internet instructions said "Internet service in our hotel is totally free of charge at all." And that made the whole ordeal worthwhile. But I was still rather traumatized. So for the first time in a while I've been hooked to the net almost nonstop. I wound up taking a nap and waking up in the afternoon, then doing a bit of work. It was one of those recovery/catchup days. Before I knew it, evening had arrived and I really felt like getting food somewhere in the area. It shouldn't have been difficult, really it shouldn't. If only I had known. I had what looked like vouchers in the little envelope that came with my hotel key. But they were written entirely in Chinese. I called the information number listed on my phone and had a wonderfully confusing conversation with the operator there who thought I wanted to change rooms, check out early,

and have my room cleaned in that order. OK, clearly I wasn't going to get an answer to the voucher question this way. Then I noticed a little button for room service on my phone. Maybe I could at least get food by simply pressing it. And that's how I learned that, at least in this place, "room service" means servicing the room, not ordering food. Aargh. I decided to ask down at the front desk about the vouchers. This is where I got a taste of what racial profiling must be like. (I suppose being hounded on the street is another taste but naturally nothing like living a life under systemic racism as so many do.) No matter what I did the guy behind the counter simply refused to acknowledge my existence. People came up behind me and he immediately helped them. He answered the phone. He even made calls. Ten minutes went by and it was as if I wasn't standing there at all. I even tried to get his attention by calling out - they claim to be able to speak English here. I even tried some rudimentary Chinese. Nothing. I finally just gave up and walked out of the place, vowing some sort of revenge at some point in my life. So you see, I did try. I didn't want it to turn out the way it did. I wanted to find someplace decent, either in the hotel or outside. And since the former wasn't cooperating, I figured I'd try my luck with the latter. We were near a station after all. There *had* to be places. So I walked down the various streets where the McDonald's and KFC franchises blinded people with their bright lights. No. I wanted something local. There were little convenience stores but I was looking for a place I could sit down in. I kept exploring the streets but most of them seemed pretty dead, even though there were people walking up and down them. As I waited at a wide boulevard for the light to change, a "hello!" person started asking me if I wanted a massage. "Maybe later," I said as the light turned and I headed across the street. "No!" I heard behind me. "Now!" Was this guy for real? "Come HERE!" I heard him command. "Fuck YOU," I heard myself mutter as I continued to move away. This guy was either a real dickhead or he had no comprehension at all of intonation. Regardless, I didn't need a damn massage, at least not from the "hello!" people. They were actually making me more tense. I went in a direction where there seemed to be a little life and for a brief moment I thought I was saved. The doors to what appeared to be a Chinese restaurant were wide open and it was bustling with activity. But one thing you have to keep in mind in this country is that the writing and architecture are the same for food and nonfood places. In this case, what I was looking at was a late night hairdresser. Christ. Massages, haircuts, death by street crossing. It was all so readily available. I knew these people had to eat somewhere other than the fast food joints. The promising road turned into an underpass for a highway so I turned back. Again, it was a real challenge to cross the road dealing with bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses. Some of the pedestrians also looked menacing or at least extremely determined. Shortly afterwards I witnessed the angriest display I had so far seen on this trip as a motor vehicle attempting to turn had ventured a little too far into the bike lane and some of the bicyclists were about ready to tar and feather the guy. He had some words to say too and it looked like things would get interesting for a few moments. But everyone eventually just continued on their way. It's funny how the bicyclists here are all self-righteous about their space yet they pose more of a threat to pedestrians than the motor vehicles since they apparently feel they're exempt from obeying traffic lights and all other regulations. We have similar people back home and I'm always taken by the hypocrisy. Anyway, I kept walking up and down streets looking for just one place that had food and wasn't an American fast food chain. And then I saw it. A ramen place that seemed crowded. Perfect. I started to head over to it. And that's when I was suddenly deluged with up to half a dozen of the "hello!" people,

descending on me like a scene from "28 Days Later" where anyone alive is chased after by the zombies. I considered making a run for the doorway when I saw to my horror that there were more of them there literally reaching out to me with their arms. Oh, God, what a fucking nightmare. I aborted the plan. So now you know. That's how it happened. I went to the KFC because it was the only place left that didn't have a crowd in front of it. Look, at least I didn't go to McDonald's. That has to count for something, right? You know, there are so many places I would have gone into and probably bought stuff were it not for this incessant hounding, chasing, and grabbing that Westerners have to contend with. I have nothing against people making a living. But this is just way too aggressive and it winds up driving people away. Hopefully the rest of the city wouldn't be like this. As I went back to the hotel, there was a different front desk clerk. I was able to ask her what the mysterious pieces of paper were for. She told me they were dinner vouchers, good only for today, in the restaurant on the third floor that had just closed. If you look in the dictionary under shanghai, you'll find something like this: "To put by trickery into an undesirable position." Apparently I wasn't the first.

28 August, 2005 Day 43. OK, I'll say it. Shanghai is insane. Totally screaming insane. This is one of those places where nobody gives a shit about anyone else and it's survival of the fittest on every level. If there is a sound that typifies what Shanghai is, I have a pretty good idea of what it could be. The car horn. The constant neverending car horn. That's what people do here from dawn to way past dusk. They lean on their horns. I know people who think it's bad in New York City. They would go absolutely ballistic here. And it's not just car horns. People are constantly establishing their turf in all different manners. Take the subway for instance. Whenever a train comes in, it's like they've just thrown gold into the cars. Everyone runs like their lives depended on it. And forget about that whole "let 'em off first" thing we say in the States. That theory hasn't made it over here. In Shanghai they push onto the train before anyone has a chance to even think about getting off. Which only makes it that much harder to get on and people often don't ever make it off. Insane. Utterly completely insane. Where does this desperation come from? I wish I knew. But it's both annoying and funny at the same time. As a New Yorker, the aggression doesn't really intimidate me but then the people of Shanghai aren't intimidated either so I question the point of it all. The subway system here is about as easy to figure out as that of Beijing. Not quite as well marked but definitely enough for any English speaker to get by. They have a different type of fare system here based on distance. So you can pay anywhere from 20 to 40 yuan depending on where you're traveling to. I'm still a bit upset that I paid 40 yuan the first time I rode when the correct fare was actually 30. Yes, we're talking about the difference between around 30 and 40 cents. It's the point of the thing. So I wanted to see as much of this place as I could in the time that I had which was certainly enough to

see something. I had heard rumors of a maglev train here and my counterfeit Let's Go book was useless as far as giving any details of this. So I researched it on the net and discovered that there was indeed a maglev train operating right here in Shanghai that went from a suburban subway station to the airport. It didn't take too long to figure out how to get to that station and once there the signs for the train were everywhere. There were also a number of rules for riding the train. "The elders, the weak, the illed, the disabled, the pregnant and those who carry the baby shall enjoy the priority of getting on board first." "The indecent dressed, the drunk, and those who carry serious infectious diseases or mental disease are forbidden to enter the station or get on board." "Awful weather or technical reasons may disturb the normal operation." The usual. I got a round trip ticket which cost me around $10, same as the pathetic Air Train to JFK Airport back home. A train was just gliding in as I got onto the platform and a bunch of people were taking pictures of it. This is not a normal train. It doesn't use tracks as we know them. The train actually hovers about a half inch off the ground using electromagnetic force. It's the stuff of science fiction. It was 4 pm and the train started moving right on time. The acceleration was smooth and very fast. We started to pass cars on highways as if they were standing still. I kept looking at the speedometer that was prominently placed for all passengers to see. It climbed to 200 kilometers an hour. Then 300. Then 400. Finally it topped off at 431 kilometers an hour. That's 267 miles per hour! As opposed to Air Train's 55. And both systems were built for the same amount of money. When are we going to get our heads out of our asses and actually start investing in our infrastructure? These people have 20 cent subway rides, trains that go nearly 300 miles an hour, and constant improvements while we can't even fix our roads or build a decent train network. We do manage to start wars all around the world which I guess is the alternative use for all that money. But seriously, we had better start fixing and improving things in a big way. It's not just the Chinese who are kicking our asses in this department. All of western Europe is way ahead of us as well. And I don't even want to think of what I'm going to be seeing in Japan. So I wandered around the airport for a little while thinking that I could actually hop on a plane and be home within a day. That seemed a bit comforting somehow. But this was no time to back out. There was still much to do and see. I headed back to the train and flew back to Longyang Station. (I do hope taking this hovering train doesn't actually qualify as "flying" or I will have broken my no flying rule for this trip.) The whole 60 kilometer expedition took under a half hour. I crammed back into the subway and headed for Nanjing Lu, a huge pedestrian walkway that starts right by People's Park. It was filled with all sorts of huge stores, Western franchises, a McDonald's on every damn block it seemed, and hordes of people, many of them tourists. On the subject of McDonald's, here at least they seemed to be doing most of their business selling ice cream. Imagine that. Naturally I started getting "hello!" solicitations the moment I emerged from the subway. It's really so damn annoying since you literally can't take a breath without someone else running after you. If you ever want to make a lot of money here in Shanghai, print up some t-shirts that say "I Don't Want a Fucking Watch." You'll make a fortune from Western tourists, guaranteed. I walked all the way to the river and spent some time admiring the view. Here the "hello!" people were trying to sell cruises up and down the river. Those who weren't running after people had those super

annoying megaphones bleating out whatever sales pitch they felt was right for this particular crowd. The view was nice anyway. I only wish I were deaf. Later I discovered that my CDMA phone actually works in China! That surprised the hell out of me. Sure enough, on Verizon Wireless' website, they go into detail on this. It's insanely expensive however so I won't be using it. But I'm impressed that all four phones I'm carrying work from here. I know it won't be nearly so easy in Japan.

29 August, 2005 Day 44. CCTV9 has really been shoveling with both hands today. I suppose they've probably been doing it for a while but I only just noticed it today because I had the TV on in the background. They're going on about the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two or, as they call it, The War of Resistance Against the Japanese Aggression. Fair enough. But they're really going overboard with "confessions" from Japanese soldiers who admit to all kinds of atrocities during the war. I guess it's better than what the government here was doing a couple of months ago when they made it seem like Japan wasn't taking responsibility for its actions which wound up getting people here predictably outraged. Only problem was it wasn't true - Japan has apologized numerous times for its actions. And while I'm sure there were many atrocities committed, this whole confession of the day thing they've got going reminds me of scenes from "1984." And what about atrocities committed by China? Not just in the war but throughout its history? What about the crimes against humanity that the beloved Mao Zedong was personally responsible for? I don't suppose CCTV is going to be devoting any time at all to that, nor to the people the current regime is torturing and oppressing. The thing is, such a discussion along with honest dialogue probably wouldn't be enough to wreck the existing government, not with the existing economic boom. I don't believe it's at all fragile. Self reflection and honesty would not only bolster confidence here but it would greatly enhance China's reputation and influence abroad. I hope the rest of the world continues to remind them of this and that the people here hold their leaders, past and present, accountable for their actions. Only then can the real forward momentum begin. Today was hot and muggy and not exactly conducive to activity. It was a lot more conducive to doing work inside an air conditioned hotel room with propaganda pouring out of the TV set at an impressive rate. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to leave at some point in the afternoon and do some more exploring. Today was, after all, my last day in Shanghai. Tomorrow I would be leaving the city and the country via the boat to Japan. I had heard talk of a unique form of dumpling that existed in Shanghai so I found the name and location of a place that allegedly specialized in them and headed out on the subway. I snagged a couple of extra subway cards for future analysis back home. They have one of those systems here where there's an invisible magnetic strip on the card so I bought two extra ones of different values and left one completely unused while entering the system on the second without ever exiting (I entered the system for real on a third card which got swallowed when I exited). I've been getting pretty good at avoiding the "hello!" people. I've learned how to see them coming out of the side of my eye and I move 90 degrees away from them or sometimes even backtrack which thoroughly confuses them to the point where they just give up. I've developed a skill in New York of being able to zigzag through crowds at a fairly quick rate, something nobody here seems able to do, so I've been using that ability to my advantage. I think I'm actually starting to have fun with this.

Anyway, I found the place and went inside. It looked like the real thing. No tourists that I could see. So after sitting for a while and realizing that absolutely nothing was happening despite trying to get the attention of various staff people, I began to wonder if I was being "profiled" again. No, don't get paranoid, I told myself. There was probably just some sort of ritual I wasn't observing. So I watched what other people who were coming in were doing. Sure enough, they were stopping at the counter first. OK, so you had to place your order there and then presumably they would bring you the food wherever you chose to sit. I could do that. So I went up to the counter and said "English?" meaning was there an English menu. The counter person reached down and threw a menu at me. She really did throw it. OK, not a problem. I caught it and saw all kinds of things listed including the aforementioned dumplings. So I pointed to those as well as some "longevity noodles" which came in soup form. She showed me the total on the cash register and I paid. Then she tossed the change at me. I'm not kidding. But it didn't bother me. Maybe she did this with everyone. So now that I had performed the designated task, the doors opened up for me. The people who hadn't acknowledged me before now came up to me when they saw I held the magic paper receipt. They took it and sprung into action behind closed doors. When they emerged, they gave me the soup with chopsticks and no spoon and the dumplings with a little dish for sauce which never came. I had a very nice teapot which also was never filled with tea. I couldn't help but notice that nobody else was suffering such shortages. OK, whatever. So these people had some sort of bug up their asses. At least I got to have the dumplings. But I have to say, living in New York you get kind of spoiled. I had already had these dumplings at a place on Mott Street. And *they* brought the sauce and tea. After enjoying that experience as much as humanly possible, I decided to head over to the big tower I had seen yesterday, which turned out to be the Oriental Pearl Tower, built only in 1994. In fact, the entire pedestrian mall that was the centerpiece of the town's tourist industry had also only been built in the 1990s. This city has been growing incredibly fast. If it were a virus, it would be deadly. Maybe that would be a good slogan for the Chamber of Commerce. So I took the subway past the river and got out right where the tower stood. And it was pretty damn immense. For 100 yuan I could visit all of the various levels of the thing. That actually was pretty pricey but I have a thing about always visiting the TV towers of cities that erect them as tourist traps. I had seen Toronto's earlier this year and that was a much bigger ripoff, despite the fact that it was a slightly bigger tower. There were four different levels for tourists to look out over the city and I stopped at them all. There was also one of those revolving restaurants which I had absolutely no interest in. It was also rather hazy so it wasn't exactly the best of views. But I was there at dusk so it was pretty cool seeing the city transform into a lit up skyline. And it really is a fairly big skyline, although it does seem a bit disjointed. Buildings just kind of spring up in random places whereas in New York it seems like there's a certain rhythm at play as to where the buildings actually are. Of course, this could just be an illusion caused by my familiarity with them. I noticed there was a brand new looking mall near the tower so I figured I'd have a look. It was like a palace. No expense appeared to have been spared in its construction. And it seemed to just go on forever. I had never seen a mall so spacious and yet so full of merchandise. I went up several levels and, like the mall in Beijing, there was a food court that took up an entire floor. But this one dwarfed the other one in size. And the food court also went on forever. Yeah, they had a McDonald's and a KFC in the mix but they also had some pretty fancy looking places with waiters pouring wine and people waiting to get in.

I was about to head out when I noticed that there was more stuff below ground level. So I went down the escalator and discovered an immense grocery story, as big as any I had ever seen in the States. And of course it was utter mayhem inside. I guess everyone in the world except the States has those grocery carts where all four wheels can turn. That just adds so much craziness to the experience. They had all kinds of bizarre meat and more cooking oil than I had ever seen in one place. They seemed to have all of the major American brands and products as well as a whole lot of things that I didn't recognize at all, either by name or by what the hell it was. Pretty fascinating stuff. There was another level with household type items. It was huge so I thought I would try to find dental floss here which I had been looking for since Russia. Dental floss is good stuff and everyone should use it. Listen to your dentist. And tell people in Russia, Mongolia, and China that they should really stock the stuff. I looked around for a bit when I discovered in a narrow section just what I was looking for. It was a miracle! A total of three in the whole place. Great. So I grabbed one but it seemed to be stuck. I pulled and realized that it was caught in some sort of a rubber band. I was about to pull really hard to liberate it when a store clerk came running. OK, what had I done this time? Right, I'm not supposed to just take the item. They have to give me a sticker which I then must bring to a cashier who then gives me a receipt which I then take back along with the sticker to someone standing near the item who will then give it to me and let me leave. Trust me, you don't know what you're missing back home not having a system like this. Pray that you never do. Despite the madness inherent in the system, there is something alluring about Shanghai. And something very, very human. It wasn't nearly as friendly as Beijing and English speakers were much harder to find, something I don't fault them for at all. I hope the city continues with its great ambitions and that maybe it calms down just a little. It definitely will be an interesting place to keep an eye on over the next ten years.

30 August, 2005 Day 45. I really hate having to get up early. Anyone who knows me can attest to this. A regular day for me usually ends at around the time most normals are waking up. But for some reason that all changes when I'm on the road. Perhaps it's just the fact that I'm being forced into a particular lifestyle and I just happen to be able to adapt more easily than I thought I could. But in general I seem to have an easier time falling asleep early and waking up at those unthinkable hours. I guess if I spent the daylight hours at home walking around for a long time, I'd probably be able to manage this back there too. Regardless, I woke myself up right before 7 am when I had a backup call scheduled. Since this would be my last time on the net before Osaka, I made sure I was up to date on everything. I had also been careful to charge up my satellite phone for Thursday morning's "Off The Hook." As luck would have it, I would be one hour away from docking when the show aired. Not that being on land would have helped all that much unless I had a land line. Neither GSM nor CDMA are reported to work in Japan. I've heard reports that they've moved beyond normal mobile service and are now using low power telepathy. So I'll need to use the satellite phone again and without being able to contact anyone before the show for updates, etc. This oughta be a classic. But all that's in the future. It was now time to pack up and leave China. The hotel people took their

sweet ass time getting me checked out. The guy the travel agency sent was getting impatient as the wait approached 20 minutes. It wasn't my fault, really. I had no idea what was taking them so long. Maybe they had to do a thorough inventory to make sure I hadn't swiped one of those miniature bottles of alcohol from the minibar. After they finally did what they had to do, they gave me back my 200 yuan they had taken as a deposit and we were on our way. I asked the driver if he spoke English to which he said yes so I apologized for the long wait. We loaded my stuff and then we were off. Into the rush hour traffic of Tuesday morning Shanghai. This guy wasn't very talkative at all. In fact he didn't say a word. Lovely. They must have written a note back at the travel agency to make sure to give Emmanuel the sullen guy who doesn't speak at all right at the point of the trip where he's by himself and could use a little conversation, not to mention guidance on what to do next. Oh, and if it would be possible to make it pour rain on his arrival and arrange for various locals to be completely unhelpful, that would be a plus too. The travel agency had been so good right up to the point where Hanneke and Sasja split away. Then it was like they just stopped caring. Or maybe it's just the Shanghai way. Whatever it was, the sooner I got to the ferry terminal the better. After all, this boat runs only once a week. Miss this and I'm really screwed. The driver only honked his horn 28 times in the course of the drive. I'm not trying to be facetious here; that's actually quite laid back. I've seen people exceed that at a single intersection. And none of his honks was sustained. I witnessed a bus driver leaning on his horn for more than 90 seconds the other day. In New York, by the time 90 seconds had elapsed, a makeshift posse would have been formed and rope would have already been obtained. So 28 little honks in the course of the half hour ride really wasn't bad. That's about one a minute. And traffic was really pretty awful too. It sure wasn't my idea to time this boat right in the middle of the morning rush. Which was also right about when it would be arriving in Osaka in two days time. So we pulled into a parking lot of some sort and the driver got into some kind of argument with one of the attendants. Next thing I knew he was yammering away at me in Chinese telling me to do something. Brilliant. This guy didn't speak English at all! I sensed the travel agency laughing wherever their main headquarters were based. So what the hell was I expected to do exactly? Well, the only thing I really *could* do was get out. That must be what he was telling me to do. But I didn't see any ferry terminal. What if I exited and found myself completely stranded? Wouldn't that make for an interesting story? Well, I couldn't resist the possibility of an interesting story so I got out. The guy made an upside down V with his hands and pointed. He must mean that the building in the distance with the sloped roof was my destination. OK, but why the fuck was I expected to walk all the way over there through some sort of industrial part of town? What's the point of a shuttle if it doesn't shuttle you to your destination? It's not like he even would have had to take a different route - the pavement led all the way to the building! It's times like these I wish the Chinese believed in tipping so I could have stiffed the guy. I walked all the way to the terminal and joined the growing mob. It was easy enough to figure out. Wait in the waiting room. Go to the counter and pay 22 yuan for an exit tax, whatever that was. And when some uniformed guy in Chinese yelled all these instructions to the crowd and made a motion for people to move, I was one of about five who did which got me to the very front of the crowd. I'm not exactly sure why so few people moved. After going through customs and getting my passport stamped, it was onto a bus that drove a few meters to the boat. I was led to my cabin which had four beds, train style. Wouldn't it be great if I had the whole place to myself? Not only was *that* not to be but two of my cabin mates turned out to be toddlers. Loud toddlers. OK. Fine. Being able to tolerate the intolerable makes one strong. At least it

fucking better. The boat itself is rather small with a few communal spaces and not a whole lot of deck space. They have a special section for "Japanese style rooms" which instead of beds have a series of mats on the floor. It reminded me of the scene in "Babylon 5" where we see the alien sector of the station for the first time with different atmospheres, gravity, etc. Not quite as extreme here but still rather alien. I noticed that the Japanese wall outlets can actually accommodate American style plugs without a converter. I'm going to assume that won't be an issue if my chargers are already rated for 220. The converters I've been using are just converting the plug after all, not the power. I really hope I don't fry my computer. Watching China disappear into the haze brings mixed emotions. I'm sure glad to be moving on and getting another step closer to home. But I do wish I could have seen more of this country and of the cities I had been in. Seeing what this place has become and how they got there also fills me with mixed emotions. A communist state doesn't have to be drab and dreary. In some ways they can show the rest of the world how to get things accomplished. I wondered how places like Cuba and Nicaragua might have fared if we had only given them a chance. The only reason we didn't mess with China is because we're afraid of them. And ironically, it was for this reason that we chose to overlook their human rights abuses and help propel them into economic prosperity. So in the end, it's never really about human rights. It's about money and how big a stick the other guy has. Success built on a foundation of global hypocrisy. Oh what a wonderful world. I had thought the toddlers in my cabin were the exception. Not quite. It turns out they're the rule. I learned this while walking around looking for decks and passageways that didn't exist. They were chasing each other and making a general commotion. I kept trying to find an escape but there wasn't one. This boat was incredibly small. I could swear there were more places to hang out on the Port Jefferson Ferry. This was going to be tough. As the day came to a close it seemed as if somehow the toddlers were multiplying. The place was absolutely full of them. And they were making just as much noise as they damn well pleased. Nobody, not parents, not staff, not me, stepped in to curb their fun. It was simply a wild free for all as kids ran around playing games, chasing each other, and emitting a constant screaming sound. I remember seeing something like this on Scandinavian ferries as well as in a church in Iqaluit. The philosophy in these places seems to be to let kids be kids. Well, it's been driving me absolutely insane but it does seem to work for the kids. I haven't seen anybody get hurt or admonished. And, come to think of it, I haven't seen a single kid crying. Think about that. A boat full of toddlers and nobody has started bawling yet? Something's definitely wrong with this scenario. The boat staff seems quite used to this sort of thing. I don't know if transporting kids from China to Japan is big business but they don't seem at all uncomfortable or anxious about this occupation. In fact, it's very hard to tell which kids belong to which people since all of the adults seem equally committed to taking care of them. Hopefully I can get a lot of work done during this 48 hour period since there really isn't much of anything else I can do. And hopefully my headphones will drown out the noise.

31 August, 2005 Day 46. Oh my God, I cannot begin to describe how tortuous this trip has been. I was awoken at about 6:30 by a pack of screaming toddlers in my room who would not shut up. This is like some kind of horror film. They're everywhere! The only part of this boat I can go to which isn't infested with them is on the top deck which is very small, windy, and unpleasant. But at least I can't hear the constant screaming and running around. I don't think this kind of thing would go over well at all in America. I suppose my reaction is proof of that. The people here have a completely different way of dealing with children. It's great for the kids. The adults, on the other hand, must learn to adapt. I wouldn't mind so much if there were more places of refuge. I can't go in my room because they're always in there. (How I wish I had been given the option of booking a single room.) Forget about the two very small lounges. That's where most of the chasing and screaming goes on. And the only other place to go is the reading room which is supposed to be for reading but which always has the TV on with more kids running around in there. It took me quite a while to fall asleep last night because of the heavy pitching of the boat. I heard today that a number of people were sick. I'm glad I didn't know that last night or I would have felt obligated to join them. Hopefully I can get it out of my head tonight but it shouldn't be as bad since we'll actually be in Japanese waters by that point. I guess a situation like this can really build up your tolerance for unpleasant circumstances. I learned a lot about resolving conflicts by living in a group house for ten years. I'm not sure what I can get out of being stuck on a boat with screaming monsters for 48 hours but hopefully a bit more than rising blood pressure. I'm struck by the fact that no parent has publicly expressed any anger towards any of the children and I still haven't seen a single kid crying, not even for an instant. So maybe there's something to all of this. If only they weren't in my goddamn room. Through intense concentration and decent headphones, I've been able to get a lot of work done at least. Lord knows there wasn't anything else I could do. They're showing really lousy movies on the boat channel and everything else is either horrible reception or unintelligible to me because of the language. I did see video of what looked like real devastation in the States as a result of Hurricane Katrina. I guess I'll find out just how bad it was when I get to Osaka. I'm real glad it didn't hit New York. I would so hate to miss a good storm. During the first part of the day we were still in open water. Nonetheless there were plenty of boats and even pieces of trash that hadn't come from us. As the day wore on we saw mountains on some Japanese islands. And as the sun was setting we actually started to pass a Japanese city. We're in Japan but we won't dock in Osaka until tomorrow morning, right after the "Off The Hook" broadcast. At least I know I'll be awoken by all the screaming. Hopefully the satellite reception will hold out. I've already tested both my GSM and CDMA phones with no luck. I wasn't really expecting any.

1 September, 2005 Day 47. No screaming this morning surprisingly. I even got myself up early before my cell phone alarm went off at 7:15 am. That's a feature I never used before and I was surprised when it finally did go off at how lame it was. All it did was beep once and vibrate. What the hell kind of alarm is that? Good

thing I don't believe in them. I had just enough time to make it down to the ferry restaurant where they were giving away free breakfast starting at 7:30. (Actually I've considered all of the food here to be free since I've been paying in Chinese currency which I'm told is worthless outside China.) Then it was up to the outside deck for the 8 am call in to "Off The Hook." Surprisingly, we didn't get cut off once on the satellite phone during the entire hour. Overall, the show seemed to go very smoothly from my perspective and considering all the challenges. Kudos to those back in New York, particularly Redhackt who's been doing a great job engineering all these weeks. It's kind of surprising to realize how much time there still is to go. We docked in Osaka in the final minutes of the show (how's *that* for timing?) but I'll still be in Japan for next week's program and then the following two will both be coming from the Pacific Ocean. And then there's the whole United States to cross on Amtrak! This is one big planet. So we all piled off the ferry shortly after 9 am. And again I somehow managed to get ahead of everyone by simply leaving when the guy announced something unintelligible to me but which seemed to keep all the others from trying to get off. Everyone else except other people who didn't understand what he was saying, I noticed. So either someone really knew what the announcement meant and we all rightfully followed that person or we committed some grievous offense and cut ahead of everybody on the boat. Whichever it was, it felt good to get off the damn thing at last. Although I already sort of miss the screaming kids. I have to say they were the cutest group of toddlers I think I've ever seen. And yes, throughout the entire 48 hour voyage, I didn't see a single one of them crying. So maybe it's worth costing the adults a little bit of sanity if it keeps the kids that happy. Almost everyone coming in got at least one of their bags searched by the Japanese authorities. So at least I didn't feel out of place this time. They were also leading a yellow lab and a black lab around separately and they would both occasionally sniff people. What a profession. After going through customs, everyone just sort of stood around inside some sort of a terminal that didn't seem to be connected to anything else. Finally I noticed some people (mostly Westerners) were leaving so I followed them to what looked like a bus stop. Then they all moved away from there and started heading down the street. Well, I didn't know what the hell they were up to so I stayed behind looking perplexed. After a moment, this Japanese guy came up to me and explained that people were walking to the train station because the bus wouldn't be coming for a long time. OK, that made sense. So I joined the trek which lasted about 20 minutes. This guy was nice enough to even carry one of my bags for me. His name was "Massa" or something like that and he and his wife were just returning from a year's worth of traveling around the world. Wow. And here I am just starting to talk to these people as we're all preparing to go our separate ways. Nice job, Emmanuel. The whole ferry ride over and all you've done is try to block out toddlers and do work. Meanwhile you could have been sharing all kinds of stories and experiences. Well, I'm sorry. I'm never good at breaking the ice with strangers and I really did have a lot of work to do. It wasn't exactly the most relaxing of settings. But anyway, it was really cool to meet them as they returned to their home city. I also talked to a couple of Swedish guys who had also taken the Trans Siberian. I mentioned to one of them how they seemed to have no Swedish accent at all when they spoke English. Get this - since they get so much American TV, that's how their speech patterns develop. Other countries dub programs but Scandinavia is well know for subtitling so the opportunity exists to hear lots of words from a different language. Cool. Imagine if we did that back home. Something else which seemed pretty bizarre to me was the military situation in Sweden. As this guy explained it, you had a choice when you got out of high school. You could either join the military or not. And if you decided not to, you had a year or so off before you start university. So what happens

is that many Swedes opt to travel like these two had. That's some penalty for not joining the military! Well, at least I crammed a few good conversations into the walk and subway ride before we all split up. Maybe next time I'll be more social on the actual trip. I have to say that were it not for this interaction, I don't see how I ever would have figured out how to get out of that terminal and which stop to get off at to arrive at my hotel. They're not very big on explanations here. So I got to the hotel and had to wait in the lobby for my room to be ready as it still wasn't even 11 in the morning yet. While there, I picked up a copy of the first English language newspaper I had seen in a while: The Japan Times. And that was when the full gravity of what happened in New Orleans hit me for the first time. When I actually got into my room, I was thrilled to see that BBC World was available on the television (in fact it was the only English language station). I heard the grim assessment that thousands may have been killed. Thousands! One stroke of nature and the death toll is higher than 9/11? It didn't seem possible. That kind of thing only happens in third world countries, right? Well, actually I always knew that wasn't true. But we had been pretty damn lucky over the years. And now a lot was becoming painfully clear. Like how ill-prepared the authorities were for this sort of a thing. Think about it. They *knew* it was coming. This wasn't an earthquake or a terrorist attack. Hell, I was in China and I knew people should be getting the hell out of there. So what possible excuse is there for this kind of a thing? Well there are always the idiots who insist on staying despite the forecast. But apart from that, the fact is that a lot of people had no means to actually leave. When people are told to evacuate, how exactly do they do this if they don't have a car? Or if they're already in a weakened state? And where are they expected to go? These are all issues that I think everyone assumed would be taken care of and the horrible reality is that they weren't. These people died because they weren't taken care of. And that's a real crime. I saw reports of the barbaric way people were treated at the Superdome where many of them had been told to go. I saw them huddled in stadium seats for what, days? No air flow, no plumbing, no food? What the fuck kind of country have we turned into where we can't provide for our people in a situation like this? I would expect this kind of thing in a country with no infrastructure at all, a country where basic human needs are a luxury. Is this where the constant budget cutting has gotten us? We seem quite well equipped to pump endless amounts of money and staff into ridiculous military campaigns. But when people here need help, they literally get left behind. There's just no excuse. None of this had to happen. After seeing and reading about this, what I'm doing really seems trivial and meaningless. I'll just finish today's entry by saying I explored Osaka a little bit this evening and will do much more tomorrow. I only hope I can sleep tonight with the images back home seared into my head.

2 September, 2005 Day 48. There are a number of things about Osaka which almost immediately strike you. One would be the bicyclists which, unlike in China, ride directly on the sidewalk along with the pedestrians constantly trying to stay out of their way. Sometimes there are bike lanes marked. Most of the time there aren't any at all. They don't seem nearly as intimidating as the Chinese cyclists, just a whole lot more in the way.

Car traffic is about as different as you can imagine. I haven't been in a place where the cars actually yielded to the pedestrians in quite a while. But that's exactly what they do here. And not only the cars. Everybody. I've seen people holding doors, moving out of other pedestrians' way, waiting for riders to get off the subway before getting on themselves, the list goes on and on. And I don't think I've ever seen a society so obsessed with politeness. But that, along with the expense, is what everyone told me to expect from Japan. They were right on target. Going to Japan right after China is like being in two totally different worlds. It's really night and day. In so many instances, Japan parallels Britain - both islands off the continent, both oddly eccentric in a number of ways, both really unlike anything else on the planet, and both hugely expensive. There are all kinds of machines and devices everywhere that you're just not expecting to run into. Like the beverage machines which seem to be on every block. The incomprehensible subway and train ticket machines. And did I mention the toilets? Oh my God. I suppose they're intelligent or something, I don't know. I haven't had the guts to really experiment with them. The first thing I discovered was that when you sit down on them, water starts flowing for some reason which can really scare the shit out of you. (I honestly didn't realize what an apropos statement *that* was until I had halfway typed it.) There are all sorts of dials and settings for various other functions you may wish to perform while visiting. Then there's some kind of a device under the TV set in my micro hotel room that's the size of a VCR or DVD player but whose only input seems to be for a card of some sort as well as some RCA inputs. Since my hotel gives out keys and not cards, this device remains a mystery. Then there are the people. As mentioned above, they are so different from anything I have seen up to this point. I mean I knew about the bowing and all. I guess I just didn't expect there to be so much of it. You walk into a place and from the reaction you get you figure the person in charge just dropped something on the floor. Then you realize it's a rather solemn greeting and you scramble to return it. At the end of TV news broadcasts, the two anchors put their heads down in unison in the direction of the viewer. I even returned that gesture since I'm still not sure what the mystery device under the television might be doing. But in general, people here give you space, unless you're in a hotel room where it feels a lot more like a boat cabin. And on that subject, I've had one hell of a strange reaction ever since getting on land. Apparently it's something called "landsickness" which I had only been dimly aware of before. Basically, I still feel like I'm on that damn ferry rocking to and fro. No kidding. Whether I'm walking down the street or sitting in a chair or even lying down, I feel the swaying motion. It's especially weird when you're walking though since you actually think the ground is moving and it becomes difficult to maintain your balance. I'm told this can last a couple of days after a boat ride. Severe cases can last for years. Oh, thrillsville. Not exactly what I signed up for. Let's keep our fingers crossed, shall we? It's interesting that I didn't have this reaction after six days on the Queen Mary 2 but the reason is pretty obvious to me. That boat was a hell of a lot more stable. The ferry was bouncing up and down a great deal, particularly on the first day. And the ferry ride was my second longest boat ride ever, soon to be my third. That's what has me a little worried. The upcoming ten day freighter ride across the Pacific could really screw me up if it's as choppy as this thing was. It's ironic that here I am in Japan and it's the first country where none of my cell phones work at all. I had service in Mongolia and Siberia but not a thing here. The reason for that is because Japan uses 3G cell phone technology (3G meaning third generation) which is not something any of my phones is

capable of. Mind you, there are dual GSM/3G phones out there but not in my pocket. 3G's big thing is transmission of video and real time video conversations. But that apparently doesn't even account for most of the bandwidth. Music downloads hold that distinction. So the only way for me to stay in touch via the phone is to either buy yet another cell phone, get a prepaid card and use payphones, or have VOIP calls routed to my hotel room. The latter is the best solution for now. There's a certain air of sophistication to being mostly out of touch in the most connected country on earth. Did you know there are trains everywhere in this place? You can be walking down a street and some sort of a train will just zip past in a place where you didn't even realize there was a track. These trains are pretty silent too and they seem to go just about everywhere. But, yet again, my complaint is that the damned things don't run at night! What is the point? This is such a 24 hour town and yet after midnight you simply can't get around by mass transit. Is New York really the only city that believes in around the clock subways? Speaking of around the clock things, there are convenience stores all over the place here. They have 7-11 and AM/PM plus a whole lot of others. From my hotel I could hit three separate ones with a stone if I so chose. But not one of them had the one thing I was looking for: pretzels. I guess once again what I want is the one thing that's just not available. Right away upon arriving it was pretty clear how expensive this place was going to be. A meal that cost $4 in China could now be expected to cost $40. That's one of the reasons I went to MOS Burger for lunch. They're right across the street and they're comparatively cheap. But, get this - they're pretty damn good for a fast food chain. They have this thing called a rice burger where the bun is made out of rice. After eating there I actually felt like I had eaten real food, i.e., none of that usual bad feeling you get after ingesting McDonald's or the like. I hereby appoint myself as leader of the Bring MOS Burger to the States campaign. (According to their website, MOS is an acronym for Mountain, Ocean, and Sun.) This is a rather difficult town to get around if you're on foot. I have yet to find a map that really makes it understandable. I know I have no sense of direction to begin with but you would think with the map I got from the hotel coupled with the occasional maps you find on street signs that it wouldn't be so incomprehensible. But, as I quickly discovered, these maps are often in disagreement and, in at least one case, the "you are here" icon wasn't where I was at all which led to all sorts of confusion. On the map I'm carrying, there are several maps of different parts of town as well as a subway map. Half of these are oriented in a completely different direction which really makes it harder than it has to be. Using the subway makes it all much easier and I feel much more in my element there. And today was particularly cool because it was Friday. Every Friday (and on the 20th of every month) they sell a special day pass for only 600 yen (it's normally 850) called the No-My-Car-Day Discount Pass (no joke). So with that I was able to hop on and off trains all day and explore some of the city. I ventured into a community that seemed to sell nothing but electronic devices. Phones, DVDs, computers, music, and of course anime and comic books. It just went on forever. And I quickly noticed what was missing here. No "hello!" people. In fact I was getting the exact opposite here. The people who were handing out coupons seemed to make a conscious effort not to give me one, a wise decision being that they were probably written completely in Japanese. But up until the time of this writing, I have not been approached by a single person wanting to sell me something. Not once. I don't know if it's worth the fantastic jump in prices but it does make life a bit more pleasant and gets me to want to walk around more.

There are some homeless people here but even they don't seem to be asking for anything. On a few different occasions - and this is rather strange - I passed by what appeared to be a homeless guy who was surrounded by cats. In each case between six and eight that I could see. They were all just either hanging out, sleeping on the sidewalk, or sitting in the person's lap. I've never known cats to travel around like this but it seems to be the norm here. People in Osaka tend to dress rather fashionably. And I don't think I've ever seen so many people in one place with dyed hair. I've seen more blond and red-headed Japanese people than I ever knew existed. It's just one of the many strange sights that actually makes you forget that they also drive on the other side of the road. Late at night I wandered around a district known as Dotonbori which seemed to have a pretty decent nightlife. There were clubs, what appeared to be a sex district, lots of restaurants, and plenty of people just milling around on the street and by the canals. I didn't want to get completely drained of cash by buying food so I looked for places that took credit cards which I would estimate to be about one in ten. I finally found a decent looking one and, after a wait, got seated. The people there spoke not one word of English and my Japanese pretty much ended after the bowing. It was fantastic. Somehow I managed to communicate what I wanted which turned out to be some of the dishes that Osaka was known for: octopus, okonomiyaki (kind of a pancake/omelette/pizza thing), and yakisoba (a dish known for its light as air noodles that move as if alive when they bring it to you). They set it all down on a little stove attached to the table and it was my responsibility to see that it got cooked properly. I think it was as authentic Osakan as I could have hoped for. (Incidentally, for those of you in New York who would like to try yakisoba, go to a place called Yoko Cho on 9th Street and 3rd Avenue. It's right above Around The Clock where we hang out after the monthly 2600 meetings. In fact, it's owned by the same people. And you can get some decent octopus rolls further up 9th Street towards 2nd Avenue.) It was too late to get a subway back and I didn't feel like taking a taxi not knowing what it could wind up costing. But mostly I just wanted to walk even though it was really hot and humid despite being after midnight. It took me about two hours to get back, mostly because of the conflicting maps that I encountered but it was still a fun experience. It was an impressive sight seeing all of the cabs lined up waiting for passengers on almost the entire route back. They weren't cruising for passengers but rather just waiting for them, just like the limousines wait for people getting out of work on Wall Street. Tomorrow I intend to get my bullet train ticket to Tokyo for Sunday and record the next edition of "Off The Wall." Throughout today I've been occasionally getting updates on the horrors back home. I realized that it was a year ago that I was released from the clutches of the NYPD after being grabbed off the street during the Republican Convention. It's nothing compared to what the people of New Orleans are going through but that experience helps me to understand the utter frustration of not knowing what's going to happen to you and of being lied to by whoever is in charge, if in fact anyone is. I do hope there are some serious ramifications in store for the people who let this tragedy become so much worse than it ever should have been.

3 September, 2005 Day 49. I think I have it all figured out. Yeah, Japan is expensive as hell. But it really doesn't have to be. You just need to be a little bit creative. And learn from the many mistakes you'll make. Like when I first arrived in this microscopic hotel room that didn't do much at all to help me feel like I

was off a boat. (The landsickness seems to be abating thankfully.) I succumbed to thirst and decided to actually pay the exorbitant cost of a bottle of water from the minibar, just to avoid having to do any work at all. I mean the equivalent of four dollars for a bottle is highway robbery. But, like I said, I succumbed. I pulled the bottle cap (which was all you could see in this refrigerator that had no room for anything of your own) and almost as soon as I started to pull the bottle out, the bottle simply ended. The smallest bottle I think I've ever seen! Maybe enough for one or two gulps. It was really quite hilarious. So at that point I knew I was in the land of the absurd and I had better start realizing it. I haven't been ripped off since. Today I didn't spend more than $10 total on food. Mostly this was because I was frightfully busy working on the issue and radio shows but it proved to me that it's definitely possible to survive here without spending a great deal of money. I'm shelling out about $50 a night for this room which is pretty damn good for a city like Osaka. It's tiny, sure, but there's a whole city out there to stretch my legs in so it's not that big a deal. The point is, you shouldn't be put off by stories of how expensive everything is. This is a great place and people should do what they can to see it. I wish I had had more opportunity to investigate it further. Actually, Osaka was originally just a stopping point on the way to Tokyo; I don't think I was even planning on spending a night here. But I'm glad I was able to see what little of it I did. If nothing else, it will take some of the culture shock out of being in Tokyo. Like I said, I spent much of the day holed up doing work (we do have a new issue coming out after all) and early in the evening I recorded next week's edition of "Off The Wall." And throughout it all I kept switching on BBC World to see the latest from home. Finally some supplies have reached New Orleans. But so much of the damage has already been done. The whole thing is still so unbelievable. Who wants to guess what the title of the movie will be? Escape From New Orleans? Katrina: Harbinger of Death? The Forgotten Ones? Trent Lott's House: The Rebuilding Begins? I'm sure we can come up with quite a list. I just hope every penny made from the future blockbusters and TV movies goes towards the victims and rebuilding the city. The shock on the faces of the commentators on both BBC and NHK was very evident. How the infrastructure was neglected, the people not evacuated, the supplies not moved in, and control not established seemed to stun the entire world. I'm not sure how it's playing out back home but I really hope people are outraged. Some friends I talk to in the States make a point of not watching or reading the news and I think my patience has about run out with them. This is shit that affects everybody and you had damn well better be paying attention or it's just going to keep getting worse. Neglect festers and a single voice can start a chant. I'm sick of people giving up and accepting things they shouldn't. If there was ever a wakeup call, I can't imagine a louder one than this. What also floors me is how Bush seems to continue not to get it. I see him making jokes and congratulating people like it's some kind of statue dedication. And in the papers I get I read how he didn't realize the magnitude of the situation right away. How in God's name does the person leading our country not see the magnitude that anyone with a TV set or access to the Internet can perceive in a manner of moments? I really don't mean to be spending my time focused on this. It's just that I'm not used to seeing a city destroyed and people needlessly dying by the thousands so close to home. And probably the worst thing anyone could do is not react in some way. But more important than talk is of course reaching out and helping. I hear conflicting things from people who are there: donate money; don't donate money, send supplies instead; donate housing; come down and help out; stay away; etc. I don't really know

what the best thing to do at this point is and that in itself angers me. I do know that donating anything through Pat Robertson, as FEMA is now suggesting, is an extremely bad idea. And if I had to guess, I would say that having people there to help is more important than anything since the rescue workers can only be stretched so thinly. I only hope there's some sort of organization now in place that can direct such people. Imagine the difference that could have made at the outset. I was determined to head back down to the lively part of town for at least part of the evening, it being my last night in Osaka after all. I really wanted to try the octopus dumplings that were being sold out of a cart that attracted a huge line of people. Six for 300 yen - that's under $3 for something incredibly satisfying. That is, if you don't mind eating octopus. I do suggest trying it though. You may become hooked. I almost went back for another six but was able to contain myself. I wandered through a huge CD/DVD shop (always dangerous for me since I tend to buy all sorts of strange stuff) but again managed to suppress the urges to spend. It was kind of a challenge now to get by without draining my funds, as everyone predicted would happen in Japan. Besides, this is good training for Tokyo. I was struck with the fun everyone seemed to be having in the heat and humidity, occasionally broken by wafts of freezing air from a store with mega air conditioning. Inside an enclosed shopping area, a rock and roll band was playing to a crowd of teenaged girls who were jumping up and down Beatlesstyle. I couldn't tell if it was something officially sanctioned or just set up on the spot. But either way it was cool. This leads me to give some advice to those of you with a decent band who can't seem to get any attention. Come to Asia. Take a few months and just play at all sorts of small venues, whether they be in Osaka, Beijing, or Siberia. You will develop such a fanatical following for the simple reason that not many people from overseas bother to do this. You will be amazed at the loyalty you get. Of course you do have to be good. And there's no guarantee this devoted fan base will spill over back home or that you'll make money, if that's what's important to you. But at least you'll feel like a rock star. Tomorrow I'll head down to the Shin-Osaka station and figure out how to get on the bullet train. I read that it's pretty simple and that trains leave every 15 minutes so I'm not going to worry about doing that today. I will however worry about waking up by noon and getting checked out of this cubicle in time.

4 September, 2005 Day 50. Wow, can you believe it? Fifty days on the road. That's longer than I've ever been away from home. In some ways it doesn't feel like I've been gone that long but in other ways it seems like forever. Very hard to explain. I just know when I finally do get back, a lot of things will seem strange and unfamiliar. I think it's rather healthy to see things from that perspective occasionally and doing it via travel is less harmful than doing it via drugs. But seeing life from as many different angles as possible is the ultimate goal, at least for me. I think I could definitely get used to living in Japan. I really dig the sincere politeness that you see literally everywhere. (I wonder if crimes are even committed courteously. I wouldn't be at all surprised.) But there are so many things to remember. I haven't been to a place where you have to take off your shoes yet but it's very important to get that right when the time comes. It's polite to refuse help and then accept it on the third offer. You should never count your change in front of the person who

gave it to you. And if you order food and get something you didn't ask for, the proper thing to do is simply accept it. I think I could count the number of people I know back home who would do that on one hand! In the end, it's all about tolerating things that are different and may not be exactly what you like, are used to, or even believe in. That's just the world and if you want to explore it to any real degree, you're going to have to occasionally move out of your little bubble and experience something completely alien and maybe even not to your liking. And if I can manage to slug down all that fermented mare's milk in some ger in the middle of Mongolia, I think I've earned the right to say that. So I got checked out from my hotel and made it to Shin-Osaka where the JR bullet trains leave from. I was a bit worried upon arriving when I saw the ticket windows and ticket machines, all with no indication whatsoever that they took credit cards. And also no indication of an ATM anywhere. So I was quite pleasantly surprised when the guy behind the counter was more than happy to take plastic. I got a non-reserved ticket to Tokyo on the bullet train which was leaving in about ten minutes. So I ran my ticket through the machine and made it up to the track just as the space age looking train was pulling in. I was (as usual) unsure what to do since all of the cars seemed to say "Reserved" on them. But I just followed the tide of people and sat down in the first available window seat. We started moving very smoothly and before I knew it we were hurtling at great speed out of Osaka. I'm not going to sit here like an idiot and tell you the bullet train is fast. You know that already. It's not quite as fast as the maglev train of Shanghai but it's pretty damn fast and, unlike the maglev, the speed goes on for a much longer period of time so you're really aware that you're going tremendously fast. It looks like I'm already violating my promise but the thing is just *so* impressive. And you do get used to it rather quickly. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable traveling in the States would be if there was a network of high speed trains that could zip you from city to city. Think about it: how quickly could you go from place to place at 200 miles an hour? Imagine getting across the entire country in less than a day on a train! What I'd really like to do is find a place where I can see a bullet train fly by at full speed. I don't know if I can do that anywhere near Tokyo but I'd like to try. These trains are absolutely amazing and have a really enviable safety record. And they're extremely popular. Of course that didn't mean I would actually get to ride one without incident. At the first station we stopped at I got kicked out of my seat by a girl who had a reservation for the window. She only stayed on for one stop but was replaced by an entire family who took *all* of the seats and left me with nowhere to go. There weren't any signs in English telling people without reservations where they were supposed to be. (I was actually surprised at how many people in Osaka spoke no English at all.) This was the price I paid for just following the crowd. An English speaking passenger helped me out and told me I'd have to track down the conductor who would find me a seat of my own. So I managed to do that a few cars down where I learned that the last three cars were unreserved. Of course, the one that had seats was also for advanced smokers. So I may well lose some time off my life for enduring this. Odds are it will come at the end though and I hear that's usually not the best part anyway. Tokyo arrived so much faster than I was expecting. It only took a little over two hours from Osaka. I'm going to be so spoiled when I get home, at least on that front. What Japan has in fast trains, it loses in straightforward instructions. And I'm convinced that's not just a language thing.

When I got off at the station that the bullet train arrived at, all I wanted to do was hop on the subway and get to where my hotel was. I had already mapped it out on the Internet so I considered myself prepared. Well, I didn't know what I was about to get into. Oh, the signs were there. Lots of them. In English and two different Japanese scripts. They indicated where each train line could be found by name. Well great. I had the damn color and I knew the station I wanted to wind up at, now I had to know the name of the line as well? Fine. I found a map in the station. All Japanese. OK, next map. Japanese and English. Except for half the stops which were only in Japanese. But in neither language were the lines named! OK, let's just do this by color then. I knew the first train I wanted to get on was the red line. So I followed the signs to the red line. Not so bad. All this time, by the way, I was carrying my bags which are either getting heavier with time or I'm getting weaker. Whichever it was, this was really not pleasant. Especially when the red line I was pursuing seemed to be heading way in a different direction than all of the others. When I saw a timetable and track numbers, I realized this was no subway but some kind of a regional line that I wanted no part of. So I had to turn all the way back and return to the station. I would have asked for help right away but there was nobody around who spoke English. Plus, without knowing the name of the line, I wasn't sure what I would be asking for. But I knew this really couldn't have been this difficult to grasp. If only one of the signs said subway or something. So much of it was in English. Why couldn't that part be? I found another red line and followed the signs for that one upstairs. Nope, another commuter line. Could it be that the subway doesn't actually go to the main Tokyo station? Finally I saw the word information and bounded over, asking if the person there spoke English. She did and I told her where I was going. Of course she had never heard of that station and it wasn't on the map for some reason. (I had noticed this before with a sinking feeling.) So I told her the transfer station where I was hoping to switch from one line to the next. This one she knew and she told me to follow the signs for the train I had just visited except to go downstairs, not upstairs. Odd since the signs for that train said to go upstairs. As it turned out, that wasn't the train I wanted at all. I just wanted to follow the signs for a different train at which point there would be a sign for my train. Uh huh. Well, it sort of worked out that way. I followed the signs like she said and saw another sign, also red. At this point I began to figure out the code. This latest sign had a red circle. The one before that had a red rectangle. The one before that had a red train engine. And those were only the red ones. Every other color was represented to some degree. So the big secret I had just learned was that subways are designated by circles. Well, forgive me if that little fact wasn't burned into my genetic code! Jesus Christ. That's an hour of my life I'll never get back. Ah, but the fun wasn't over yet. For a little while there were signs for both the red rectangle line and the red circle line. And at just the point where the rectangle one went upstairs, there was all of a sudden no mention at all of the red circle line. No sign to go upstairs, left, right, anywhere. And I didn't see any indication of a downstairs. This was amazing. After searching around a little for the missing train, I finally saw a big red circle sign way off in the distance. If I had to crawl there I would have; it was like the oasis at the end of a desert. But I made it on two feet. The stairs were right beyond the gate. OK, now to buy a ticket. I felt like a pro at this since I had mastered it quickly in Osaka. I saw a couple of "fare adjustment" machines but I needed to get a ticket in the first place. I must have looked in every square inch of the place. There was a big ticket window with a human behind it but that was for one of the trains back in the station, not the subway. I finally just went up to the guy manning the gates. There was actually a sign in his window that said "We're sorry, we have no English speakers here." This day

was clearly designed just to torture me. I asked anyway, figuring I'd make it real simple. "Ticket?" I said, motioning to the machine. As it turned out, he did speak a few words of English and fortunately that was one of them. "Ah, ticket," he responded. "Yes! Where do I buy it?" "Your ticket?" "Yes, I want to buy one." "Where is your ticket?" Was this guy for real? "I haven't met it yet! I want to get one!" OK, I didn't really say that but this was becoming exasperating. He seemed genuinely confused. I didn't understand what I was asking that was so unusual. Didn't everyone who walked through this gate have a ticket? I just wanted to be one of them. "Where are you from?" he asked. Well, what could I say? "United States," I said realizing that's almost certainly not what he wanted to know. At least I got him laughing though. As it turned out he wanted to know where I had just come from. And that's when it all started to dawn on me. I was supposed to still have the ticket from the bullet train! The way it works on just about all transit systems here is that you insert your ticket into the gate when you enter the platform and then again when you leave. But I had already done this! But as I thought back on when I inserted it after arriving in Tokyo, I noticed that it popped out of the machine after I passed through. I was struggling to get through the narrow gate with my bags and when I turned around to snatch the ticket back, it had been sucked back into the machine. But I didn't expect I would need it again. I still don't understand what this third swipe would have been for anyway. Well, after it sort of became clear that I didn't have the ticket anymore, he just waved me through. I thanked him but wondered what state that left me in now. Was I in the subway? And if so how would I get out again without a ticket? And that's when I saw a whole fleet of ticket machines and an escalator going down. I had found the real subway entrance. After all that, buying a ticket proved frustrating. My station still wasn't listed so I picked a station near where it would be and calculated the fare, then dropped the money into the machine. This was a touch screen system but it wouldn't respond to my fingers no matter how many times or how hard I pressed. Oddly enough, when I switched it to English mode they worked fine. It's as if it was refusing to let me proceed in a language I didn't understand. So I got my ticket and finally entered the system. At last on one of the maps there was an acknowledgment of the other line I would be transferring to. My theory on this is that a different company runs that line and it therefore doesn't show up on the maps run by the first company (JR, otherwise known as Japan Rail). Brilliant. And, to make matters even more fun, to get on the second train I had to exit and enter the gates again and, you guessed it, my ticket didn't work on the transfer. I had to buy two separate tickets for a single subway ride at the tune of about $4! I'm wondering if something must have gotten fouled up along the way because I really can't imagine things could be that unfair. I'll find out tomorrow when I experiment some more. After finding my hotel and resting, I wandered around Shinjuku a bit, a neighborhood much like New York's Times Square. It was pretty spectacular and made me see right away what a huge city Tokyo is. There were these very basic things I wanted to do and they were all sort of dependent on each other. I wanted to get food but I didn't have a whole lot of cash. I just wasn't comfortable going into a place where the wrong gesture could suddenly add $20 to my bill so I wanted to make damn sure I could cover it. So I looked for a place that took credit cards. That went nowhere fast so I looked for a place where I could change money. My hotel wouldn't do it and I couldn't find anyplace around here that would either. So that left getting money out of an ATM. You would think Tokyo of all cities would have ATMs on every corner. The few I was finding were actually closed! How could an ATM close? Then I saw a couple that were open until midnight but they didn't believe my card was for real. I started to see

a real potential problem here, one that I really didn't expect to have in this place. These were supposed to be the easy things! After about an hour of wandering I saw a Citibank of all things. Now, if *they* didn't recognize my card, I was going to raise holy hell right there on the street. Thankfully, they happily gave me money and I was now secure in looking for food I could actually pay for. Not ten seconds after this little triumph the heavens opened up. It seems we're going to be seeing the remnants of a typhoon here over the next couple of days. So I waited for it to abate for a few minutes and then started looking for food in earnest. I saw a sign for Indian which seemed like a really good idea. I asked the guy standing outside if they were still open and he motioned me downstairs. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to a completely empty place except for the three staff people. Well, they were so happy to see me that I couldn't just run away. Besides, it probably didn't necessarily mean their food was bad if nobody was here. Maybe Japanese people just don't mix with Indian food that much. Anyway, I asked for something spicy and they were very happy to oblige. A couple of other customers even came in after a few minutes. Throughout it all Indian movies were playing on a big screen and I found myself utterly captivated by them. They all seemed to follow the same basic plot. Some woman dances with another guy or talks to him on the phone and the guy she's supposed to be with sees or hears this and sings an angry song while wearing a suit and tie while she looks regretful. And of course all of the audio sounds like it was recorded in a completely different place. But the guys in this restaurant were so into it, singing along at every opportunity. It definitely added to the experience. The food was pretty damn good and cheap as hell. So far I'm not letting Tokyo drain a whole lot out of me, staying in a $75 a night hotel in a good location with a pretty nice room and eating cheap. I heard what sounded like explosions upstairs as I was getting ready to leave. A thunderstorm! How great was this? I haven't heard a good storm all summer. I went upstairs and it was coming down in sheets with the lightning right above us. It was terrific. I honestly hadn't felt this content in a long time. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the other people who had come into the restaurant who had now also come back upstairs to leave. He was gesturing for me to take his umbrella. Naturally I refused but he kept insisting so I relented after giving profuse thanks and shaking his hand. How amazing is that? A complete stranger comes up to you and gives you his umbrella to take with you. I don't even know if he had another one for himself. I was utterly floored by this. It was like he didn't even think twice about it. That's what people tend to be like throughout Japan. They go out of their way to make sure others are OK. If nothing else good happens to me while I'm here, that's one of the moments I'll always remember this place by.

5 September, 2005 Day 51. It was a pretty rainy day for the most part as bits of the typhoon went past us. I spent a good part of the daylight hours finishing up the issue and catching up on Internet things via a free wireless hotspot. As I'll be here for some time, I'd rather start to really explore when I won't get soaking wet. And besides, there's so much work I have to be doing. I made contact with a listener named Stuart and arranged to meet up with him later in the Shibuya district. I also made contact with my freighter people to make sure that everything was still on schedule for next week's voyage. So far it all seems to be running as planned.

I don't get any English language television but one thing I do get which surprised the hell out of me is the Armed Forces Network. Basically, hotel rooms have these massive radios built into the night stand. This one has buttons for NHK, BGM, AM, and FM. The AM selection (no, you can't tune them for some reason) is the American military's radio station, known as Eagle 810. Its very existence was what initially surprised me. But ultimately I was pretty stunned to realize that I actually liked listening to it. AFN reminds me of what AM radio used to be like when I was a kid. I would listen to music on AM (usually WABC-AM) and, when I got more daring, I'd actually record it by holding a microphone up to the speaker. I'd bring the recordings to school and it became a sort of status symbol if you had a lot of cool music. (Six songs would be a lot.) It wasn't peer to peer but it was all we had. And now, via the United States military, I was hearing everything from the Beatles to Nirvana over AM radio. It's absolutely awesome. There's something about the tinny sound of AM that makes music seem exciting again. Maybe the whole thing is being programmed by people nostalgic for those old days. But it has the sound and feel of a real radio station which was probably the last place I expected to hear that. There are hourly news reports from a variety of American networks (you'll hear Associated Press one hour, CNN the next, ABC, etc.). Since it was Labor Day back in the States, they were having an "anything goes weekend" today (it took me a while to figure out why they were referring to it as a weekend on a Monday) which basically seemed to mean play a lot of different music. You do hear some pretty wacky stuff sometimes, like one of the DJs saying that Michael Jackson had been spotted in the United Arab Emirates "or one of those terrorist countries." Not exactly progressive but then this is the military. It's also rather bizarre to hear public service announcements ("Hi, I'm Brigadier General so and so...") telling people the right way to behave if they ever become a prisoner of war. Earlier today, they did this little dialogue talking about how the Restricted Access Personal Identification Number that military people use wasn't the RAPPIN system (yes, they wrote a little script with a guy who was into rapping) but rather the RAPIN system which to me sounded a whole lot like "the raping system." Considering the trouble the U.S. military has been getting into here in Japan over the years for occasional rapes of Japanese women, it might not be the wisest of ad campaigns. So yeah, you find entertainment in the strangest places. But I do enjoy listening to AFN, regardless of what I think about the military presence here. And I could go on about *that* for a while. Maybe some other time. My hotel was nice enough to have a free shuttle bus to Shinjuku station so I hopped on. I left myself plenty of time in case there was a repeat of yesterday's confusion. I had a little map this time so I didn't think it would be too crazy. If only that were true. I'll never express impatience with an out-of-towner visiting New York who gets confused by the subway system. Although I honestly don't think there's any comparison with our system and the one over here. I mean, in New York we have numbers or letters on every line. It's clear where the subway ends and the regional rails begin. We don't expect people to exit the system and enter it again when transferring between lines. And most importantly, we label things pretty clearly. Again I ran into the problem of being expected to know the name of the line and not knowing it. My map didn't have the name and the signs at the station *only* had the name. So right away there was a disconnect. Then I noticed on one of the Japanese only maps in the station that there was a green line that went to Shibuya in only three stops. The map I had indicated that I would have to take two different lines for a total of six stops. So I started this big long search for the green subway line which of course was the only one that wasn't on any of the signs. Meanwhile Shinjuku station was packed full

of commuters on their way home and every last one of them knew exactly where they were going and how to get there at full speed. It was like Penn Station on amphetamines. There were just so many more places to go and people were heading in all different directions. It was a challenge to merely not get trampled. I asked one guy where to go and showed him the green line on one of the maps. He said to take the escalator upstairs. There was more mayhem up there but no green line. So I asked someone else. He said to go downstairs and go through the gate marked JR Trains and get on Track 12. That sounded a whole lot more promising so I followed those instructions to the letter. As it turns out, this wasn't a subway line at all but one of those regional lines that to me looks exactly the same except it's above ground for much of the time. And to make it even more fun, it shows up as a dotted line on some maps. And of course you can't switch from a JR to a subway! Perish the thought. This system really needs an overhaul in a bad way. I met up with Stuart who moved to Japan from England in 1988 and has been working with computers ever since. He became fluent in the language, married someone from Japan, and is now raising a family in nearby Yokohama. I thought it was really cool how there are so many people all around the globe who tune in to our radio shows and that it was actually possible to go out and meet some of them. Shibuya was a pretty lively part of town and looked about as big as Shinjuku. I imagine I'll be seeing quite a few different sections in the next week and will probably be blown away by all of them. This one seemed to be filled with a mostly young crowd, and not quite as noisy or touristy as Shinjuku. Of course, by any other standard it was *extremely* noisy and touristy. We wound up going to a really neat Okinawan place that I would have never even known existed. Even if you could read the language, you still had to know to go in a very quiet doorway and take an elevator up to the second floor. Now I finally felt like I was really living here. I learned an awful lot about Okinawa tonight and the various occupations it's had to endure as well as something about the continued opposition to the American bases down there. For a while it was its own separate kingdom. And now there's a sort of link between the people there and in the far north, both places on the outskirts of Japan that border on alienation. It would be great to make it down to Okinawa and see that part of the country as well. There are so many things I want to do and see here. If I can accomplish a small fraction of them, I'll be quite pleased. Japan is absolutely fascinating and so very complex. And I'm happy to say, with a little help from Stuart, I was able to make it back using two subway lines with no confusion at all. I'll master this system in the end, so help me.

6 September, 2005 Day 52. The rain kept falling today as the typhoon continued to affect the Tokyo area as well as much of Japan, particularly to the west. It's fun to watch the Japanese television reports and try and figure out what's going on. After a while it becomes pretty simple. And it's rather obvious that this is a major storm that's caused all kinds of flooding in certain regions. They have a completely different way of dealing with these things here. I saw it on the news. They had

emergency workers doing things and helping people while the typhoon was *still* in the area, rather than several days after it had left. I must remember to suggest that to the authorities when I get back home. I'm always looking for new alternative ways of doing things. Today I was supposed to meet my friend Dave from New York at the airport. With the help of Stuart, a couple of online resources, and a little bit of prayer I mapped out a course to the airport via train and gave myself a few hours to pull the whole thing off. Of course it was nowhere near as simple as I thought it was going to be. I'd rather not spend time every day detailing the various ways I screwed up inside the subway system or how I believe their system failed me. But let's just say I never make the same mistake twice. And conversely, the system seems to delight in coming up with new ways to foil me. But one thing has really proven helpful and that is the genuine concern of the people. After getting off at the wrong station and then getting on the wrong train which was going to a place with the same name as the airport but not the airport itself, I enlisted the help of some passersby who looked like they might be helpful. Were they ever! They made sure I got off at the right stop and even walked me all the way to one of the gates to make sure that I wouldn't be charged for a second ticket (which apparently I would have been for reasons I still don't understand). I also discovered that the reason I got on the wrong train in the first place was because the subway employee I had asked for directions from had told me to go to Track 2 which I did. How was I to know there was a second Track 2 in a different part of the station? The system here is great if you know all the rules and an absolute nightmare if you don't. Picture the American phone system post-divestiture when nobody knew how to make a simple phone call anymore. There were local and regional and long distance companies, all kinds of ways of routing calls, duplicate services, extra phone bills, and companies that actively worked against each other while confusing and alienating customers. Well, that's the Tokyo train system. Way back in the 20th century we had competing subway lines in New York where you had to get a different token for each, maps only reflected one company at a time, and it was a lot more difficult for the consumer. Our systems merged into one many years ago. Here one system became privatized and turned into several. You have the Tokyo Metro, the Toei Subway, and the JR lines, all of which go from place to place in the city and all of which use different ticketing systems. For around $15 I can get a pass that works on all of them plus buses (I haven't even tried to figure those out) but I think that would wind up being more of a ripoff than what I've already been going through. The point is it's a terrific system but it could be so much better if it wasn't so schizophrenic. It took me well over two hours to get all the way out to the airport including the 20 minutes or so I had lost due to my various bouts of confusion. Along the way I noticed that the city was absolutely packed almost the whole way out. It became more residential but there were very few yards or spaces between buildings. I was struck by the number of grade crossings that they had for these trains which were, after all, pretty much like subway trains. That alone seemed to cause an immense amount of traffic. And then all of a sudden we seemed to be in the country. It was weird how quickly the landscape changed. I still saw no signs of an airport even though we were only a couple of stops away. And as we started to go underground I saw a couple of planes parked and one in the air. The airport, too, comes up on you very suddenly. Fortunately Dave had stuck around in the terminal since I actually wound up being late even after giving myself so much time. I finally found a place I could change money (although nobody wanted my Chinese yuan) so I took the chance to change some of my remaining American money. Now we just

had to head all the way back into the city. They were selling tickets for 2700 yen in the airport which was very strange since I had only spent around 1900 to get out here. So we went downstairs to get our tickets from one of the machines instead. Only this time it cost 1190! I swear I'll never understand this system. We had the usual problem exiting and entering and reentering the system (I was glad to see I wasn't the only victim) but again with the help of the humans everything turned out OK. We made it back to our hotel, got settled in, caught up on email and stuff, and prepared to go out and wander through Shinjuku. One of the best things to do when you're in a foreign city is to simply go into the kinds of places that you go into back home and revel in all the differences. We spent some time in a 24 hour office supply store where we found all sorts of weird and different data storage formats, an entire aisle filled with nothing but pens of all varieties, and an assortment of interesting writing tablets. (I can't remember the last time I saw the word "foolscap" used on the cover of a writing tablet back home.) The merging of high tech and low tech always fascinates me and Tokyo seems to be a place where that happens quite a bit. We also went into a couple of convenience stores and saw all of the different products they had there. It was just like being in a convenience store back home except *everything* was strange. All kinds of weird little prepared dishes with pieces of fish everywhere. Seaweed snacks. Beverages that came in plastic bags. Magazines that open in reverse. There's literally no end to the little things that can fascinate you. Or me at least. We wound up grabbing food in a traditional Japanese joint which had been around since 1858 and turned out to be quite good. We just kept pointing to things on the menu and they kept bringing us interesting little dishes. Dave couldn't handle the chicken cartilage on a skewer but I surprised myself by not having a problem with it. All in all, not a bad place and not very expensive considering the amount of stuff we got. In the next day I hope to be completely done with the issue which will free me up to do more fun things and also get back to doing more "Speakers' World" segments (yes, we're in IMDB now). We may wind up seeing some sumo wrestlers, a Japanese baseball game, a bunch of temples, and all sorts of other things. I'm looking forward to all of it since in a week I'll be beginning the loneliest ten days of my life. Which I'm also looking forward to in a strange sort of way.

7 September, 2005 Day 53. We spent most of the day sitting back, settling in, catching up, and doing work. So by the time I actually walked outside it was after dark. It's still a bit stormy as Typhoon Nabi passes to the north. From everything I've heard, this was a storm that was as big as Katrina. Tomorrow morning it's another early edition of "Off The Hook" which means I won't be able to stay up too late tonight. I can't tell you how pleased I'll be when I won't have to get up in the morning to do radio anymore. It should start getting a lot easier next week although I can't say I know what time zone I'll actually be in when I'm on the freighter. On the subject of the freighter, I got some cheery news from Stuart, the listener I met here the other day who tells me that in a typical year there are around 150 vessels lost at sea with between 1400 and 2400 estimated deaths in that time period, most going unreported. These statistics supposedly come from the

International Transport Workers' Federation. Now I'm not one to be overly concerned about such matters but I do think I may become intensely curious over the next few days prior to my actually getting on board this thing. The original assumption on my part was that there was a pretty good chance the freighter would actually make it all the way across the Pacific Ocean. So if anyone has further info on what I'm actually getting myself into here, please forward that along to the webmaster and it'll hopefully wind up in my hands. Don't worry, I'm not getting cold feet about going over the Pacific. Just looking for the facts. We made plans to meet Dave's friend Joel in the evening. Joel used to live in New York and had moved out here fairly recently. Oddly enough, Joel not only wanted to meet at Shibuya where I had met Stuart the other night but also picked the exact same spot in front of a bronze statue of a dog. I'm told that's where many people in Tokyo meet for the first time because it's easy to find. Of course, I managed to find another dog sculpture in the vicinity and stood in front of the wrong place for 20 minutes the other night. But that's me. We found Joel pretty easily and proceeded to walk around the area. I'm starting to have my fill of these big loud city sections where tourists flock. I mean it's cool and all but I do want to see something else in Tokyo. I'm not sure what yet but I know there's got to be much more. But it was fun exploring the area in some more detail. After getting some food, we went into a Tower Records and discovered what I believe is the only location in Tokyo where they sell 2600. At 100 yen I think it's a bit pricey and by the time we get our cut I'm pretty sure we're losing money. Still, it's cool to see it there. I don't think there's much chance of us getting it into other stores as I'm pretty sure there has to be significant Japanese content. We spent an hour or so checking out various books and things. I wasn't too impressed with their DVD or CD collection. Most of the stuff here I can find at home. Well, not the Japanese material but then since I don't know what that is to start with, it's not too surprising. We went back out onto the crowded and humid street and milled about for a while looking for interesting pictures to take. It really can be a challenge just walking down the street sometimes as there are all sorts of different ways of doing things here. For one thing you must always try and pass people on the left. I keep reverting back to the way I'm used to doing it which often results in a collision or a little dance. And then you have to watch out for the bicyclists on the sidewalk. If you cross the street of course there are cars to worry about but they almost always yield the second you set foot on the pavement, even if they aren't too happy about it. Overall, it doesn't take a whole lot of time to adjust. But I'm sure I'll have problems readjusting when I get back. I learned something really interesting from Joel. Apparently the subway lines were started by rival department stores and their main reason for existing was to get people to go to their respective stores. Pretty bizarre, eh? It also could explain why the system doesn't lend itself to transferring between rival companies. On the subject of the subway or metro or JR trains or whatever the fuck they're called, I'm getting much better at it. I'm still annoyed by stupid little things you shouldn't have to do but the actual train system itself is one of the marvels of mankind. I would like to spend an entire week just exploring it (or them). With an unlimited pass, naturally. After hanging out with Joel a while, Dave and I headed back towards our hotel. We discovered on the train that we were still hungry so we got off one stop early to find something else and also see a slightly

different part of town. We were in a place called Yoyogi which wasn't lit up nearly as much as Shinjuku or Shibuya and that was a nice change. We got some little seaweed snacks at a local convenience store and, as I feared, I became somewhat addicted to them. What that means is I'm going to be going nuts when I get back to New York, just like I was when I got addicted to the Stabburpolse sausage from Norway. There won't be any way to find these things over there and any imitation just won't be the same. I guess I'll just have to keep coming back. Shortly after getting out of the convenience store I heard a strange sound and realized that we were at a train crossing. It was actually a JR train crossing which to me means that it was the equivalent of a subway train crossing the street even though here a subway would be under the ground at all times. The existence of a crossing in the middle of the city was odd in itself but this one was unbelievable. The gates didn't go back up after the train passed. That was because a second train was coming from a different direction on one of the other tracks. And right after that train passed, a third one went by. And then a fourth! Each of the four tracks had been used in a single lowering of the gate! In all my existence on this planet, I don't think I've ever witnessed such a spectacle. But it gives you an idea of how busy the systems are here. Another interesting spectacle involved two cops who were searching someone on the street. I guess this guy looked suspicious to them or something. I'm not sure what if any rights the average person has to protect himself against this sort of thing. Anyway, what was unusual about this was that the cop who was searching the guy was taking all of the objects that were being removed from his pockets and placing them in the cop's hat! And after about five minutes of this when it was determined that there was nothing here worth pursuing, all of the stuff was returned and the cop just put his hat back on. I'm not sure if this is the standard search procedure or simply this cop's special style but it was fairly unusual in my opinion. For some reason on the walk back it got extremely windy for about five minutes. It must have been one of the last gasps of Typhoon Nabi. It's supposed to clear up in the days ahead so maybe I'll actually be getting outside in the daylight hours. I want to visit the electronic district which I hear is pretty cool. I also wouldn't mind seeing some of the residential non-touristy sections. I still don't know if I'll be able to get to a Japanese baseball game or a sumo wrestling match. But whatever we wind up doing, I have no doubt it'll be memorable.

8 September, 2005 Day 54. I guess by all that walking around last night I managed to get myself pretty exhausted so I didn't have too much trouble getting to sleep even though it was significantly earlier than when I had crashed the night before. I woke up shortly before the preliminary call for "Off The Hook" came in and I even had time to run downstairs and hop on the Internet to see if any new stories had broken. The show went smoothly, in no small part due to the fact that we had a really good phone connection this time around with no discernible delay. The next couple of shows are going to be very different from that. We talked a lot about the effects of the hurricane and some of the technological issues that played a part. Things like the failure of the phone system, satellite imagery, and the use of ham radio to relay messages. I really found it astounding that so many people were focusing on what they considered to be the improper use of the word "refugee." This is one of the reasons why we get mired in indifference for so much of the time. Instead of arguing over the language we should be going after the people who

made a bad situation into a tragedy of epic proportions. I don't know if everyone realizes just how badly the system failed for this to happen. And things don't fail at that magnitude unless there's systemic abuse and neglect. We don't live in a third world country and yet we fared worse than many would have. And *that's* what needs to be talked about. But just to put my feelings on the matter to rest, yeah, "refugee" has negative connotations. But a lot of people are confusing the ignorance and hatred that part of our society holds towards such people with the very use of the word itself. And this to me feels like an acceptance of that. Refugees are real people and they deserve respect and dignity. And now we have a situation in America where there are people in that exact position. No, they're not fleeing a government. They're fleeing a horrible fate. But a government is at least partially responsible for their plight. I just don't see a difference. Maybe when we realize that we are all potential refugees, we might just start treating others stuck with that moniker with something more of a degree of respect. Regardless, let's focus our passion where it might really make a difference. So, yeah, the show was fun as always. It's unbelievable how long I've been away for. I hope I recognize the place when I get back. And now of course I have to think about next week's "Off The Wall" which I'll probably record tomorrow. Not only that but I'm going to have to record the show for the following week as well since it's almost certain that I won't have Internet access on the freighter. So there's going to be a lot of radio in my life over the next few days. Today we met up with Dave's friend Yuki who was also involved with "Urchin," which is the movie I played a part in earlier this year. (By the way, Dave showed me the trailer and it's really awesome. I can hardly wait to see how this thing comes out. Definitely a project that I'm proud to have been a part of.) It was really hot and muggy today so I felt pretty sluggish. I realized just what a good thing air conditioning really is. It makes you think and breathe and want to move around and all that stuff. And also I had woken up really early so I was a bit out of it to start with. We found ourselves in Akihabara (the "electronic district") which is this area of town where anything that can be plugged in is sold somewhere. This little doorway led to a multistory maze of ham radio equipment, electronic supplies, and computers. It was like the Dayton Hamvention only it was permanent. And air conditioned. Who knows how many other such doorways existed here? We saw camera stores, telephone stores, video places, you name it. It was hard getting down the street with all the people and once we were inside the places it was hard getting down the aisles for the same reason. All around there was this amazing mix of youthful energy and ancient Japanese salesmen who looked like they had been doing this sort of thing since the 1800s. I've been getting much better at navigating the mass transit system but I'm still so struck by the size of it. While we were walking around this neighborhood, I was aware of trains in virtually every direction, each with their own strictly defined purpose. The whole city feels like a well-oiled machine or at least a machine that is very good at what it does. Sort of like all the vending machines you find on every street. I've really fallen in love with those. They overwhelmingly sell drinks of various sorts, mostly coffee and power drinks but also water and soda. And of course there are occasional snack machines. Cigarette machines are much fewer in number than in Osaka. It seems like there might be an antismoking crusade in progress. There are even signs telling people not to smoke on the streets but rather in designated areas on the block. No mention of what, if any, penalty might apply to violators. But I thought that was pretty dramatic for a country like Japan where people really do seem to smoke like chimneys. But back to those vending machines for a moment. Yes, they're everywhere, they're huge, and mostly they're reliable. I'm just not used to that. They have this really solid feel to them, they don't ever seem

to have burned out lights or out of order signs, they don't bitch at the bills you feed them, and change is rarely a problem. But the really impressive part is the amount of stuff they can hold and the variety of things you can find at them. Somehow they don't seem to hurt business at any of the myriad convenience stores that also seem to exist on every block. The absolute coolest thing about the machines though is their ability to deal with both hot and cold beverages. You can get a can of hot green tea or a bottle of cold green tea in the same machine! A blue color under the selection means it's cold and red means hot. And both of those temperature descriptions are taken very seriously. Even the train machines have won my respect despite their confusing ways of doing business. Never before have I given a large bill (equivalent to $100) to a machine and gotten what I paid for followed by neatly stacked bills quickly dispensed as change. I really feel like I'm dealing with a form of alien intelligence here. Interestingly, the country is on the eve of a major parliamentary election. On Sunday the government could very well change. Yes, they have elections on Sundays here which ensures that more people will be able to make it to the polls. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party is well ahead in the polls even though they're being split down the middle by what apparently is the biggest issue facing this country: postal reform. It sounds rather trivial but it's a really big deal here. Privatizing the post office would have a huge impact on employment, the economy, and pretty much everything to some degree. Koizumi takes it pretty seriously. There's been a purge in the party with those opposed to his postal reform plans being replaced by Koizumi loyalists. Sunday ought to be pretty historic. Dave and I tried to find food tonight away from all the glitter and lights of Shinjuku or Shibuya. I knew it might be difficult but it really began to get frustrating when we first had to try and get away from all the noise and commotion of the really busy parts of town. But then we couldn't find anything that looked decent. We were starting to get desperate and began looking seriously at burger joints. Thankfully we decided to keep on pushing with what little strength we had left for just a little while longer. We saw a place on a not so busy street that was crowded with people. Always a good sign. And all of the prices of dishes were at around the 300 yen mark which meant this was one of those places where you got lots of small dishes. The thing was there was not a letter of English on the menus or the signs, the people in the place didn't speak any English at all, and we had absolutely no ability to express ourselves in Japanese. It was perfect. And I'm quite serious too. Every now and then you have to throw yourself into a situation that is so crazy and unlikely to work that you know it somehow has to. It was hilarious trying to have a conversation with the people there because while they must have known we couldn't understand a word that they were saying, it didn't prevent them from giving us long soliloquies on everything from where we could sit to what was on the menu. I have to give Dave a lot of credit for somehow communicating the kinds of things we were after, although he claims it was mostly sheer luck. But the food kept coming, we were being accepted in what was most definitely a pure Japanese hangout, and it was all really affordable. Sometimes desperation pays off.

9 September, 2005 Day 55. This had to have been one of the strangest days of the entire trip as well as one of the most exhausting. It all started with our waking up at 6 in the morning in order to witness the frenzied activity in what may well be the biggest fish market in the entire world. Dave has been telling me about this place for years. You can only witness the true splendor in the very early hours of the day. In fact, we

were already missing a significant part of the whole thing by not being at the fish auction which started at 5 am. (Since the trains don't even start running until after that, I don't really know how we would have gotten to that even if we had wanted to.) But we consoled ourselves knowing that we'd at least get some of the best sushi we've ever had out of this adventure. So we took the subway all the way down to where the fish market was. And as we approached the site, the first indication that I was on another planet came when I saw many dozens of people flying around on these motorized carts at very high speeds, some with all sorts of merchandise piled high, others completely empty. But everyone seemed almost desperate to get where they were going as fast as humanly possible. In true Tokyo style, they all somehow seemed to know exactly where they were supposed to be and managed to not smash into each other. I hoped I wouldn't screw it all up by getting flattened. Just looking at the outside of the market was impressive enough. Apart from the vehicles and people on foot racing around, there were two mountains of used styrofoam containers that apparently were the result of a whole lot of successful fish transactions. This clearly was the Dayton Hamvention of fish, except that this is always here and moves at a pace even faster than when they throw money on the floor of the stock exchange. We went inside and the only word I could come up with to describe the place was endless. It was like an airport hangar that went in all directions. Fish of all sorts, octopus, crabs, eels, you name it. This is where anyone who buys wholesale fish gets it from. And not just for Tokyo. If you're into fish, sushi, or anything from the sea, there's a good chance you'll get something that's been bought and sold at the Tokyo fish market. Everyone here knew exactly what their function was and they did it well. There was no slouching, no relaxing. Just constant movement and unending activity. It was like some sort of a war was on and everyone was staying alert in order to stay alive. Maybe this is more true than I know. Or maybe people are just tremendously impassioned by this line of work. I mean this is a city that has eel stores and people who have worked in them all their lives. Fish and the sea are major parts of so many lives here. I always knew that. But I guess I never really expected to see it translate to such excitement and movement. Well worth getting up at 6 in the morning. And next time I want to see the auction so I may just stay up all night in order to catch that. I'm told it's done almost entirely without spoken language. With the wrong gesture you could easily wind up hauling away a thousand tunas. We took lots of pictures and covered a tremendous amount of ground. That in itself was exhausting. I can't imagine how much energy you would need to actually work here. But I guess those little motorized carts would certainly help. They're so much more useful and fast than those stupid Segways. After getting out of the actual fish market, it was time to go get food at the sushi place that Dave had picked out. It was definitely a good one as a crowd of people was waiting outside to get in. The place only held about a dozen at a time and the wait was at least a half hour. And of course there was the little fact that we were going to have a sushi feast at 8 in the morning. I don't think my world could have been turned any more upside down. Some of the places here are only open for a few hours in the morning and that's it. The one we were going to was open longer - from 5 am to 2 pm. The sushi chefs (three of them) were quite hospitable and gave us instructions in English, like telling us which pieces shouldn't be dipped in sauce, what each one actually was, etc. It was an amazing and intimate experience within such a small place in such an

alien environment. The sushi itself was indescribably good but that was to be expected. And I managed to forget that I normally would have been asleep at this time for a number of hours to come. This was the kind of experience you remember for the rest of your life. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for something unusual and fun to do while in Tokyo. Of course it really helps if you like fish. After going to Sushi Mecca we visited a picturesque park and garden a few blocks away where we communed with nature and recorded a portion of next week's "Off The Wall." While the park was relatively small, it seemed to be the place for nature to hang out in the middle of the big city and so many people were strolling around, maps in hand, trying to see as much of it as possible. That's actually a theme of this city: people walking around with maps. I think it's because things are so big and complicated that even those who live here need a little help now and then. And that definitely makes me feel a bit more confident. Later in the day we stopped by a food market in a part of Shinjuku station that also was coordinated bedlam. Two stories of all sorts of vendors peddling their wares within a department store. There were great quantities of free samples too. This is what there isn't nearly enough of back home. Buying food should be an exciting event like it is here. It's great to walk down an aisle and have no idea what you're going to come upon. To see people who are clearly into what it is they do makes it so much more desirable. Nothing like the quiet and orderly supermarkets I'm used to where the most excitement comes from the beat of the Muzak. But we had no time for food here as we were going to meet Stuart and some of his friends for dinner in another part of town. This naturally involved looking at one of the maps in the station to figure out where exactly we were going. And this led, as it often does, to a Tokyo native taking us under his wing and not only giving us directions but showing us exactly where to go. This guy who looked like he just got out of work (and on a Friday afternoon in Tokyo, that alone is an event worthy of celebration) must have walked us half a mile through the train station to make sure we went through the right entrance. It was a little awkward since we already had a good sense as to where we were and where we were going. But we didn't want to be rude so we just did what we were advised. It's so impressive to see how much people here care about making sure others are provided for. But I'm not sure how much this translates in everyday life. I saw a woman fall off her high heels on the street and nobody offered to help her even though there were three security guards standing within a few feet of her. We found our way to Stuart and his friends in the Ginza district and recorded the last part of "Off The Wall." We went to this really neat restaurant called Doreme which did all of the cooking at the table but did it in a really festive and exciting way. It was a continuation of the theme of the fish and food markets where the food becomes not only a way of life but a celebration of it. It was a really enjoyable experience and it was great fun hanging out with this crowd. All but one had come to Japan from another country but they made a point of distinguishing themselves from ex-patriots who don't learn the language and have food shipped in from their original homelands. These guys were all completely fluent in Japanese which really makes all the difference in so many ways. How else do you know the places to go, what's going on throughout the country, the subtle nuances of conversations you pick up in the street? It's one thing to visit a place or even to live there for a while but if you're in a land that's turned into your home, you have to plunge headlong into it and become a part of it in every way imaginable. And today was a day I really felt close to that. We did a little filming for "Speakers' World" in the street which was also quite a bit of fun. I was surprised by the reactions we were getting from people passing by, almost as if they had never seen a camera before. Well, this is Tokyo so obviously they had seen many cameras before. I think it was just

a very festive and friendly atmosphere where everyone was celebrating the arrival of the weekend. It seems as if the same intense focus is put into fun here as it is into work. This should be a pretty good weekend if that's true.

10 September, 2005 Day 56. Tomorrow is September 11 and I only realized that when I glanced at a calendar. Even though I've been seeing signs everywhere for 9-11, I've been programmed into thinking that this could only mean it's Election Day tomorrow here in Japan. Since I really have no access to American media (or maybe it's more the other way around), it's quite easy to simply not be affected. Not that it's a good thing to forget about what happened four years ago. But it's the way it gets hammered into your head over and over again back home that seems unhealthy to me. So I can almost understand those friends of mine who completely ignore what the mass media is saying. Almost. It's not very smart to not pay any attention. You do need to know how people are being manipulated if you hope to have any chance of combating it. It took a long time to actually get outside today since I've been putting the finishing touches on the Autumn issue as well as getting next week's "Off The Wall" ready for air and uploaded. This kind of thing would have been so unthinkable for me only a few years ago. I mean, uploading and downloading stuff for the magazine is nothing new. But in places like Mongolia, China, and Siberia? I really didn't expect it to be this easy. Wireless hotspots are the coolest thing since sliced bread. And as for actually recording a radio show on the road each week, being able to add in music, fix sound, and get a broadcast quality version uploaded from wherever I happened to be each week - that's nothing short of a miracle. Of course that miracle likely won't be happening next week on the high seas of the Pacific where I'll be spending ten days so I really have to start thinking about doing another show from Tokyo before I leave here on Tuesday. It can be a little annoying having all of this work to do which means all the less time being a tourist. But it also makes me feel like I'm actually living here which I find to be extremely relaxing. Plus I am seeing and doing plenty. I'm just not racing to do it. Our hotel has a free shuttle to Shinjuku station which is a really nice thing. It leaves like clockwork several times an hour and you can grab it over at the station if you can figure out where the stop is in the busiest train station in the world. I think I may actually have finally reached that stage in my life. Yes, I'm starting to understand Shinjuku. So I took the shuttle over to Shinjuku and then took one of the JR lines to meet up with Dave in the Shibuya region. We wound up going to a Mos Burger for lunch which was crowded but pretty decent for fast food which we've both been trying to avoid. But since I still had a bit of work to do back at the hotel I didn't have a whole lot of time for much else. It'll probably be the last time I experience that place in quite a while. After I went back I looked into getting tickets for the sumo wrestling match tomorrow. It doesn't seem completely impossible so maybe we'll actually pull this off. There are still a couple of listeners who sent us email that I've been in contact with. Hopefully we can meet up with them and maybe somehow I can tie sumo wrestling into this. The time has really slipped away. Ten days or so in Tokyo sounds like a lot but it really isn't. And every day I feel like I understand the place a little bit more. I'm able to move around and do things that seemed incomprehensible only a couple of days ago. Don't get me wrong - I still think the city is utterly insane. But it also seems to be following a certain logic that I'm able to grasp more with each passing day. But of all the places I've visited so far, this feels like the one

that goes on for the biggest amount of space and possibly is the most advanced, both technologically and organizationally. Every day I seem to find a new neighborhood and there are so many that I know I won't ever see. Most of the other cities seemed to have some kind of a boundary that was much easier to define. But probably my biggest complaint about this place other than the unnecessary difficulty attached to some rather simple tasks is the city's homogeneity. It's the same complaint I've had ever since I left Berlin. There just isn't enough diversity among the people. Poland, Belarus, Russia, Mongolia, China, and Japan all are afflicted by this problem or at least what I perceive to be a problem. Japan does appear to have a bit more hope though. For instance, this was the only country of the ones listed above where I even saw a black person. But even with that it feels like there's often only one perspective and I just don't think that's healthy. The resulting nationalism is never a good thing. It does make a population so much easier to control though and I suppose that's one of the reasons why things probably won't be changing in a hurry around here. Later in the evening Dave and I went to an Italian place that we happened to discover in another neighborhood with more of a youthful feel. It was surprisingly good and authentic even though everyone in the place was Japanese. I only say that because I can't imagine going to a Japanese restaurant where everyone in the place was Italian. But regardless of who's cooking what type of food, the one thing I *really* love is the no tipping policy. It's not like in Europe where tipping isn't mandatory but it's all right to round up the bill a euro or so. Here they don't want you to leave a single plastic yen. If you leave money behind they will run after you because you must have forgotten it. That to me is amazing. It means when they're nice to you they're really being nice and not simply trying to get you to leave a bigger tip. It also means they're getting paid a decent wage. I only hope when I get back to the States I don't stay in Japanese mode or I'm going to be having a lot of angry waiters chasing after me.

11 September, 2005 Day 57. Much as Dave and I wanted to do the sumo wrestling thing, it just seems like too much trouble. There are a limited number of tickets available and you really have to be fluent in Japanese on the phone in order to get them. Plus they're expensive and you wind up throwing away an entire day. And I'm not even sure how much fun it would actually be. So we wound up contacting Adam and Jason, two of our listeners who live here in Tokyo, and arranging for them to meet us at our hotel. What's interesting is that they don't know each other and we're sort of combining them together. But it's really the only way we can fit everything in and I figured it was the best solution. Today was one of those rainy days where the sky would occasionally just open up and drench the entire city. So everyone was armed with umbrellas throughout the day. Both Adam and Jason had no trouble finding our hotel and both were right on time in true Japanese tradition. (Unlike in laid back places like Mongolia, when people in Japan say they're going to be somewhere at a certain time, they will almost always be there are precisely that time.) Adam had moved here from Detroit, Jason from Seattle. Both were fluent in the language and knew a great deal about the city and the culture. This really adds so much to the experience when you're in a strange place. It's always a good idea to spend at least part of your time with people who can answer some of the many questions you may have.

One of the first places we went to was a branch of a store called Don Quixote that literally seemed to sell a little bit of everything. I'd hesitate to call it a junk store but it certainly was jammed with all sorts of odds and ends on four floors. Everything from lighters to weird DVDs to strange dolls to really expensive clothes. It's the kind of place you can just spend hours walking around finding really odd objects, some very old and some just very bizarre. Naturally the place was jammed with people since this is precisely the type of thing the Japanese are known for. Of course, Dave and I had no idea this place was even here so we were very fortunate to be in the company of people who did. Then it was off in search of food and for some reason we decided to find a place that served horse sashimi. Now for all I knew this was some sort of joke but I don't like to cause trouble so I just went along with it. We found a Korean section of town and started to look around for a decent place. It was rather neat going from street to street in the light rain looking at all the different Korean businesses. It didn't take us very long to find a place to eat. Like most of the ones we'd already been to, we had to climb nondescript stairs in order to get there. They really stack things here, both above and below ground. And if you don't read the language, you'll miss most of it. This was one of those places where you had to take your shoes off. So far everyone we've talked to practices this custom in their homes. In fact, we even noticed homeless people who live in cardboard boxes along the street who carefully place their shoes outside their structures before entering. And there really are a good number of homeless people in this city. But not a single one has come up to me asking for anything or even calling out as I walk by. They just exist like someone in a house that you pass on the way to somewhere else. In fact the only people who have initiated any sort of conversation with me are Americans looking for money and Nigerians trying to get me to go to swinging nightclubs. We let Adam and Jason order something from the menu and it was the best move we could have made. The food just kept on coming even after we thought it was all over. There really is no better way to do this. Plenty of different dishes and people who know what they are and can explain it in your language. Apparently it was an essential part of one of the selections that the fish not only be laid out on the dish but still flapping. A bit unnerving but I wouldn't have missed it. I'm sure the fish would have preferred to. We didn't find any horse sashimi at this place and that actually suited me fine. In this part of the world they have no qualms about showing you exactly what you're eating and not hiding the animal ingredients behind packaging and processing. So God only knows what a piece of horse would have entailed. Of course in the States eating horse is taboo to start with. But I'd already been through this when I got addicted to the Stabburpolse sausage from Norway. When I found out that it was actually horse, it really didn't matter to me as much as I thought it would. I just had to have more. After food we wandered through the streets once more but Dave and I wanted to do something different. As it turns out, one of the tall buildings in the area is run by the city and has an observatory on the 45th floor. What's really cool is that it's totally free. From there we were able to look out over the city and appreciate its vastness. I only wonder what it might have been like from twice that height. While they don't hit you up for going to the observatory itself, they have a "toy park" up there which I imagine would be impossible for any parent to pass through without being forced to buy something for the kids they've brought with them. It was impossible for us - they actually had two different little model Smart cars on sale.

We went back to the hotel and did a little filming for "Speakers' World." Then we just hung out in front of the place and talked about various things for a couple of hours while the world passed by. It was a lot of fun. I learned an awful lot about the challenges of moving to Japan. For one thing there is a lot of racism here, not unsurprisingly. When you have such a homogenous society that kind of thing is really inevitable. Both Adam and Jason had all sorts of stories about how they have been discriminated against for not being Japanese. Some of it is really quite nasty, such as having a man erect a little newspaper barrier to separate him from one of them on a subway seat. Or more commonly what happens is that there's discrimination when trying to find an apartment. Adam told the story of how the person renting an apartment insisted he "wouldn't be comfortable there." The reason given was that he was too tall and would hit his head on the ceilings and door frames. Even after he said he'd be fine with it, they wouldn't budge. It also happens with hotels. You go to a hotel and they say they're full. Then you call them and speak in Japanese and they have plenty of rooms. Taxis often won't pick up Westerners for one reason or another. We even passed a sex club this evening whose policy on a sign was to not let foreigners in. What's interesting is that this sort of thing not only happens but it's perfectly legal. Japan, as many are aware, has no laws against discrimination. It seems to be one of those cultural things that's going to be rather difficult to change. But again, this is what the rest of the world needs to pick up the slack with as with China's horrible human rights record and the States' propensity for invading helpless nations. These kinds of things won't ever end unless pressure is put on the offender. It's that simple. Both Adam and Jason stayed until the last possible moment when they had to hurry back to Shinjuku to catch their respective last trains. I had been hoping to witness the rush hour at Shinjuku in the morning but I came to realize that this would involve my also getting up really early. We'll see how I feel about that tomorrow. Dave and I got a late night snack at around two in the morning at one of these ticket machine places. They work like this. You go in, feed money into a machine, and then select various buttons which, if you're lucky, have pictures of what you're selecting on them. Then these little tickets print out and you hand them to the guy behind the counter who then goes and gets whatever it is you ordered. It seems like a strange way of doing things at first but the more I think about it the more sense it makes. Why bother handling money at all if you're involved in making food and there's no such thing as a tip? It actually makes everything move a whole lot smoother. It's not like the crazy system I witnessed in China where you had to visit a cashier in a central location and all sorts of unnecessary paperwork was generated. In a society where machines actually work most of the time, this ticket system is a damn good idea in my opinion. And they actually exist all over the place. Tomorrow is going to be my last full day in Tokyo. I'll be getting my final instructions from the freighter people so the next chapter of my voyage will finally be defined. It's going to be a really dramatic change and I imagine I'll have all sorts of sentimental thoughts of this place while on the high seas. But it's time to move on.

12 September, 2005 Day 58. I think I've become addicted to vending machine coffee. Not the disgusting kind you find back home. This is iced and it's one of the many variations of Boss Coffee you find in the machines. What sucks is I know I won't be able to find it back home. But that's no reason not to enjoy it while I'm here. Something else I've never seen back home which I'm going to be needing more of are these Haagen-

Dazs ice cream sandwiches with really flaky wafers. Why in God's name are we being denied these things? There are definitely going to have to be some changes when I get back. I was woken up today by a call from the freighter people. Guess what? My freighter is delayed by a day. So I get another 24 hours in Tokyo and tomorrow I find out exactly what the story is. Maybe. That's the way it is with freighters, I'm told. Hopefully once we're actually in transit, we'll know exactly where we are and where we're going and maybe even when we're going to get there. But having this extra day is a godsend for me since I had so many online things to catch up on and I won't have the opportunity for that once I'm on the boat. I also had to record the September 20 edition of "Off The Wall" today in Tokyo since it would really be my last chance if I wanted to upload it before I fall out of contact. Of course I could be surprised and find that freighters have 24 hour Internet access. But I really don't think so. In all likelihood, there won't be any dispatches for a while once I get on board. And then there will be a shitload of them all at once. Dave has been doing a lot more exploring than I have since he doesn't have to worry about all of this net stuff and all of the updating. But I'm fine balancing it out a bit. After you've traveled this far, it's a good idea to sit back for a spell. I've done so much walking since I left New York that I really feel as if I've walked a lot. I also must remember to replenish my supply of metaphors when I get a chance. So basically Dave finds interesting places to explore and I wind up meeting him at some of them. Today it was a fashion district in what appeared to be a college part of town. There were wide boulevards and narrow alleys, all selling clothes or doing hair styling of one sort or another. It was pretty interesting but kind of bothersome since I happened to be starving and none of these places seemed to have any interest in selling food of any sort. I actually had to stop in a snack bar in order to get enough energy to continue the quest for food. And after more walking on the sweltering streets (the heat was really draining me more than the starvation) we discovered a delicatessen that was several floors up in a building. It looked a little fast foody on the outside but once we got in it looked much better. They had really good burgers and a great atmosphere. Old American license plates hung from the wall while jazz music played in the background. The people were really friendly and helpful. They even let Dave take a picture of their spotless kitchen. As with nearly every place I've been to in this city, I felt extremely relaxed and welcome. But unfortunately it was once again time for me to do work. I had to record "Off The Wall" but I also wanted to go up to the observatory we had been at the day before so I could get a view of the city during daylight hours and possibly catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji. So I took the train back to Shinjuku and made my way to the tall building. The tower I was in the night before was closed on alternate Mondays but the tower next door was open in its place. I got up just in time as the sun seems to go down early and fast in this part of the world. And yes, I actually saw Mount Fuji in the distance, far higher than I ever imagined it would be. Unfortunately it was really dim in the haze so it didn't come out well in any of the pictures on my crappy camera. But trust me, it was awesome. I had to get equipment at the hotel and send a couple of pieces of email. We tried fixing the wireless connection downstairs in the hotel by rebooting the router and the whole thing stopped working completely. The hotel people had no idea how to fix it and for a while it looked as if we had really done a number on the place. Originally it simply had a really intermittent signal even when you were very close. And now the signal was fine but it wasn't connecting to the outside world. So after the hotel gave up, we just unplugged *everything* and let it all reboot. Luckily it started to work again and the signal

was much better. But it was pretty exciting for a while. We headed over to Shinjuku on the shuttle where Dave helped me get wired up. I've been having major problems with the lapel microphone throughout the entire trip but Dave managed to hook it up in a way where the brushing noise it picked up was minimized. The plan was for me to simply walk through the station and ride the train a bit while capturing the various sounds and commenting as much as I could on what I was seeing. It was tricky since people were very quiet once they were actually on the trains. It's pretty strange; you can be in a train car with a couple of hundred people all mashed together and nobody is saying a word. So in order not to appear to be completely out of my mind, I pretended I was on a mobile phone. Which was also tricky because you're not supposed to use a mobile while on a train. But I was a lot better at pretending to be inconsiderate than I was at pretending to be crazy so I went with the mobile phone plan. The show came out all right for the most part but there was in fact some brushing noises picked up which I'm going to have to repair or edit out. Nothing like more work to really make your day. But one way or another I'll have a show ready for next week. So it was now the middle of the evening and both Dave and I wanted to go somewhere away from the maddening throngs. Dave's developed a really good sense of where things are in the city as well as how to get to them so I deferred to his judgment on this. We picked a location pretty much at random where we wouldn't be too far from a subway line and from which we could conceivably walk back to the hotel in case we stayed out past the last train. That's always such a constraint on fun but it was one that we had to figure out a way to live with. It took a bit of time to figure out which train line we had to be on. There actually were variations - you could take an express line or a rapid line or a local line. And on this particular one, the maps and listings of stations weren't readily available in English. So just figuring out how to get out there was a challenge in itself, never mind figuring out what to do once we were there. But get there we did on a packed commuter train where people seemed to be collapsed in exhaustion after a full day's work. And now they were all heading home and no doubt would be up at the crack of dawn to play the whole game again. It really makes you sad to see people in this state. But on the weekend they'll all be getting shitfaced so maybe they'll feel like it's a worthwhile endeavor. We got out of the train and instantly saw that this didn't look at all like the Tokyo we had been seeing. It was almost rural in nature. No, there weren't farms and trees and things like that. But there were narrow streets with buildings that didn't go up more than a few floors and a sense that we were in a neighborhood where people might actually know each other. So we walked down a few of these streets and looked at our various options of places to go. We passed a whole bunch of really tiny places that could hold six people maximum. A lot of them were sushi bars. It's always hard to just walk into a place like that because it seems so intimate. It's like walking into someone's home. I'm not sure what exactly we were looking for but I was content to walk around a bit more before figuring it out. It didn't take us too long to get away from where the train was and just strike out on our own. We wound up on a bigger street that had truck traffic and we started to worry that we might be getting away from the decent places. Then we spotted a little doorway with lights across the street. We went over and looked in. It was one of those tiny sushi places. We took the plunge and went inside. People always seem so genuinely happy to see you whenever you come into a shop or a restaurant here.

I've noticed this reaction even from security guards outside 24 hour grocery stores. They give you a big greeting when you come in and an even bigger sendoff when you leave. Perhaps you've even noticed this in a Japanese restaurant that's local to you. I definitely have but I didn't realize how much of a cultural thing it was until I actually experienced Japan. So we got a nice warm welcome and the sushi chef proceeded to give us a whole assortment of sushi everything from fresh water eel to mackerel to clam sushi. I never really expected to have a bad sushi experience while in Tokyo so I wasn't surprised at how amazingly good it all was. I can't decide if it was as good or even better than the sushi we had at the fish market. All I knew was it was a great experience overall because it felt like we were visiting with these people in their small establishment as much as we were going out to get food. Many people already know that being up at the bar is the only way to really appreciate sushi. Back home most people I hang out with prefer to sit at a table. I think those days may have to come to an end. After the sushi experience, we walked in the direction we thought a train might be and got it right for the most part. We just had to walk a bunch of kilometers before the street suddenly turned into the city again. And it really *was* a sudden transition. The train we caught (a full 15 minutes before the system started to shut down) was actually somewhat empty, undoubtedly because we were heading into the city and not away from it. As soon as we arrived back at Shinjuku, hordes of late working and drunken people piled on. Since tomorrow will almost certainly be my last day here, I really have to make sure everything is in order. So I'm reserving tomorrow for tying up any loose ends and hopefully having one last bit of fun in Tokyo.

13 September, 2005 Day 59. I think I truly witnessed magic tonight in Tokyo. It being my last day here, I really wanted it to be somewhat memorable. Unfortunately I also had to scramble in order to get things done before I left. Not having any net access at all for the next ten days meant that I really had to be completely finished with issue stuff, radio research, email correspondence, and any web updates since it was all about to be put on hold. The irony was that I wouldn't really have anything to worry about while on the Pacific. It almost sounded like a vacation. But I wasn't about to let work dictate all of my activities. Dave had been exploring the city intensely and I was envious. So I contacted someone in the city who had been referred to us by someone else in the States. Actually, I should explain how *that* came about because it's rather interesting. Last night when we returned to our hotel room we discovered a fax had been slid under our door. It was a letter from one of our listeners back home who was recommending that we contact a friend of his in Tokyo named Tomoko who would be able to show us some parts of town that we probably had missed. It was exactly what we wanted to do so I left his friend a message and sent email, hoping to hear back from her before our time ran out. The interesting part of all this was trying to figure out how in the world this guy in the States had tracked us down to convey this message. We were both pretty impressed. Did he call every hotel in Tokyo or have access to some sort of master database? Or perhaps he simply thought like I did and reached the same inevitable conclusion as to the best place to stay. What I finally realized was that he must have listened to the most recent "Off The Hook" and heard my hotel being called live on the air. To all of us, the hotel name sounded completely incomprehensible when the operator picked up. But to someone who understood Japanese, it was a smoking gun. Still, it was pretty cool to just get

a message like that out of the blue. Late in the morning I got a phone call from Tomoko, who said she'd be able to meet us sometime after 5:30 when she got off of work. That gave me the time to finish the loose ends I had to tie up before going out. I also got a call from the freighter people who told me I had to be at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau at 3:30 tomorrow. It was all coming together. I got in contact with Tomoko shortly after 5:30 and we settled on a place to meet up. But I had to somehow convey this information to Dave who was wandering around Tokyo somewhere and had just gotten off the phone with me a couple of seconds before Tomoko called me back. I guess this was the flipside of my earlier tirade about making plans with people who didn't have phones. This time I was the one who didn't have a phone (not a mobile anyway) and I was going to attempt to meet up with two people, one of whom *also* didn't have a phone. But I wasn't worried... until half an hour went by and I still hadn't heard back from Dave. Tomoko was waiting at Shinjuku station and I had to somehow convey that to Dave which was very difficult when neither of us had a phone. So I figured if I left a message with the front desk of our hotel, they would hopefully give it to him when he finally did call. You would not believe how incredibly complicated that became. It was like a Monty Python sketch. "Would you please give this message to Dave when he calls this room number?" "Dave?" "Yes." "You are Dave." "No, I'm *leaving* this for Dave. He should call this phone number (Tomoko's mobile) when he calls here." "Who is Tomoko?" "We're meeting her. That doesn't matter. Please just give him the message." "Give Tomoko - " "No, Dave." "Who are you?" Well, by the time we got it sorted, about ten minutes had gone by so I really felt the need to get to the station so Tomoko wouldn't waste her entire evening standing around. I was starting to have a bad feeling that Dave wouldn't get the message and I couldn't think of any other ways to get his attention. I got to the station and looked for someone matching the description Tomoko had given me. Lots and lots of people racing by but no hits. Well, this was great. I was spending my last evening in Tokyo watching a bunch of strangers running around in a train station while my friend was probably having just as much fun trying to figure out where the hell I was. Not quite what I had in mind. After scanning everyone in the vicinity I figured the best thing to do would be to call Tomoko's mobile from a payphone. The first phone I found said I had to deposit coins or a card. Well, I didn't have a card

and the phone didn't even have a coin slot. Not good. I found another style of phone that did take coins but Tomoko's number wasn't going through. Every time I called I would get some sort of recording and my money would come back. Since this had happened when I had called her before, I figured she was just out of range. So I stood there for the next 15 minutes or so trying over and over again, at the same time trying to see if either she or Dave were passing by. I didn't dare call the hotel to see if Dave had left me a message because they would probably give the message I left for Dave to me and then not give it to him. The evening was starting to have disaster written all over it. Finally I was able to reach Tomoko from the payphone. But it was a bad connection and we had trouble understanding each other. There seemed to be some confusion over where the shuttle had dropped me off. Tomoko was somewhere in the station. She suggested we meet at the department store entrance and I said I was right by the one downstairs where the shuttle and taxis were. I wasn't sure if she understood where I was but I knew moving around and trying to find other department store entrances would probably ensure that we missed each other. So I kept my fingers crossed and waited. After another 20 minutes had gone by I figured this was probably not going to work out. So I made a vow to get back on the shuttle that would be leaving in another 25 minutes. I only hoped that I would at least be able to track down Dave. Yeah, I know it was a mistake to make plans without having a phone. But it was either that or don't make any plans. It was a chance I took and sometimes chances just don't go your way. And then with less than three minutes to go before the shuttle left, I suddenly spotted Dave heading in my direction. He had figured out where I was. And he was with someone who matched Tomoko's description. And I knew at that moment that things like this only happen when it's going to be a great evening. How the mixup happened doesn't matter. It's a one word answer anyway: Shinjuku. The first thing I wanted to do was get food since all that waiting around had made me grow faint. I had also just plunged into doing work after waking up so I would have been starving anyway. After everyone was introduced, I asked Tomoko if she knew of a place nearby with decent food, perhaps a place we hadn't yet been to. And as any self-respecting Tokyo native would, she did. We were led to an extremely narrow alley with tiny restaurants on both sides, each with an L-shaped seating arrangement around the front counter. This was the famous "Bladerunner" row which supposedly inspired the well known set in the movie. I had been looking for this along with other people we had been hanging out with and here it was. We walked up and down it a few times but all of the places were full, not a particularly hard feat if your entire seating capacity was six. I was quite content however to just be on that street, relishing the sights and the mood. If we did nothing else, this would have been a cool way to end my stay here. But we wound up doing quite a bit more. Tomoko got one of the places to squeeze in an extra chair and we wound up at a really nice place that served a variety of small dishes. And one of them was the ever elusive horse sashimi. There it was, just sitting there on the menu after Dave and I had been looking for it for days. This was clearly a sign. So yeah, we all ate horse sashimi. We had to try it, after all. And it was pretty damn good. So we got several more dishes of it. And it remained good. We got rid of any moral dilemmas we were clinging on to and had a great time. But the night was still young. We strolled around the area a bit and learned a few pieces of trivia about

Tokyo from Tomoko. We decided it was time to do some filming for "Speakers' World" and so we got Tomoko to answer some questions. Then we tried to get some passersby to also participate. We picked a small street at random and looked for potential people. It took a while but Tomoko managed to get a businessman to answer our questions. And after he was done, he seemed to want to stick around. As it turned out, he had some film and broadcast connections in both Japan and the States. He seemed very curious and sociable even though he didn't speak English. I had almost gotten used to this sort of thing. He then offered to bring us to a better place where we could meet more people. It sounded good. And so we all walked through a maze of little streets into a part of Shinjuku we hadn't been to before. Both Dave and I wondered if we were being set up somehow. Even if we were, I figured, it would be an interesting experience. But that was just our suspicious New York nature speaking. While you would hesitate to be led by a stranger back home into dark alleys and questionable establishments, here this was what you did if you wanted to witness a part of the culture. And so, mere meters away from the busiest train station in the world, we found ourselves in a narrow series of streets with peacefully sleeping cats and a distinctive buzz in the air. He described the neighborhood to us through Tomoko as a kind of a Greenwich Village. His words. It was perfect. He brought us into a bar where he told us his friends hung out. It was another of these super tiny establishments. Eight people would be a crowd. There were bottles of alcohol with the names of regular customers written on them. You buy your bottle and it's there for you when you need it. Pictures and memorabilia of all sorts adorned the walls. The bartender was a middle aged woman with a funky hat and a hardened yet sweet disposition. The businessman treated us as if we were guests in his home. He made sure everyone was given drinks. He went out to a vending machine to buy Cokes when the bar didn't have any. And whenever one of them was in danger of running out, he would go somewhere else and get another one, each time a little bigger and each time apparently a little further away judging by the amount of time it took him to get back. He kept refilling beer glasses and ordering more bottles whenever one would run low. I remembered the rule about how your glass would keep getting refilled if you kept finishing what was in it so I made a conscious effort to leave it full when I had had enough. Suddenly little pizza slabs appeared from the toaster oven in the back. Now it was the bartender's turn to show her generosity. Tomoko and the businessman had both spent some time in New York. We very quickly started to reminisce about our favorite places there and it was quite stunning how many of them we shared. Everything from restaurants to grocery stores to sake bars. The businessman had even stayed in the Hotel Pennsylvania! The language barrier meant nothing here. We walked into a bar with this guy and it was instant friends and family. I had heard of this sort of thing but had never expected to have it unfold in front of me through such a fantastic series of chance events and encounters. The guy wound up paying for all of us and made us feel extremely welcome. We interviewed the bartender for the movie and said our goodbyes as the time of the last train approached. I felt like I had been through a most remarkable experience and had somehow been part of a very human encounter. Would such a thing be possible in New York? Of course! But would we be able to shake our hesitancy and suspicions? I think if we believe in magic, we're going to have to.

14 September, 2005 Day 60. Hard to believe that I would find it difficult to wake up in time for a 3:30 appointment. But as

with most things it wasn't as simple as it sounded. For one thing, Dave and I both stayed up really late last night. We stopped for a late night snack in one of the ticket machine places. This one was a lot closer to the hotel and much better than the one we went to a couple of nights ago. The waitress fell asleep standing up at one point. People here just work themselves so hard. But then, I shouldn't be talking after getting about two hours sleep because I just kept staying up later and later. I got next week's "Off The Wall" done so I won't have that hanging over my head while on the boat. And getting all packed was a project in itself. I think Dave got even less sleep than I did if he got any at all. I only got to talk to him for a few minutes in the morning. He was going to spend the afternoon exploring before getting to the airport at around 4 while I was going to focus on simply getting to the pier. I had directions from Shinjuku to Shinagawa, another JR station. But from there I had to take a cab and I wasn't sure I had enough money. Plus the shuttle from the hotel to Shinjuku didn't run in the early afternoon. Real convenient. So I had to walk 20 minutes to the station with my bags and then keep my fingers crossed in the cab. I really felt sad leaving Tokyo. I did a lot but there's so much more I wanted to do. I felt as if I hadn't really thrown myself into the city to the max. But after traveling for so long and so far, I guess I felt the need to sit back a little. Plus I did have deadlines looming. But now it's all over. My work is done, my friend is heading back home, and I have the longest single trip of my life about to begin. But there's no question in my mind that I'll come back here someday and give this place the attention and time it really deserves. Tokyo was the fitting crescendo to my foreign travels, the final chorus before the long silence. I made it all the way to the immigration bureau, riding mass transit like a pro. The taxi only used half of my remaining funds so it looked as if I might even have the chance to buy something before departing. But first I had to take care of whatever departure formalities were necessary. For that I needed to meet up with someone from the shipping company who would guide me through the process. I actually got there early and was very proud of myself, considering how little sleep I got. At around 3:25 a guy showed up holding a sign with my name and one other on it. I'm so glad I remembered that showing up on time is extremely important in Japanese culture. It's also rather important in freighter culture. We threw my bags into his minivan and went over to the immigration office. I waited for him to deal with the second person who it turned out was also going to be on the same freighter. We handed over our passports and waited for the bureaucracy to do its thing. The other passenger (who would be the *only* other passenger on the entire ship) was a college student named Ben who lived in San Diego and had just traveled from Egypt to Ethiopia, Israel, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. He actually had attended school in Egypt, left from there in June, and was returning to the States after more than a year. And here I was only on the road since July. Oh well, at least I've got the circling the entire globe thing going. Ben had a lot of interesting stories to tell about his travels and the various people he met along the way. He had also been on the Trans Siberian but had gotten off more times than I did. I think he wound up taking six different trains. He was studying linguistics and, unlike me, seemed to instantly bond with whatever language was surrounding him at the moment. What was really interesting was that he hadn't traveled much at all before going to Egypt. This is what happens when you travel all over the world and take unusual voyages. You run into kindred spirits that you never would have met otherwise. All of those little things that you notice and

file away suddenly become relevant and interesting to someone other than yourself. For instance, I think we both had the same hateful provodnitsa on one of the trains (most likely on a different day) who freaked out at laptops that were using the AC outlets to charge their batteries. The passport bureaucracy only took a few minutes which left several hours to kill in a local mall before we'd be taken to the boat. So the two of us hung out there and traded all kinds of stories and opinions on various world and societal issues as well as some of the many adventures we had both been through. Time in a mall never went so fast. We were picked up by another shipping company representative who took us to the pier where the freighter was about to dock. We saw another boat go by and wondered if ours would be as big. We didn't have to wonder for long. The Pusan Senator was suddenly upon us and very smoothly docking. It was huge. Instantly people and machines sprang into action. The entire loading and unloading procedure is fascinating to watch. Huge robotic arms pick up freight containers, each the size of an 18-wheeler's trailer, and transport them on or off the freighter. The entire cycle takes about 35 seconds per container. It used to take days to handle this kind of a load. But this entire boat could now be processed in a few hours. We were scheduled to leave at around 5 in the morning. So our first night on the boat would be spent in the harbor. And I guess I'll be doing "Off The Hook" at 8 in the morning once more, this time shortly after leaving Tokyo. Ben had been on a freighter before although he claimed it was nowhere near as nice as this one and that the staff wasn't very friendly. But he obviously knew the ropes and didn't hesitate when told to get on a rickety stairway that slid from boat to dock and kept going up. Not only was it scary as shit to just jump onto this thing but it was hard as hell with heavy bags. And just for good measure the thing seemed to be coated with oil. But if I could pass this test and make it up the side of the boat, I guess I was ready for a bit of freighter life. I got to the top and signed in with the guy manning the post up there. We were then shown to our respective cabins. It was far nicer than I ever believed possible. We each have our own rooms (usually it's two to a room) and there's an outer room as well that has couches, a TV set, and a stereo system. So basically we each have a fair-sized suite. Mine is labeled Spare Officer 2. Ben is one flight up and Spare Officer 4. Hopefully we won't be called into duty. Over the next few hours we were greeted by the captain and various other officers and members of the crew. We got to see the bridge and were told we were welcome there at any time. That was cool. Some captains are never that hospitable. I won't get a whole lot of sleep tonight either since I have to be up early for breakfast at 7:30 and then "Off The Hook" at 8. At least this would be the last morning show I would have to worry about. Normally I wouldn't worry about breakfast either but I figured this was the first one and maybe it was something we were supposed to attend. In my first few hours on board the freighter, I'm struck by the laid back and friendly attitude that the people here seem to have. I don't know how I'll feel in ten days but right now as the loading continues at full speed outside my window, I couldn't be more comfortable.

15 September, 2005 Day 61. I woke to the sound of a phone ringing in the distance. As I slowly came to, I started to realize that I must have slept too long. That only happens when I'm really sleep deprived. Luckily Ben knew that I had to be awake and kept the phone ringing until I responded. I had to hurry to get to our inaugural breakfast and "Off The Hook" would be beginning in about a half hour. There was nothing at all formal about breakfast, that's for sure. Basically there are four tables set up with four chairs each. Usually there's only one or two people in the room at any particular time. People eat fairly quickly and go back to whatever it was they were doing. The captain came in and we chatted with him for a little bit. The kitchen staff is from the Philippines and Kiribati while the officers are all German except for one Russian. I didn't feel right running out in the middle of our conversation with the captain so I called in to the show a few minutes late using the satellite phone. Ben and I found a fairly open part of one of the decks so that we could have a pretty good view of the satellites. Because the satellites move, it pays to have as much open sky as possible. The problem with the open sky was the wind which became strong enough to hold you up if you leaned into it. And that didn't sound good on the radio so I moved to a more protected area and almost instantly lost the signal. I can't say any of this surprised me. I knew this would be a show that I probably wouldn't be able to participate in fully. Those are the breaks when you're on a freighter in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Which by the way I'm not. We were still passing parts of Japan when I was on the air so we've got quite a ways to go before I can truthfully say we're in the middle of the ocean. But there is a whole hell of a lot of water around us. There's another boat I can see way off to the south. I don't know if they're going along the same route or if they're going to break away at some point. It's a little reassuring to see them though. I wonder if we'll see anyone else. Tonight we're supposed to set our clocks ahead an hour. At last. It was in Mongolia that I first entered this time zone although I left it again while in China only to reenter it in Japan. Now at last it would be changing. It's good to feel like I'm making real eastward progress. There are a couple of special things that happen on Thursdays. There's some kind of a reception in the officers' recreation room in the afternoon and self service cold cuts for dinner. The latter really does seem like something people look forward to based on the way it was told to us. This reception though proved to be somewhat of a mystery. Ben and I got there at 3:00 like we were told and found a couple of boxes of cookies and a thermos of coffee with two cups. Like I said, they're not very formal around here. We waited for a while to see if anyone else might show up but nobody did. In any event we hung out there for an hour or so looking at the various videos and DVDs they had in their collection. Ben has some movies on his laptop which will probably help to pass the time. The ones in the recreation room are pretty much all in German which isn't a problem with DVDs which almost always have subtitles. But the videos are dubbed and there's no subtitle track so our selection is pretty limited. But again, nothing I wasn't expecting. I welcome the opportunity to just sit back and not have to think about doing anything. I don't think I've really had that freedom on this entire voyage. Now I'm going to have an awful lot of it. The day really went by fast and before I knew it it was dark. It was pretty choppy so I didn't really feel

like going to bed. I stayed up for a while reading, writing, and listening to some of the radio shows that were done while I was away. It's good to hear voices from home even if they are voices from home in the past. I wound up grabbing one of the few non-German videotapes and having a snack consisting of my last Japanese convenience store seaweed wrap. Damn, I missed that place. The movie I saw, "Six Days and Seven Nights," was something I wish I *had* missed. It was formulaic enough to have been written by a computer. Still, it's cool to be able to just run up a flight of stairs and grab a video and see it in the comfort of my own little suite in the Pacific Ocean. Now hopefully all of this pitching will end soon so I can get to sleep without being bounced around.

16 September, 2005 Day 62. Today I wound up missing both breakfast and lunch. I guess I had to catch up on sleep in a big way. I was aware of the phone ringing in the other room but I had no inclination to get up and answer it. I have to say that it's pretty damn comfortable sleeping on this freighter. Of course the ride has smoothed out considerably in the last day. The view outside was about as predictable as you might expect. But I still never cease to marvel at the fact that I'm on a vessel that's somehow going to make it nearly 5000 miles in one shot over ten days. I don't know how these guys do it. Unfortunately Ben took my advice to defrag the hard drive on his laptop and now the thing just blue screens whenever he tried to boot it. Neither of us have the right recovery disks and everything we've tried to get the thing to work has so far failed. Maybe someone else on the boat has a Windows XP disk and can help get this thing to boot. Fucking Windows strikes even on the high seas. I can imagine how frustrating it must be to lose your source of reading, music, and movies at the very beginning of such a long trip. I only hope my luck holds out. I suggested to Ben that we visit the bridge at around 2:30 in the afternoon since the captain had said to drop by anytime. He wasn't there but the officers who were had no problem with us hanging around while they did their respective jobs. Our position in the sea had been drawn on a map just as it must have been for hundreds of years. Of course they also had lots of modern equipment: computers, radios, radar, telephones, all of which looked very rugged and ready to be used for any challenge that came up. But right now everything seemed to be going very smoothly. The view was hypnotic. Stacks of cargo with the front of the boat far off moving steadily east with nothing but sea in all directions. And yet we were still so close to Japan relatively speaking. We could have stayed up there all day quite easily. We heard the phone ring and one of the guys told us the captain was looking for us in the officers' recreation room. Oh shit, we had totally forgotten about another reception he had told us about yesterday. Well, at least it looked like we had simply been confused about where to meet him and had gone to where we thought he would be. Yeah, that works. We went down to the officers' recreation room and the captain was there with a bottle of champagne, peanuts, and some classical music playing on the stereo. He gave us a warm greeting and an official welcome to his ship. We spent more than an hour there just talking about what it was like to travel on the seas, what the different ports were like, which routes were the longest, etc.

We each got a little booklet with information on our ship and its entire crew plus another glossy one with information on the F. Laeisz Shipping Group, the owners of our ship. The Pudong Senator is one of nine 4,545 TEU container ships that were built in 1997 and 1998. It can hold 350 cargo containers, each one the size of an 18-wheeler. The company owns a bunch of other ships as well, including one that's even bigger than the ones in this fleet. Laeisz isn't the biggest of the freighter lines but our captain told us they didn't really want to be. He seemed quite proud of the company he worked for. He also told us an interesting story on their naming convention. Apparently the founder's daughter-in-law had the nickname of "poodle" due to her curly hair. The first ship was christened "Pudel" in her honor back in the 1850s. Ever since then it's been a tradition to name each ship with names beginning with "P." Not only that but there's a statue of a poodle back at their headquarters in Germany. Tradition is something taken quite seriously in the shipping world. It was great just hanging out with the captain talking about all sorts of things. This is why it's so important to take an interest in everything that's been in the news, whether it's an upcoming election (which Germany is having on Sunday), history, or even football. People really like to talk about these things especially when they're so far away from home. The World Cup is being played in Germany next year and that's an incredibly big deal. It doesn't take long to learn the very basics and know enough to understand what someone else has to say on the subject. Little bits of communication like that really help to form bonds and we definitely formed one with this guy. But the one thing which was really fascinating to talk to him about was the day the wall fell. Every German remembers where they were on that day. Our captain (who had been from East Germany) was on the ocean somewhere when he got the word that the East German government was in effect no more. The first thing he did was send his political officer home. All boats from East Germany had been required to travel with a political officer who ensured that no unauthorized contacts were made and that the interests of the government were being strictly followed. He remembered how unhappy the political officer was at this turn of events. The time flew by and it was already time for dinner. The captain never shows up for dinner as he believes it slows him down. Instead he's always there for breakfast and lunch. I'm still quite taken with how quickly people have their meals without much talking and being very intent on getting back to whatever it was they were doing. It's also rather strange (although completely normal at sea ever since the Viking era apparently) to see how the officers are completely separate from the crew. We always eat in the officers' mess while the crew has their own room down the hall. It's a sort of hierarchy that everyone seems comfortable with but it's always weird to see that kind of separation. But they've all been very friendly to us, regardless of rank or position. In the evening I started to mess with the antenna on my room's stereo system and managed to get it into a position where it could actually pick up medium wave stations from Japan. This was really good as I hadn't been able to pick up a damn thing before even when we were in port. Whoever set up this radio didn't set it up with the intention of actually receiving radio stations. Now I had a fighting chance of being able to pick up KFI from Los Angeles and hearing Phil Hendrie as we got closer to the States. Nothing would make the time go faster. Ben and I grabbed a DVD of "Being John Malkovich" which I had never seen. I can't tell you how cool it is to be watching a movie while on a ship heading across the Pacific. This is so unlike the QM2 that it's almost hard to believe they both do the same thing. There I felt like I was in a huge floating hotel. And here I feel like I'm on a ship. And I've never felt like I was on a ship before. It takes a bit of getting used to but I can already understand why someone would want to make this their life. There's

something very calming and inclusive about the entire endeavor.

17 September, 2005 Day 63. Sleeping on this thing is really very addictive. I had all I could do to wake up in time for lunch. I never had a chance for breakfast. But that's perfectly fine with me. The sleep is probably doing me much more good anyway. Ben didn't make it to lunch but I chatted with the captain some more. Maybe I can get him to be in the film and/or on the radio. That would be really neat. I know there are many interesting stories and perspectives to be found on this boat. But most of the people here seem to keep to themselves and I'm wary of violating anyone's space. I guess we'll see what happens. There are now no other boats within sight or on our radar. The boat that was in front of us has gone on another approach towards Los Angeles. It's interesting because that destination is right next to Long Beach, which is where we're going. But the two operate completely independently according to the captain. And they both pale in comparison to the activity that can be witnessed in some of the Asian ports where boats are stacked one behind the other as far as the eye can see. I heard the story of the one time our boat needed assistance. A member of the crew had a heart attack and the ship had to turn back towards San Francisco. Fortunately they were only a few hundred miles out when this happened. If something like that were to happen further out, such as where we're heading right now, the unspoken conclusion is that it wouldn't be a very good outcome at all. I've been told that we won't be seeing a single island or another boat until we get much closer to our destination. The captain has also been printing out news for us and leaving it in the officers' recreation room twice a day. I'm not sure where exactly it's coming from as the formatting is rather strange. But I'm happy to hear any words from the outside. I caught up with Ben later in the day and we explored the ship a little more and tried to get his laptop fixed again. We left a note for the second engineer who also had a laptop and just might have an XP installation disk. Nobody else on the boat apparently had one. I got food delivered from the galley. Basically this is how it works. You look at the list of stuff they have, all of which is pretty cheap. You write out what you want and give that piece of paper to the steward who then gives it to the captain who I believe looks it over and approves it. You then get the stuff you want brought to you. It's not a whole lot - peanuts, soda, beer, stuff like that. The regular food is all included in the journey and you're welcome to take fruit and cold cuts from the refrigerator in the kitchen whenever you want. Even though we had both seen it before, Ben and I decided to watch "AI" as it was one of the few DVDs in stock and we couldn't get any of his VCDs to work in my laptop. Midway through we heard a loud alarm that resounded throughout the ship. We went into the hallway and saw that all of the fire doors had shut. Uh oh. We went over to the stairwell and looked down. Various people were on their way to the engine room. They weren't running which I took as a good sign. Someone else was coming down from the bridge. He said everything was under control and that we could go back to our rooms. Nevertheless we decided to stick around just to see if anything else was going to happen. A few minutes later the same person came back upstairs and said it was a false alarm. It actually wasn't the

first time I had heard an alarm. Yesterday when Ben and I were in the officers' recreation room, a little light on the wall started to flash and there was a rather shrill beeping sound. The light said "boiler" which is definitely something you don't want on a flashing indicator. But it stopped a few minutes later. When I was going to sleep last night at around 4 am (it's easy to go to sleep late when you lose an hour every night) I heard an alarm that sounded like it was coming from a room below mine. Then it stopped. Ten minutes later it started again and then stopped. I was a little concerned until I figured out it was someone's snooze alarm. This latest one though was a real alarm and one to be taken seriously. That was underscored five minutes later by the use of the shipwide PA system and the captain's voice announcing "False Alarm." At least I learned that the sound of that alarm was pretty hard to miss.

18 September, 2005 Day 64. This is without a doubt going to be the longest day of my life. I even have Jack Bauer beat this time. You see, we're going to be passing the international dateline tonight which means that I get to live the same day twice. That's right, two Sundays in a row. A September 18 that will last either 46 or 47 hours depending on how many times we lose an hour heading east. It's very different from experiencing this on an airplane where you would simply turn your calendar back a day and get home around the same time you left. Here on the boat, the two days will be spent in the same environment and nothing will appear different at all. I'll just know that instead of being a day ahead of the States, I'll now be lagging way behind. It was nice while it lasted. I woke up and checked the time on my useless GSM phone. Well, it wasn't exactly useless since it served to tell me what time it was back in New York. And that's quite useful when you have to be on the radio at a set time and you were constantly unclear as to which time zone you were currently in. It was almost 8:00 pm on Saturday which meant it was nearly noon on Sunday here. Shit. I knew I had missed breakfast but lunch was at 11:30 so that too was pretty much done. I didn't feel like jumping out of bed and running downstairs to catch the last few minutes. I could live with a little hunger anyway. I decided to just sleep longer. But then I heard it again. The alarm! Great. I jumped into my clothes and headed outside my room. Again the fire doors were closed. I went to our "muster station" which was the officers' recreation room. Nobody there. I went down to the officers' mess where I expected to see people finishing lunch. Nobody there either. Not encouraging. I looked out the window to see if anyone was paddling away in one of those big orange lifeboats. No activity. I listened for any sort of a commotion and, hearing none, concluded that there was nothing to worry about. Nevertheless I gave Ben a call when I got back to my room and asked him if he was aware of any orders to abandon ship or anything. He wasn't and had in fact just woken up himself so he wasn't very aware of much. But he had made it to breakfast earlier. I told him that not only had I not done that but I had also just missed lunch. But according to Ben we had both made a mistake when we set our clocks ahead last night. Apparently that doesn't happen every night after all, a fact he learned when he showed up for breakfast an hour early at 6:30 in the morning. So I actually was right in time for lunch. How's that for strange luck? I made it downstairs and there was the captain again, regular as clockwork. I asked him about the alarm and he explained that every Sunday they had a fire alarm test at 11:00 am. Since tomorrow would also be Sunday, I wondered aloud if we would have a second test. "Of course," he replied in complete seriousness. I shouldn't have expected anything else. On a boat like this, all of the rules are followed to the letter.

Apparently the weather has taken a turn for the worse so it looks like we'll have rain practically up to our destination. Which means I will have made it all the way back to the States and still not have seen a decent starry night. I couldn't believe it. I had no idea the entire earth was so damn cloudy as a rule. Just about everyone will be getting shore leave when we arrive at Long Beach. The captain will be staying at a seaside community in Long Beach where the original Queen Mary is permanently docked and has been converted into a restaurant/hotel. If I have time I'd like to check that out since I rode across the Atlantic on her successor. It's pretty interesting though that after all of this time at sea, the captain would gravitate towards more boats and seaside activities. Again, I guess I shouldn't have expected anything else. The captain had also found a Windows disk for Ben so there was a chance we could get his computer back up and running in the near future. I had decided that today would be laundry day for me so I set about getting that organized. There was a washer on my floor but no dryer. Ben's floor had both. But everything was in use so this wasn't going to be a very quick process. The days really do seem to go by pretty quickly. Perhaps getting up late helps with that. It just seems like it's dark again before you know it. And on those days when I'm awake for more than one meal, each one appears to come pretty quickly after the last one. What was most important was that nobody got bored, especially those in charge of keeping the ship moving. And these guys all seem pretty alert and serious. But it's amazing how much the little things mean. Sunday is ice cream day and tomorrow is also Sunday so we get ice cream two days in a row. For the record, I'm not the one who was that excited by this. Members of the crew mentioned it on a couple of occasions. I imagine if you spend enough time out here, those things really do start to matter. I finally got my laundry into a machine and began to make progress on that front. Ben and I tracked down two films that were in English: a version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story entitled "Mary Reilly" and "Deconstructing Harry," a Woody Allen film I had somehow missed, easily his best work in the past ten years. Since it was almost 2:00 am, we headed to the bridge thinking this was the time that the second Sunday would begin. It might be a fun spectacle to witness. But unfortunately we didn't take into account the time change so we had missed the changeover. No big deal. The guy who was up there by himself was happy to talk to us about the ship, traveling, America, Germany, and anything else. So we spent some time up there while the ship moved on. We found out that our course had been altered in order to avoid the storm that was now heading to our north. That might result in some changes in conditions and maybe we'd even see some other boats. It was really cool to just hang out up in the bridge. Hopefully we'll spend a lot more time up there. ================================================ Day 65. The second Sunday has begun. And this time I really did sleep through lunch. I actually welcome the opportunity to just be alone for a little bit so I could do some writing and thinking. I looked out the window and was surprised to see another ship on the horizon. Over the next hour or so we slowly caught up to it and eventually passed it. I don't know if anyone else was watching it as we went by but for me seeing another ship at sea is a pretty big deal. We're in the middle of the largest

ocean on earth and any sign of life is a noteworthy event. You don't see birds or fish or even insects out here. I haven't seen a single plane go overhead. Every bit of life we've witnessed in recent days has been on our own ship. I guess when you do this enough you get used to that fact. But I'm a long way from having that happen so seeing the other boat was the highlight of my day. The weather seems to have cleared up completely. It's still a bit cloudy but we've definitely moved away from the storm. I don't know if our deviation will add significantly to our trip. We're supposed to arrive Friday morning in Long Beach. That seems so far away, especially when you have a double day like today. But it's also pretty hard to believe I've been on this thing since Wednesday. At some point in the next day or so I'm going to record another edition of "Off The Wall." This will either be the last or the next to last show from the road. I've been listening to some of the radio shows that were done since I left, most of which I haven't heard before. That really makes the time go by. Even though we're no longer in a storm, the sky is still pretty cloudy. It's really mind boggling how I've come all this way and still haven't seen a starry sky. I'll probably finally see one when I arrive in my own back yard. Sounds like there's a moral in there somewhere. If seeing the boat was the highlight of the day, what happened tonight may have eclipsed it. Ben and I were tuning the AM radio with our special lengthened antenna. I figured we were at the point where we would no longer be able to hear Japanese stations and would still be out of range of the American stations. Was I ever wrong. After a few minutes of tuning we heard the distinctive sound of English on the radio. The frequency was close to 810 (our European radio tunes in 9 kilohertz increments instead of 10 kilohertz which means most American frequencies are off by varying amounts). I remembered that 810 AM belonged to KGO in San Francisco! I never expected to hear something from home so far away. Not only were we hearing it but it was coming in fairly well. We managed to pick up a handful of other stations from the west coast including at least one from Mexico. We seem to have just passed over the line where the Japanese stations become weaker and the American ones grow stronger. Of course, we won't be able to pick up anything in the daytime at this distance but night was a different story because of the way AM radio works. The signals are only going to get better from this point on. In a way I'm glad now we don't have a shortwave. Those signals are designed to go around the world and there's never a point where you can't hear something from some part of the globe. But to pick up a distant local station on AM when you weren't expecting to hear anything... that there is no comparison for. I think this is the best way to become reacquainted with your country: slowly and gradually. I feel like someone from the really old days, looking forward to hearing the radio at night. What we pick up tomorrow night should be quite impressive. No news on the German elections which took place today. We asked a couple of people on the ship. Everyone has a theory on how it's going to turn out but so far the news hasn't reached us. I'm not sure if it will even make much of a difference but it's always interesting to see how these elections affect those who are native to the country. Now that the double day is done, I imagine time will seem to pick up again. This is the part of the trip I always wondered about, when I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It's not nearly as lonely as I thought it would have been. Having another passenger to talk to definitely is a big part of that. But the people on the ship itself also make it seem so much more hospitable than I had imagined. They're not

here to entertain or anything and if you come onto a freighter you'd better be prepared for a lot of time to yourself. It's the overall mood they evoke which makes me feel like I'm a part of the community even though I'm not contributing a damn thing. I would think that if someone were to do this a number of times with the same people, they would wind up feeling quite close and able to work well even without having much in the way of conversation. I think they've all gotten to that point here. And just seeing how they interact with a minimum of words is really intriguing.

19 September, 2005 Day 66. I think I'm really starting to lose my sense of time here. It's one thing to be in such a closed environment for an extended period. But the nightly time change is really starting to screw with my system. I think a 24 hour day is bad enough. I seem to be more comfortable with something closer to 30 hours myself. So these 23 hour days just make it all the harder. Today I woke up at 7 in the morning! I actually could have made it to breakfast if I had bothered to stand up. But I wasn't about to do that. You see, it's confusing enough when I look at the time on my phone. It's still set to New York time which is important for when I'm doing "Off The Hook" and want to be sure I've got the time right. The rest of the week all I have to do is add or subtract the appropriate number from the hour displayed and I've got the time of day. (I don't really need to know the time all that much.) But when I woke up today I got it so wrong that I thought it was after 9 am and almost tricked myself into starting the day. I don't need those kinds of close calls. The reason I wanted to be up in the morning at all was because 10:00 am was the time to go and see the engine room. That was when the crew there had a break and it was considered the best time of the day to go. Let me say now that if you ever have a chance to see an engine room, grab it. I really wasn't expecting what I saw. First off, I wasn't expecting the chief engineer to be so happy to see me. After all, I had seen him on a number of occasions after being introduced shortly after boarding and I just assumed he was very busy and didn't have time for passengers. But when I called downstairs to see if it might be possible to see the engine room, he sounded quite enthusiastic and told me to come down right away. When I came downstairs he was positively bubbly with excitement and led me all throughout the complex. And it really *was* a complex. I guess I didn't quite know what to expect. I knew the engine room had to be big but this was absolutely huge. Several stories tall, obviously much bigger than the length of the building that we were confined to, and so incredibly loud. You had to wear ear goggles or you wouldn't have heard a thing, during or long after your visit. Every aspect of the ship's operations is born down here. From air cooling to heat to water filtration to the actual movement of the whole operation, this is the real heart. I can only imagine what the one in the QM2 must have looked like although I never saw a hint as to where it might be or how it would have been accessed. Since they're so much more open here and since I'm so much closer to being an actual part of a community, there are no secrets here. But there might just as well be for all of the complex apparatus chugging away that I could never hope to understand. But this is yet another reason for someone to go on a freighter cruise: if they have even the slightest interest in the mechanics, you will never have a better chance to see something like this in action. It served as a reminder of something I've always known. For every bit of equipment that you take for granted, there's a room like this someplace making it all possible and people who understand that room who know how to make it

all work. I can only imagine the tremendous feeling of pride that must be felt by anyone who is somehow a part of this. Taking 350 container vessels across the Pacific Ocean at 25 knots is by no means a trivial task. I got to see pretty much anything I was interested in seeing. And that involved walking up and down ladders, crossing narrow plates that went over spinning turbines, and wondering just how many ways I could instantly die by making the wrong turn. Like many aspects of freighter life, you need to know what you're getting yourself into. And for some people, that process will be a great thing. When I got back to my room it was like I had just been through a remarkable adventure. I had to rest for a while before heading down to lunch. Apparently today was also the day that some significant work was being done outside the cabins as people had been hammering away all morning. At one point I looked up to see a guy directly outside my window with a paint brush looking in. I waved. He waved back. The captain was at his usual spot at the appointed lunch hour. We talked a bit about the just concluded German elections. He had been able to get Radio Deutsche Welle on the shortwave and had heard that neither side had gotten a majority and some sort of coalition would have to be worked out. It would be especially hard since both sides had sworn not to make a coalition with certain other parties. We could each only imagine the turmoil these results must be causing half a world away. For some reason I felt like taking a nap after lunch which I don't usually do. I wound up waking up right before dinner which is one of the reasons I avoid taking naps. I don't know if I owed myself sleep or if I was just mesmerized by the ship's movement but I pretty much slept the entire day away. I met up with Ben and we headed down to the dining area together. We made plans to record "Off The Wall" afterwards and had the usual long conversations about various world situations. I couldn't help but notice that, with the exception of the occasional conversation with the captain, nobody else was really that talkative at meals and I wondered if it was considered out of place for us to stick around so long. The mode of operation here seems to be pretty down to earth after all with only as much time allocated to something as is needed. But as civilians I think we'll always be somewhat out of step with that philosophy. We were about to begin recording the show when alarms rang out again. It took a really long time for them to be turned off this time and I was very aware of the red fire lights that were lit up in the hallways. We went to the stairwell once more where there were people heading down to the engine room. Again nobody seemed to be in a major state of alarm but they were definitely dealing with the situation as quickly as possible. I don't know if this kind of a thing happens all that often or if we've just been lucky. But I have to say it really does put you in a state of alert. I suppose that's a good thing. After seeing the power that exists downstairs, even the slightest sign of any trouble had better be taken extremely seriously. Everyone here knows this. Ben and I had quite a bit of fun doing the radio show and the time went by extremely quickly. We talked about our respective trips and some of the adventures and experiences we had been through. We even found time for a quick game of ping pong and a walk out on the deck before heading downstairs and raiding the kitchen. This will either be my last or second to last show on the road and I think it went quite well. Tomorrow I'll try and do some recording for the movie. I don't know how successful I'll be getting members of the crew to go on camera but I'll give it a shot. Tonight's film was "The Usual Suspects" which is one of my favorites. It came from a German DVD

which had the original English audio as an option. I've noticed that European DVDs have a lot more subtitle choices as a rule than their American counterparts. Another reason to go region free. I also have to admit that I seem to be seeing a bunch of films lately with really convoluted plots that wrap around themselves. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned in there somewhere. We played around with the AM radio again tonight and found some more American stations including KSL from Salt Lake City. I got some signal from KFI but not good enough to actually listen to. Tomorrow looks good. Of course, last I checked Phil Hendrie airs in the early evening which would still be afternoon for us so we wouldn't get a signal then. Hopefully his shows are repeated during the overnight or on some other station we can hear. I always need my Phil Hendrie fix whenever I'm anywhere near the west coast. I think some of my friends back home have finally figured out how to SMS my satellite phone which I'm told doesn't cost me anything. Of course I can't reply, at least not until Wednesday's "Off The Hook" after which I can use whatever remaining prepaid minutes I have. It might make sense to save a few though in case the boat's in distress or something. Tomorrow we'll only be three hours off of west coast time which somehow sounds like it's getting really close to home.

20 September, 2005 Day 67. I just realized it's been about a week since I got on the freighter. It was last Wednesday evening and this is still Tuesday but if you take into account the extra day we got from crossing the dateline that comes out to a week. I can't believe how fast the time has gone. I wonder how long I could hold out on this kind of a vessel. It really does feel like something out of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" though. The constant roar of the ship, the feeling that you're slowly going from one distant spot to another, the hierarchy of the ship. The only things missing are the drama and the aliens. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the time goes by so quickly. The days don't really seem to be differentiated from one another. So you wake up, eat something, do some writing, listen to some music or old radio shows, watch a movie, and then repeat. I've had to check my computer on a number of occasions to find out what day it was. More often than not, I'm surprised by the answer. It's so bizarre how I now have this little space on the seas which has become my home. It feels and looks like a little apartment. I can receive visitors or walk around to another part of the neighborhood. I see people in the mess hall or wander over to the bridge or hang out in the officers' recreation room. It all seems so normal and the way it should be. But it's not. We're in the middle of the fucking Pacific Ocean and it just goes on forever. But of course that's not what you think about. You don't remember when you're 43 stories in the air as long as you're at home. You forget that you're flying down the street when it's your car you're driving in. And I guess the same goes for airplane pilots and maybe even the crew of the space station. I remember when relatives of mine moved out of the house they had lived in for decades and into a much smaller apartment. When I saw it for the first time, I was surprised that it still felt just like their house. The atmosphere was somehow precisely the same. It's all defined by the environment you make for yourself on the inside. Nothing else matters. So I may look out the window and see nothing but water

forever into the distance. The floor may be perpetually rocking and the sound of creaking containers is etched into my brain. But where I am is home for now and it feels every bit as much like the home I've felt in all of the other places I've been. I don't think I really expected that here. Speaking of space, I saw in the daily printout that the United States has committed to sending humans to the moon again by 2008. That was in the headline. In the story however it said 2018. Knowing what I know about how sluggish and inept things are back home, I'm afraid I know which one of those was a typo without even checking. If only we had our act together enough to go into space that quickly, to do again what we were able to do nearly 40 years ago on multiple occasions. Imagine how computing power and other technology has improved since then and how much more we could be doing in the name of exploration and development of new technology. Satellite communication is only one of the benefits of our first tentative steps. We've learned so much and developed all kinds of things in that time. What we would be able to do if we really plunged headlong into it would be awe inspiring. I really hope somebody steps forward and does this the right way. Ask yourself if we would have been better off today fighting in Iraq or walking on Mars. If you had just those two choices, which would have been better for all of us? Enough with the soapbox. I didn't really do all that much today. Let's face it, I'm out here in the middle of the sea so how many things can I really manage to do? I would like to walk all the way around the outer perimeter of the ship at some point and I'm going to check with the captain to see if that's okay to do. I have my second "Off The Hook" on the freighter to do tomorrow, only this time it will be at 2 in the afternoon instead of 8 in the morning. A definite improvement. I've crossed more time zones in the last week than I have still to cross to get back home. That feels pretty good. Ben and I spent some time in the "gymnasium" which is basically a ping pong table and a dart board. I discovered I'm actually not so bad at ping pong and I don't suck nearly as much as I thought I did at darts. Well, let me qualify. I can now actually hit the board and occasionally hit something interesting. I don't know if I'm really aiming at specific numbers. But it does feel good to not just be hitting the walls or floor like I used to. It's really hard to strike up conversations with people on the boat. Apart from the language barrier (Ben and I are the only native English speakers aboard), the mood here is very no-nonsense and to the point. So you don't really see anyone having a conversation, laughing, playing around, and the like. I guess it's necessary to keep things shipshape, to coin a phrase. But I hope in the few days ahead that I'm able to do a little better than just say hello to someone passing in the hallway. I'll keep trying as I don't really have anything to lose.

21 September, 2005 Day 68. Even though the show didn't start until 2:00 pm thanks to our eastward progress, it still felt like morning to me since I had stayed up really late last night. I'll be so happy to be doing radio back at a normal time in the evening. This week's "Off The Hook" was a complete disaster from my end. If I had to judge the satellite phone based on its performance today, there is no way I would ever recommend it to anybody. Clear blue skies in all directions and I couldn't hold a signal or hear what anybody was saying for more than a few minutes at a time max. It was pathetic.

I've used this thing on the Atlantic Ocean and within the borders of several countries during this voyage. But if it can't handle the middle of the Pacific Ocean, of what earthly good is Iridium? And when you consider I had to pay around $1.50 a minute for that absolute crap, this is definitely not something I would ever suggest anyone do, at least not in that part of the world. I suppose there's always the chance that my equipment became defective for that period of time or there was some kind of satellite fluke at precisely that moment. Whatever the reason, I spent a lot of time preparing for a show that I couldn't participate in which is pretty damn frustrating. I'm sure the show itself didn't sound bad especially if you just cut whatever was left of my voice out of the equation. So that was a great way to start the day. Afterwards it was more of the same kinds of activities I've been involved in over the past week. I'm slowly becoming used to the various faces I see here and I think it's working the other way too. I'm sure I'll be sad when this all ends in a couple of days but right now all I can think of is the moment when we spot California on the horizon. I was hoping that might come today but when I went up to the bridge to check on our progress, we were still about 1000 miles out. So hopefully tomorrow. I walked around a bit outside during the day since the weather was pretty clear. There were a few Kiribati crew working on various projects like painting and cleaning. It would be really great to have one of them in our film speaking their language. We figured out today that this boat is carrying well over .01 percent of their entire population and we only have 11 of them on board. I can only imagine what it must be like to come from a relatively isolated place like that and travel all around the world. I can't even begin to imagine what people from America must seem like to them. But what I know is that the Kiribati here on this freighter have been quite warm and friendly. I only wonder when I'll next get the chance to see someone from there. Ben and I kept ourselves amused playing ping pong, throwing darts, and watching videos. I'm really glad I had someone to talk to and hang out with during this leg of the voyage. No doubt I would have survived just fine on my own but it definitely adds something to be able to compare experiences and have conversations that go somewhat beyond the superficial. This didn't turn out to be the loneliest part of the trip after all although it certainly was the most confining. But humans are adaptable and we can simply adjust our metabolism to handle more than a week in a relatively small space with not much to do. I'm sure there's a breaking point and I probably would have found it if I had remained here a bit longer. I may still since there are a couple more days to go before we actually arrive. But the overall mood of calmness and competency that prevails here does a great deal to keep things not only bearable but enjoyable. It really is very comfortable in this little building on this big boat and the whole experience does provide a form of therapy as it's a bit of sanctuary from everywhere else. Still, I have to wonder if this ocean will ever end.

22 September, 2005 Day 69. The ship has been especially rocky today. In fact, last night was the first time I had significant trouble falling asleep and I'm sure the constant swaying had a good deal to do with it. I don't know if this is because of some sort of a storm (the sky looks fairly clear) or due to the fact that we're getting ever closer to land. I'm quite proud of the fact that not only have I not been seasick on any of the three boats I've spent so much time on during this voyage but that I haven't even felt seasick. Of course if this motion keeps up, that may come to a screeching halt.

I woke up thinking that land might be in sight but there was still nothing but ocean in all directions. No boats, no islands, no signs of life other than us. But looking at the charts on the bridge told a very different story. We're edging closer to San Francisco and will presumably spend the overnight hours heading down the coast. Tomorrow afternoon we actually dock at Long Beach! Wow, that's a city I never thought I'd be showing enthusiasm towards. I actually got to speak to a Kiribati crew member for the film. That was really cool. It turns out they've only had television there for about a year and so they're very wary of being on camera. But the steward (also Kiribati) had asked this guy to come up and be a part of it. So I guess he was kind of coerced into it. We found out today that the steward (the quiet guy who serves the officers and us our meals and cleans up all around the ship) won't be able to go on land when we dock. Apparently someone has to always be on board and that's his job. It sucks that one of the hardest working people here won't have the chance to get off the boat for even a little while but I guess he's used to this kind of thing. Ben has been really helpful in approaching people to get them to say some words for us. So far most everyone has been rather shy and reluctant. I suppose that fits in with the lifestyle here. If we can get more participants, great. If not, I'm happy to just have all of this to experience. Today was a safety day which meant we had to participate in an evacuation drill. In fact there are a number of items that need to be taken care of before the Coast Guard boards us tomorrow. I'm not really sure what to expect from that. Customs ought to be interesting too. Ben expects to be interrogated for a couple of hours because of the Middle Eastern countries he's visited. I'm sure they'll have a few questions for me as well. The captain tells us to be ready by early afternoon tomorrow to have our quarters searched or to be questioned. I wouldn't miss it. So the evacuation drill began promptly at 1:00 p.m. It's not really much of a drill when you know exactly what time it starts. Nevertheless, Ben and I were already watching videos in our muster station, which also was the officers' recreation room. Even with the advance notice I still managed to detach my beacon light from my life preserver, we both forgot our helmets, and Ben wore sandals which is apparently a no-no when evacuating a boat. The entire crew with the exception of the captain gathered outside next to the 34-person lifeboat. A bunch of routine exercises were gone over and a few people went inside the boat. I was really hoping I wouldn't have to be one of them and I was practically praying that they wouldn't actually try and lower the thing down into the water. These safety drills can be quite dangerous, after all. As it turns out, us passengers pretty much only had to show up and we didn't have to do any of the other stuff that actually involved manual labor. Having not gotten much sleep last night, I didn't argue. So the two of us went back inside while the rest of the crew continued with the drill. With everybody outside and only the captain upstairs, I think we both knew that we'd never have a better chance to take the ship. But continuing with the videos was more important so we went back to that. Laundry was also important today, it being the last full day on board. For me, having all clean clothes when I left would mean not having to worry about laundry again before I got home. That would be ultra cool. I commandeered one of the laundry stations and got the job done. One other thing that Ben and I both wanted to do before this journey ended was take a walk completely around the ship, not just within the area of our building. We made sure it was okay with the captain and

then we went down to one of the lower decks and just started walking away. You really get a sense of the size of these cargo containers when you're walking right next to them and they're stacked four high in columns for the entire length of the freighter, creaking menacingly. It's like you're walking through a little apartment complex. These containers, after all, are the real reason for the trip. We're basically just hitching a ride with these giant boxes. And we'll never know just what it was we were riding with. I wondered how hard it would be for someone to actually stay alive in one of those things and make it all the way across the ocean. It's something you can't help thinking about when you see how big the space is. Maybe an entire army could be transported in this manner. But more likely we're probably seeing a mall's inventory for a short period of time. Nothing all that exciting. I think going all the way around the freighter is about a kilometer of walking. Plus you get a really terrific and close up view of where we're going and where we're coming from. You definitely have to be careful doing this - it's not like the QM2. You can easily slip on the deck and the railings have a lot of big gaps in them. When riding a freighter you always have to remember that it's a working vessel designed for people who have half a clue as to what they're doing on a boat. It's really an honor to be allowed on board to witness the whole process. It's certainly not for everyone but I know I never could have experienced the thrill of crossing the sea or hearing the sounds of the United States in the distance on the radio or seeing land for the first time (whenever that finally happens) if I had just taken a plane over. Sometimes you just have to do it differently and I know now this was the right way.

23 September, 2005 Day 70. I got up late in the morning and right away noticed that the ride had smoothed out significantly. I looked out the window fully expecting to see land but once again it was nothing but sea as far as I could tell. But I couldn't see that far as it was now a bit foggy. So land could very well be quite close. I turned on my Verizon phone and got a time signal but wasn't able to make an actual call. Playing with the radio I was now able to hear some AM stations and even a few FM ones. I heard a station ID from Santa Barbara. I checked the television and was surprised to see a grainy picture of a Spanish station but no sound. I figured being German TV sets they wouldn't even be capable of getting signals from American channels. Regardless, all of this was ample evidence that we were getting ever closer to land. For some reason the hot water in my room had stopped working so I walked into the hallway feeling a bit grimy. Not really a big deal since I could take care of all that stuff in Los Angeles. I tracked down Ben and we hung out for a little bit visiting parts of the ship for the last time trying to see land. We saw a couple of boats including a sail boat and another freighter. But the really exciting thing was seeing an actual bird for the first time. And then *that* was overshadowed by a bunch of dolphins jumping out of the water as if to welcome us. Oh, but it gets better. In the distance we saw something big. Really big. It was out of the water, then gone, then visible again. We figured it had to be a whale. Amazing. What a great way to come back into the country. We still had a few hours before we actually arrived. We spent some time up on the bridge watching the preparations for our docking. There was a definite air of anticipation that hadn't been there before. The captain was in uniform for the first time and more people were hanging around. We had our last lunch downstairs and it was pretty much like all the others. I thought the captain might

have been too busy to make it to this one but there he was right on schedule. This was all just another day with a slightly different outcome. He seemed as relaxed as ever as did the other members of the crew. He told us that we would be boarded by the Coast Guard at 3:00 p.m. and that we should wait for customs in the office downstairs when that time approached. After lunch Ben and I checked out the scenery. Land was now visible through the fog. Since we still had some time we decided to play a few last games of ping pong. The moment we started we were quickly visited by one of the guys in the room downstairs who told us that it was rest time from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. It was the same guy who had told us about the 9:00 p.m. cutoff time for ping pong a couple of nights earlier. The sound must have driven him crazy. We felt bad but it was also pretty funny because he always seemed so comically exasperated. He was kind of short, had a shaved head, and somehow reminded me of Popeye the Sailor Man. He was also always telling Ben how it was a bad idea to wear sandals and Ben would somehow always seem to trip or have some misadventure with his sandals while this guy was in eyeshot. So somehow all of our interactions were always tinged with humor. I used the rest time to settle the remaining financial matters with the captain for the extra snacks and drinks I had over the past ten days. It was pretty cheap considering. Then it was time to pack up which usually takes me about ten minutes. The hardest part is always getting my bags to close. I had wanted to bring an empty Coke can that said "For Maritime Use Only" on the top but it just wouldn't fit anywhere and if it had it would have gotten all bent. So I had to let it go. At the appointed time I was watching from the bridge and things suddenly seemed busy. We saw the terminal ahead with the name of our freighter company on it. A Coast Guard boat was heading directly towards us. They circled once and the captain went out on the deck to lower the ladder. As Ben and I headed down to the office to wait for the next step, we passed the two sunglass-wearing Coast Guard guys heading up the stairs. It was all starting to get official. While we were downstairs we ran into the Kiribati guy who had done a piece for the film. He wanted to show us some videos from his country. So we went to the crew's recreation room (very similar to the officers' version upstairs) and saw some footage from the islands he called home. We watched the part of the opening ceremonies from the 2004 Olympics where two members of the Kiribati national team appeared for the first time. We also saw some dances, ceremonies, and sporting events. It was really cool to be invited into this world and the guy seemed so happy that we actually took an interest. Ben said his next trip would probably include that part of the world. I can't believe he's already planning where he wants to go next. But I guess in my mind I'm doing the same thing. It was now time for everyone to assemble by the office and wait for customs clearance. We were told that the passengers would be dealt with last. We watched as the various crew members were talked to by the three customs officials, two women and one man. The man in particular seemed to delight in finding little inconsistencies in people's forms. The chief engineer was denied permission to enter the country because of some craziness involving his having a sailor's visa instead of a tourist visa. The fact that he was from Germany which should have meant that he wasn't in need of a visa at all didn't enter into it. So his plans to visit America were dashed because of some bureaucracy. Even Russia hadn't seemed this rigid. The last I heard there was a chance that something could be done for tomorrow if he was able to get some other kind of paperwork finished but I'll never know how it turned out. After a while it was time to deal with the passengers. We had to write all the countries we visited (we had to write really small) and answer some questions. In my case I had to tell them where I was from

and whether or not I had ever lost my passport. Since this was a replacement passport with that fact prominently displayed on it, the obvious answer was yes. So after answering a bunch of their questions, both Ben and I were told to take all of our stuff all the way back up to our respective rooms and wait for them. It seemed really weird but whatever. While we were upstairs waiting, we each promised not to leave the boat until we were both done with whatever they were going to do with us. Showing solidarity to a fellow passenger is always a good thing. They came for me after about 20 minutes. I was told to step into the hallway while two of the customs agents opened all of my bags and went through what sounded like everything I had. I say "sounded like" because I wasn't allowed to watch them. Instead I had to stand out in the hallway and have a conversation with the bureaucratic guy who kept asking me about my lost passport as well as all sorts of other things like what I did for a living, etc. I wish I knew what he thought I was capable of doing with my three little bags but I did my best to simply answer his questions and get this ordeal over with. I'd only been searched once before on the entire voyage. That was when I arrived in Japan off the ferry from China. The guy there looked very briefly at one of my bags and was so nice and respectful that it didn't even feel like a search. I guess I should have expected this kind of welcome home. It was over before too long and I got to lug everything back downstairs. Somehow they had managed to repack everything in my bags which were just about bursting at the seams. Impressive. I went back down to the office and waited for Ben. I got to witness the other bits of bureaucracy that were taking place on all sorts of other levels. There was one really tall German guy who apparently worked at the pier and was telling one of the boat's officers that a piece of the boat needed to be fixed within the next hour. When there seemed to be some hesitation towards tackling the problem before unloading, the guy said it was okay with him if they wanted to wait. "If you wait, it will be even more broken," he said. "It's okay. We *like* it more broken." Dockworkers seem like a lot of fun. It took about a half hour but they finally let Ben go. Apparently they wanted to look at the CDs he had on him, ostensibly to see if they were really CDs or something. But Ben's computer was still broken so they had no way of doing this. So they finally just gave up. We were both free to go. Incredibly, it had taken longer to process two passengers off a boat than it did to take care of several hundred off an airplane. Go figure. We said our final goodbyes to the crew and then it was time for the moment I dreaded: walking down the steep, long, and flimsy ladder that led from the boat to the dock. It really is so easy to fall off this thing. Big gaps on the side, spaces on the bottom, rickety handrails, and a very difficult to walk upon surface. It was such a challenge that I had to leave one of my bags since I wouldn't have been able to even fit if I tried to carry all three at once. This of course meant that I got to traverse it three times instead of one. But I eventually made it down to the ground in one piece. Now we just had to figure out how to get the hell out of here. Ben's mother and girlfriend were picking him up but apparently regular people aren't allowed anywhere near the docks. It's a shame really since it's quite fascinating to watch the huge containers being loaded and unloaded by massive robotic arms. We walked in the direction we thought the exit was since there weren't any signs at all to give us direction. Back in the States for mere minutes and I was already as lost as I was in any foreign country. We got a few hundred feet when an 18-wheeler pulled up next to us. The driver asked where we thought we were going. Apparently nobody had ever walked in that direction before. We learned that we had to ask for a "shuttle" in order to leave the complex. So we walked all the way back and found a gruff looking guy who apparently had the power to call us a shuttle. The unloading of our boat was picking up pace as we stood around waiting. In the distance we saw the steward looking at the land

from the deck of our former home. After about ten minutes our shuttle arrived. I was so wrong to have been afraid of riding over the ocean on a freighter. Riding through the parking lot on this shuttle was what I really should have been worried about. It was a little passenger van but it had no door on the side! That was bad enough but the driver delighted in whipping around curves at maximum velocity. Since there were no seat belts either, the only thing keeping us from being propelled outward was our tight grip on our seats. And this parking lot went on forever too. Every space was taken by a cargo container on a trailer. It looked like a great place to have a shootout. Ben had asked his mom to give me a ride to a train station in Long Beach. It supposedly connected to Los Angeles somehow. But we still had to make our way out of the complex after being dropped off by the death shuttle. They really believed in keeping this place airtight; we had to exit through unmanned revolving metal barricades that I could barely fit my bags through. Once we extracted ourselves we found Ben's mother and girlfriend who, after exchanging pleasantries after not having seen him in over a year, got everyone crammed into the car and set out to find the train station. It didn't take very long and it appeared that the train actually was a part of the Los Angeles subway system which seems to get bigger every time I see it. I never would have been able to find this place without a car though so I'm forever indebted for getting a ride. After saying goodbye to everyone, I was back on my own. For a little while anyway. My friend John from San Diego was coming up to meet me and he would be arriving in a couple of hours. All I had to do was figure out how to take this subway into Los Angeles. The biggest challenge was getting a ticket from the machine. Unlike the ticket machines of Japan, the ones here are real bitches. One machine refused to take bills, another had a blank screen, the third and last took forever but eventually processed the transaction. I honestly don't know what options exist when none of the machines work which certainly seemed like a common occurrence. The "train" was what would be called a tram in Europe and a trolley elsewhere in the States. I realized now why when I called the Long Beach transit people for instructions they kept referring to both a train and a bus. They clearly didn't know *what* to call it. For the record, it's the Blue Line of the Los Angeles subway, easily recognizable by its yellow stripe. The train quickly became full and extremely loud. I don't think I'd ever been in a train car before with so much back and forth conversation going on, not to mention all the cussing. It seemed like everyone here knew each other as questions would be called out to people all the way on the other side of the car. This was the line that went through Compton, one of L.A.'s most notoriously bad neighborhoods. In the middle of that realization, my friend Dave called me to let me know that he had just heard it was Initiation Night for the Bloods. Oh what fun. And on top of that he warned me about wearing red. I just so happened to have my blazing red HOPE staff shirt on as I was heading into Compton. I thanked Dave for his good timing and tried not to worry about this. Other than the noise and some rowdiness, the train ride was fine. I transferred to the red line and headed to, get this, Little Tokyo. This was a section in the downtown part of Los Angeles and I had picked a place to stay there mostly because of its proximity to Union Station where I would be leaving out of in a couple of days. But the hotel I picked turned out to be a true Japanese hotel. When I got there, it felt for a moment like I was back in Tokyo. Everything was written in English and Japanese, yen were exchanged for dollars, and there was even a Japanese Family Mart across the street! My room also had a Japanese look to it, complete with magnetic flashlight and two bags of tea, not to mention

NHK on the television. What a transition! I got settled in and met John at Union Station. We stopped back at the Family Mart and I was delighted to find out that they carried the very Boss coffee I had become addicted to in Tokyo. It's a small world after all. I got John a can and he also fell under its spell. We naturally went to a Japanese place in Little Tokyo which was a welcome change from the rather predictable fare that had been on the boat. The neighborhood wasn't as lively as I had hoped, especially considering it was a Friday night. But it was great to be on dry land, see a familiar face, and be able to reminisce about Japan (John had been there in 2000). It was right about this point that I started to become aware of something rather strange that had apparently happened at some point over the past few weeks. When I tried to access my GSM voice mail, I was told that my password was invalid. It wasn't very easy to guess so I didn't think it had been compromised. I also noticed that T-Mobile was using a new voice mail prompt. Something must have gotten screwed up in the transition. Nevertheless, I called it with my CDMA phone and let it go to voice mail just to see if the greeting had been changed. Well, guess what? Some guy named Tim Shiblowski had his greeting there instead! What the fuck?! I spent about a half hour on the phone with T-Mobile who connected me with a technical guy who seemed to actually know what he was doing. And he gave me his honest assessment of the situation: *somehow* my voice mail had gotten swapped with this other guy's and probably the inverse had happened to him. Apparently this sort of thing occurs every now and then and they don't know why. So I got my account back but wound up losing every message that had been left for me during my absence. Thanks T-Mobile. It was after midnight but we still wanted to do stuff. So we walked around the neighborhood a bit and found ourselves back at Union Station. We figured it would be fun to go to either Hollywood or Santa Monica. We looked into getting on a subway but they had already shut down for the night. Great. We went outside to see if there were any bus stops or maybe even a taxi. We saw a parked bus and asked the driver if he was going anywhere. He said he was about to head to Santa Monica. Well, that was too perfect. We walked over to the nearby bus stop as he pulled in. The fare was only 75 cents! A taxi probably would have been 40 dollars. It seemed like this was the bus we were destined to be on. But I don't think I'd ever seen a sorrier bunch of passengers than those who were on this thing. Half were drunk out of their minds. Others were by default out of their minds. And the rest were just incredibly tired. It didn't help that the bus driver loved to tailgate and make sudden stops. At one of those, the passenger in one of the front seats managed to sail right onto the floor and well over the yellow line. He was obviously a bit messed up as it took him several minutes to remember where he was and get back into his seat. And the fact that every time a new passenger sat next to him, they would jump up almost immediately and move somewhere else told me that he must have also been emitting some pungent odor. When we finally arrived in Santa Monica more than an hour later, only about five people actually got up. Everyone else was sound asleep. The bus driver had to wake up 30 people and usher them all off the bus. They looked so lost stumbling around in the street. I wondered if they were even supposed to be in Santa Monica or if they had all missed their stops. Santa Monica also had a good number of homeless people. I'd already been approached by around a

dozen homeless in downtown Los Angeles and they were all extremely chatty. (More than one claimed to be from New Orleans.) Santa Monica turned out to be no different. They were on every corner and seemed very worse for wear. I had forgotten about this side of life here. John and I hung out at the beach for a while and spent time catching up. I hadn't seen him in a bird's age after all. It was good that we got together at this stage of the trip since we always stayed out until really late and wound up with really bizarre sleep schedules. It was dawn when we found our way over to a Norm's and got ourselves some food before looking for a bus to take us back to downtown. There were a number of crazy people on the streets talking to grocery carts and cursing at street signs as the sun came up. I'm actually home, aren't I?

24 September, 2005 Day 71. Well, needless to say most of the day was shot since we didn't get to sleep until late morning. But it didn't bother me in the least as it no longer felt like I was even traveling. For the first time I didn't feel obligated to wander around snapping photos and being a tourist. That might be a bit annoying to those of you who wanted to see photos of the attractions of Los Angeles. But traveling, taking photos, doing radio, writing, and making a film can all be quite stressful. It may sound funny but after all of this I really need a vacation. Anyway, we started the day with more cans of ice cold Boss coffee. I started to catch up with eleven days of email and crises. For the first time I turned on the television and was amazed at how much I didn't miss it. Same story, different hurricane. We found an episode of "Carnivale," easily one of the best American shows ever made. Can't believe those idiots canceled it. As it was now legally evening, John and I felt it was high time to get the day in motion. We both were in the mood for sushi and I wanted to keep the Japanese theme going as long as possible. I looked at some reviews on the net and found a decent place in West Hollywood. They closed at 10:30 though and it was already after 9. So a cab was really the only way. Somehow I seem to have lost my distaste for cabs at this particular time and place. Los Angeles has never felt like this to me. Perhaps it's the climate. I don't think I've ever been in this city when it was actually cool outside. Plus I had never stayed in the downtown region before. Add to that the return to my home country after being away for longer than I had ever been before and all of a sudden I was really enjoying the L.A. scene. One $25 cab ride later and we were in West Hollywood at the sushi place which turned out to be really nice. Nowhere near as tiny as some of the ones in Tokyo but it still had a very homey feel to it. I reminisced over octopus and eel and we both talked to the owner about Japan. He had been in this country for a number of years but still spoke fondly of Shinjuku station. It's so great to have a whole new world that's been opened up to you and people to share the memories with. It also seemed to really brighten the mood of the owner and employees to talk about their old home. John impressed the hell out of them by ordering a Japanese drink called calpis. We felt like going to Hollywood and maybe seeing a movie after leaving the Japanese place. You would

think that Hollywood and West Hollywood were close together but they really aren't. So we had to get another cab. This wasn't nearly as easy as it should have been. Hailing them simply wasn't working. So we called the number on the card that the last cab driver had given us. The guy on the other end was super bureaucratic, insisting on knowing the name of the city we were in, an exact address (an intersection wouldn't do), and an establishment name before he would dispatch a cab. And then he said we had to wait 20 minutes. Unreal. Well, we actually did wait that amount of time because it seemed rude to use another company after having one ordered. But after 21 minutes it no longer seemed rude so we started hailing and were met with quick success. But I don't think I've ever been in a taxi with such a stressed out driver. You would think *he* was the one paying to get somewhere. With every traffic light and every vehicle that got in front of us he cursed and made various sounds of impatience. And when he had an open road he moved forward at top speed. The guy really was starting to scare me. But he also was amusing me. In a sense that's the personification of Los Angeles to me. We finally made it to Hollywood Boulevard but not to our actual destination as there was too much traffic and our cab driver strongly advised us to get out and walk. We didn't want to argue with him because he was a psycho but he also happened to be right about this. Walking was easily orders of magnitude faster than driving. We made it to Mann's Chinese Theater and scoped out what was playing. A new Tim Burton movie was starting in one minute. We were doing really well in the accomplishing things with a moment to spare department. This was also the first theater I had been in for months and I couldn't think of a better one to visit. It was huge, really ornate, and tended to attract people who genuinely appreciated films. You know, the kind who applaud at the end, stay for the credits, and not infrequently are actually part of the credits themselves. Watching DVDs on a laptop in the middle of the Pacific was also pretty cool but this was something I had really been missing. Later we wandered around Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard and took in the whole Hollywood experience. I had never quite experienced it this way before. It seemed so relaxed. There were lots of drunk people, lots of tourists, lots of weird looking types, and they all seemed to be pretty extroverted, starting conversations, asking directions, the works. It didn't seem as plastic as I had remembered it. Just a bit bizarre. We went over to Mel's Drive-In, a diner-ish place with loud music playing, a hip crowd, and a club atmosphere. The prices were good, the food was decent, and the mood was fun. A good place to hang out and figure out how to get back to downtown since the subway had already stopped running for the night. Don't even get me started on that. The guy who runs Mel's (the one near Hollywood Boulevard - apparently it's something of a chain around here) told us this great story about someone who had tried to con them after allegedly finding insects in their salad. He knew the story was fishy since the woman had finished the entire salad before saying anything. But the clincher came when she stood up and a little plastic jar of dead insects fell out of her pocket. That earned her a lifetime ban. Maybe it was the Boss coffee. Maybe it was the cool temperatures. Or it could have been the company or just the thrill of being back in the States. But suddenly everything seemed fun and conversations just went on forever. The one thing that always makes me happy is creativity. When you spend hours brainstorming and coming up with all sorts of new ideas, you know that the one thing you're not doing

is wasting time. We wound up staying out really late again and not getting to sleep until well after sunrise. I had already booked a train for 6:45 p.m. on Monday so I seemed to be avoiding any morning commitments rather nicely.

25 September, 2005 Day 72. This was my last full day in Los Angeles and I had made plans to meet up with my friend Mojo. John had to head back to San Diego so we went over to Union Station to find him a train. I'd never spent as much time in Union Station as I had during this trip and I got to be very impressed by its architecture. Plus there were a lot more trains passing through than I originally thought. Still not nearly enough though. I gave Mojo a call and he said he'd drive over to the train station from wherever he was. John and I hung out in the station for about a half hour waiting for his train to start boarding. I don't know what it is about this station in particular but there are always people here with a tremendous amount of luggage who look like they've been here for days. How late could these trains possibly be? Or are the people just showing up exceptionally early? One day I hope to find out. While Union Station looks quite nice, it's lacking the activity found in most major train stations. Maybe it's different during rush hour but in all the times I've seen it, it seems relatively quiet. Train stations should never be quiet. What a contrast to something like Shinjuku. I wondered how Los Angeles would handle that kind of activity. Maybe someday. I walked John to his track and as his train was pulling out Mojo called from the parking lot. My good luck in timing was continuing. Mojo has this awesome two-seater convertible which we drove around in the streets of Los Angeles for a while. It's a whole lot of fun to drive in this city with a cool looking car and the roof down. And Mojo really knew how to handle that car for maximum velocity, turning radius, and the like. This is the kind of town where such a vehicle is appreciated. We stopped in the Korean part of town and went to this large and crowded restaurant with all sorts of Asian dishes. It was a section of the city I'd never been in before. Yet another surprise from Los Angeles. I found out that Mojo had become somewhat of an expert on fighting traffic tickets. It seems his cool car was something of a magnet for them so he had to learn how to beat the system if he didn't want to be deluged with tickets forever. By simply going to traffic court and observing, he was able to learn a great deal and with that knowledge not only was able to beat three tickets he had gotten but also was able to help a number of other people get out of theirs. He was really able to get inside the head of the ticketing cops and see just where the weaknesses in their cases were. He managed to play on the biases of a judge. He saw how to make a cop get defensive and thus lose his case. Plus he discovered all sorts of bureaucratic tricks and maneuvers that seem to work a great deal of the time. A lot of the stuff he told me only applies to California but all that means is that every state has a trick of its own if you take the time to learn it.

This is the kind of shit that always intrigues me: When you look at a situation that everyone thinks they understand and which purports to have certain limitations and then someone comes along and figures out how to completely manipulate the system and gets it to work for them. Could anything better define what hacking is all about? I didn't think I was going to spend the better part of the night talking about how to beat traffic tickets but it really is fascinating to learn and theorize about all this stuff. If you have the confidence to just jump into something, there's nothing you can't make some sort of dent in. Of course we talked about other things like Mojo's work on "Battlestar Galactica" which I've now finally been convinced to check out. Special effects for the next episode were rendering even as we spoke. And that was only one of his projects. Hearing about all this activity was like having an energy drink. I felt really inspired to work on more things. Which I guess is a good way to feel in tinsel town. Throughout the evening we had been wandering from place to place and driving through the streets. I almost expected Mojo to get a ticket so he could demonstrate to me how the system worked. We went to the top of a hotel with a terrific view of Los Angeles and sat in a revolving restaurant for a while. That was where I was to learn a very valuable lesson. I had my video camera with me in anticipation of getting some footage for the movie. But I no longer had it when we left the hotel. And it wasn't just a simple matter of forgetting it. I hadn't lost or left anything behind during this entire trip. When I got up to leave it wasn't there which is why I didn't pick it up or even remember it. As soon as I sat down at the table and put my camera on the floor I had already lost it. Unbeknownst to me, that part of the floor was stationary while our table was moving very slowly. So throughout our entire stay at the revolving restaurant my camera was in effect passing by everyone in the place. It probably passed me a few times too without my ever noticing it. I guess nobody else noticed it either because we were able to find it later in the evening once I realized that I had forgotten all about it. But I'm sure all sorts of things are misplaced in this manner. Next time I'm in a revolving restaurant, I'm going to keep an eye out for all of the various objects that may be silently revolving without their owners' knowledge. The night ended and it was time to think about resuming the eastward journey tomorrow. I still haven't made up my mind on whether I was going to stay in Chicago at all which is as far as the train from Los Angeles went. Amtrak is such a ripoff compared to all of the other trains I've been taking. It would actually be cheaper to stay in a hotel for a week than to have a closet sized room for one night on the train. I'll make the final decision tomorrow.

26 September, 2005 Day 73. Hard to believe but I was actually worried that I would wake up late for a train that left at 6:45 p.m. And I almost *was* late even though I got up in plenty of time. After doing a bunch of stuff on the net, packing, making some phone calls, writing, and a whole lot of other things it was nearly 6. So I headed downstairs in the hopes of just jumping into a cab and making it over to Union Station in a few minutes. But the hotel people decided this was the time to be bureaucratic and make me wait in a long line of people checking in when all I wanted to do was check out, something I'm usually able to do over the phone or on the TV. I still had enough time not to really be pissed off by this but my patience was

beginning to wear thin. I almost lost it completely when the woman at the desk finally got to me and then proceeded to have a lengthy conversation with someone else behind the counter about some personal matter. God how I hate such unnecessary and stupid hassles! I finally got out of there and grabbed a cab to the station. I thought about how much fun Los Angeles had been this time. I wondered if it was because this was the first time I had been here without a car. I had always been led to believe that you couldn't even survive in Los Angeles without driving. Never believe what you're told. Now if they can keep improving their transit system at the rate it's been going, it should be pretty decent in a few years. Like maybe they'll keep it open well past midnight so people can actually move around the city more freely. That would be nice. I got to the station where my train was already boarding. No cause for concern since I still had plenty of time. But as I somehow expected my train was on the last possible track. You would think that maybe they would figure that the train going the longest distance might have people carrying the most luggage and thus move it a little closer to the main entrance. But most everything involving trains in this country is about as illogical as you could possible hope for. I made it all the way to the platform and saw my train on Track 12. It was called the Southwest Chief. I showed my ticket to one of the agents on the platform and she said to go all the way to the last car. Figures. I made it down to the end and showed my ticket to the agent there. He wrote a number on my ticket and told me to go to that number upstairs. I struggled up the tiny spiral staircase with my bags and found myself in a crowded section with regular coach chairs. What the fuck? $500 for a chair? I was supposed to have a bed. So I went back downstairs and asked the guy where the bed was. "Oh," he said. "You want to be all the way in the front." Christ! Two of their own agents had led me here! So now I had to walk the entire length of the train. And through no fault of my own I now had to hurry. The corridors inside the train were reportedly too narrow for someone to walk down them with bags so walking on the outside was the only way to get there. As I got closer I showed my ticket to other agents and they all had a different answer as to where it was. How hard could it possibly be to know where a car is when it's your job to know precisely that?! No wonder this railroad was in the shape it was in. Finally I found the one guy who knew for sure where my car was and I finally got loaded into my compartment. It was unlike the other trains I had been on in other parts of the world in various ways. First, this was a "roomette" which I didn't have to share with anyone. OK, that was fine with me. It was a really tiny room you could barely move in and it was extremely easy to hit your head or foot on all sorts of things. I could live with that since I wasn't bumping into another person at least. But I was a little concerned that the bed was parallel to the track. Everywhere else I had been it was perpendicular. Since trains tend to rock from side to side, that could change the lulling back and forth motion into a sickening side to side one. Let's hope not. Soon after I boarded, a mother and two toddlers got into the cubicle across the aisle. Within five minutes she had smacked the two of them and they were both bawling. God do I miss Japan. In the few hours I've been on this train I've seen some of the worst examples of parenting I could ever have imagined. What the hell is wrong with these people? Screaming at their kids, hitting them, and forcing the rest of us to put up with all the fallout. The thing is they mean well and they really think they're doing the right thing. But all you have to do is step back a little and see how out of control the situation is to realize that there has to be a better way. Why do we so stubbornly insist on continuing to do things

in ill-advised ways? I never thought I'd wish I was back on the toddler ferry but at least those screaming kids were happy. The people running the train are very nice and the train itself is set up fairly well. Surprisingly, there's a shower opposite the bathroom. We'll see if it actually works I guess. Like I mentioned, the roomette is rather counterintuitive but at least it provides some sanctuary even though I can hear the screaming through the door quite easily. I'm not a big fan of doubledecker trains since they tend to be more cramped and they also sway more. I believe the train itself is diesel and not electric which is also hard to understand. Every train I took in Europe all the way through to Siberia was electric with overhead wires. And the track clearly isn't as solid as the track in any of the countries I had been in, even Mongolia. But with all that said, it's still better than I expected. One of the more pleasant surprises was the food. Apparently by getting a roomette I now qualify as first class for the first time in my life. That means food is free in the dining car. And it's real food too, not the kind of crap you get in the snack car on the Northeast Corridor. The only hassle is having to get it at certain times of the day. But I can adjust. Anyway for dinner they threw me in with a couple from Michigan. I notice that everyone is very sociable in the dining car and people seem to wind up having decent conversations with the strangers they're sitting with. There also seem to be a lot of older people here. I guess retired folks have more time to travel around the country in a train than those working full time. Still, this is a mode of travel well worth taking part in despite the hassle. I only wish it were cheaper and more accessible. I've made the plans for the final part of my trip. Since the train is so expensive I really just want to get it over with and not add another night's lodging to the mix especially when I have no plans to meet up with anyone in Chicago. It actually works out rather well. This train gets into Chicago on Wednesday afternoon and the one to New York leaves that evening. In between I'll be able to do "Off The Hook" from the train station. In true WBAI tradition the week I'm scheduled to be back looks like the week we'll be preempted again.

27 September, 2005 Day 74. I cannot fucking believe this. My initial assessment of the setup here proved to be all too correct. I was being whipped around like crazy in the few hours I tried to get some sleep. If I got half an hour total I'm lucky. The violent force with which you get flung from your bed is utterly insane. How fucking stupid are these people? You can't set up beds this way. You can't run trains on tracks like this. And you certainly can't charge people the amount of money Amtrak charges for this kind of abuse. Do I have to survive on no sleep for the next three days? It's literally so bad that you can get whiplash just lying in bed. That's no exaggeration even though it must surely sound like one. I moved to the upper bunk in the hopes that it might be better. It still might be but I had no way of checking because the asshole kids across the hall started screaming nonstop at 6:00 a.m. Of course the mother does nothing except occasionally hit one of them. I should have stayed in the coach seat. I knew Amtrak wouldn't be up to world standards but I never expected crap like this. When you pay a huge amount of money for a sleeper, you should get something halfway conducive to sleep. I can only imagine the shape I'll be in if this keeps up. I already feel like killing someone. Again I want to emphasize that the people here are all very nice and they do their best to make

everyone comfortable. But they can't fix the tracks or make the beds face the right way. It's a travesty that this is the material they're given to work with. This rail network could be a really good thing. There's no reason in the world that a "Trans-American Express" can't be something that draws tourists from all around the world. But the people in charge have to care enough to get the very basics right. And I learned today that this is most definitely not the case. On top of the no sleep and the screaming idiots who have now taken to banging on my door, I was also being harassed by frequent loud announcements reminding everyone when breakfast ended. Halfannouncements actually since there's something wrong with the PA system here which makes it cut out much of the time. Well, I clearly wasn't going to be getting any more sleep under these conditions so I might as well get something out of this. So I stumbled over to the dining car and was seated with a mother and daughter from New Hampshire and Rhode Island respectively. They were heading back from a wedding in California and had made this trip several times. Neither liked to fly. The daughter was a retired nurse who had taken care of her father in his last days, was helping her husband get over a stroke, and was taking care of her son who was in the final stages of Lou Gehrig's Disease. She had certainly chosen the right profession. And somehow she didn't seem in the slightest bit depressed by all of the misery she had witnessed. In a way it seemed to have strengthened her. After lunch, I tried to do some writing and take my mind off my pissed off state. I wasn't sure where I was getting the energy to even make it through the day. Hopefully conditions will improve tonight so I won't feel like a total zombie tomorrow. We made a long stop in Albuquerque and there was enough time to walk around a bit. So that's what I did, taking pictures of all sorts of things in the station area. I headed back to my cubicle and a few minutes later someone came to my door saying she was a police officer and she wanted to search my bags. I was so drained that I didn't have the energy to challenge this. She explained that lots of drugs get smuggled from Mexico and wind up on the train here since they had absolutely no security at the station. I have no idea why she was telling me this. She seemed sincere enough and I watched everything she did. It's gotten so crazy in this country that most people don't know what they can and can't refuse. And I think I'm about as confused as everyone else at this point. I have to wonder if I was targeted because I dared to take pictures in a train station. I noticed she left the train car right after searching me. Even more good news. Another family got on here and took the bigger room next door to mine. These kids specialize in hitting each other and they were screaming and crying within a couple of minutes of their arrival. Their mother seems to bellow at them after every five incidents. At least this has managed to quiet down the original screaming kids. They're either in shock or taking notes. It was lunchtime and I was joined by a couple on their way to New York City. The husband was a retired NYPD cop from the 1960s who had spent most of his life on the Lower East Side. Now they lived in California and were heading back to New York for a month to visit. This guy had all sorts of stories to tell. He talked about the times he had to use his gun and how he killed two people in his career. He told how Internal Affairs demanded to know why he didn't kill a guy who was coming at him with a knife and why he only wounded him in the shoulder. I heard how he reacted when he learned that his African American partner had been killed in action while he was on vacation. It was really interesting just living this guy's story through his eyes with the occasional references to places we both knew. We shared a love and passion for New York. And obviously we didn't share the whole police culture thing. But why must I feel obligated to make that an issue? Why is there a part of me saying that I have to be confrontational about everything I disagree with concerning the NYPD? After all,

these were the guys who arrested me without cause last year. Was keeping quiet about that somehow a betrayal to all of those who have suffered at their hands? I think it's sad that so many of us can't just open our ears and listen to what someone has to say about their life and their perspective. This guy didn't know anything about me and he didn't have to. I was interested in hearing his way of thinking and what it was like to actually be a cop. From there I was able to find some common ground but even if I hadn't been able to, I still would have wanted to hear his stories. And I think that's what we need to do more of. Just listen. Judge later. We seem to be making good time and I hear occasionally that we're arriving early at certain stations, enabling us to actually get out and walk around for a spell. We did that at La Junta, Colorado for about a half hour. I was dismayed to find that last week's "Off The Hook" didn't download properly so I wouldn't have a chance to hear the show before arriving in Chicago. There still may be enough time for me to actually download and listen to the show before tomorrow's edition goes on. That would be nice since I really don't know what was discussed due to the shitty satellite reception. I'm told that since I paid so much for these Amtrak tickets that I qualify for "first class" treatment, hence the free food. But apparently I can also use their lounge in Chicago where they claim to have Internet access and Ethernet for my laptop. Hopefully my laptop will survive another night of being banged around in this cabin. It already has been thrown off my seat once. These fuckers will pay if there's a single sector out of place. I was practically passing out when dinnertime came around but I was entitled to it so I wasn't going to let it go. Plus the evening screaming sessions were in full swing by all the junior hooligans next to my cubicle. I sat with a guy who was an ex-Marine on his way back to Chicago from California where he had been visiting his mother. Every year he makes the trip in early September when his birthday is and leaves at the end of the month when his mother's is. He hasn't flown since 1994 when his plane had to make an emergency landing in Dallas. I find it interesting how many people here refuse to fly for one reason or another. What I learned from this guy is how the rails have deteriorated with rising costs and fewer passengers. It's sad really. There is such potential here and if done properly this could be a really enjoyable way of getting around. Of course there is still hope, especially if gas prices continue to soar. But you have to wonder about Amtrak's business plan. Their response to the high cost of driving was to raise their prices as well and alienate any new customers they may have gotten. You could write a book on the bad business decisions these people have made over the years. Tonight I'll try the top bunk. I'll be in one hell of a state tomorrow if it goes like last night.

28 September, 2005 Day 75. The upper bunk was definitely better than the lower one. I still got thrashed about a bit and on any other day I would have considered it an awful night's sleep. But the very fact that I was able to get more than an hour's worth made this an unqualified success. I probably got between three and four hours total. For some reason, I seem to be okay with that. The final thrash was so violent that I felt my back twist and I knew I'd be feeling pain for the next couple of days. It also meant I wasn't going to be sleeping any more this morning. It was still dark outside. The screaming from across the hall or next door hadn't even started yet. I pretty much had the place to myself.

So I decided to give the shower a whirl. It didn't look too filthy, there were clean towels available, and there was nobody else about. Much to my surprise, it was pretty good. The temperature was sufficient and the pressure was nice and strong. Amtrak gets high marks for pulling this off. Dawn was slowly breaking outside. I figured it would be fun to give breakfast a try again. And it was. Normally I would cringe at the thought of being seated with total strangers. But I was having some really good conversations and meeting some very interesting people. Today all four of us were strangers to each other. One guy was on his way to Massachusetts with his wife who wasn't there at the moment. Another guy was on his way back to Chicago after painting a house in Arizona. And a third was a Korean-American student from California visiting friends in Illinois. He had also spent time this summer in Mongolia so we had all kinds of stories to share. We all spent over an hour comparing travel experiences, talking about what trains were like overseas, and figuring out ways Amtrak could be better. I think the latter is something everyone on the train would have something to say about. For all my complaining about this leg of the journey, I have to say this has been one of the more interesting travel experiences of my life. Yes, the conditions are pretty bad and I'm in a considerable amount of pain as a result. But looking beyond that, I'm interacting with people in a way that so rarely seems to happen these days. It's like we've become one big family. Even people I haven't shared a table with exchange greetings and have become familiar faces. This just doesn't happen on planes. You may wind up having a good conversation with the person sitting next to you if he doesn't fall asleep and block your exit. But here you have more time to interact and a greater variety of people to do it with. Those who ride long distance trains invariably are rather individualistic and almost always have an interesting tale to tell. Most everyone here shares a common disdain for airline travel and a general concern over the future of the rails here. So already you have this common ground before you learn anything about the other persons. The staff is also very relaxed and friendly. There's a woman running a snack bar somewhere on the train who keeps imploring people over the PA system to visit her. I haven't explored enough to find out where it is yet. Besides, the free food in the dining car is enough. The car steward comes around to turn up or down your bed at appointed times although most people would have no problem doing this themselves. He commented on my Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas hat and said it was his favorite game. I told him to listen to the radio the next time he stole a car because he might very well hear my voice. What a strange exchange that was. Between the meal time conversations, the occasional stops with enough time to get out, staring at the passing scenery outside the window, and reading or writing, the time has simply flown by. After a stop in Kansas City we headed up into Iowa on our path to Chicago. I spent some time in the lounge where it was a little less cramped than in my quarters. My back was really hurting from the obscenely tiny and uncomfortable upper bunk. I only had one night to go and that would be on a different train. I was sure it would be better. My optimism was surprising even to me. Lunch time rolled around and I headed back to the dining car to see who I would be seated with this time. It was a crusty old Midwesterner who kept making phone calls about selling tractors or something. You could hear him for the length of the entire car. Well, I guess my luck had to run out eventually. I'm fine with people who want to keep to themselves. But this guy was broadcasting himself to everyone within earshot and it was extremely annoying. I was glad when he left. He was replaced by a middle-aged woman who had gotten on in Kansas City and was on her way to

Wisconsin. We had a great conversation about travel and world conditions that must have gone on for well over an hour. So many people really like to travel and want to see so much more of the world. It can be quite challenging with all of the commitments we make. I must have told a dozen people how they too could take a freighter trip across an ocean. And the people you find going cross country on a train are exactly the sort who would embark on such an adventure. I definitely feel very comfortable in this crowd. Of course Amtrak is going to need more than just adventurous travelers to keep it going. But that won't happen without an improved network and drastically improved infrastructure. I swear there are times on this train when it feels like we've hit a big pothole. Ask yourself what kind of shape a track has to be in to convey that sort of feeling and the need for rapid upgrades becomes apparent. I went back to my cubicle to prepare for this evening's "Off The Hook" and make sure all of my stuff was packed, essential devices charged, etc. I was thrilled to see that all of the screaming people had either left or moved to another part of the train. I don't like to be mean but all of those kids from both families had some severe issues. They would spend the entire day just going back and forth, opening and closing their door every 10-15 seconds. And one of them had taken to bashing his head on my door. Another kept yelling at his mother to shut the hell up and stop saying his name. He was around five. Like I said, Amtrak trains are where you can go to see bad parenting in action. You could have a child psychologists' convention here and have plenty of material to draw from. We were running about an hour late for no reason in particular. Yet somehow Chicago came up only about a half hour late which threw me for a loop. I scrambled to get all my crap together and ventured out into Union Station. I had a limited amount of time to somehow download and listen to last week's show and also upload the latest travel journal entries. Then I had to find a place to do tonight's show from, hopefully one that sounded significantly better than last week's satellite phone farce. I really didn't want to have to use my cell phone since those kinds of calls almost always sound bad. I made my way to the first class lounge and proved via my ticket that I did indeed belong there. I checked my two other bags and asked where their Internet connection was. They said they didn't have one. Oh great, Amtrak strikes again. On the phone they distinctly told me they had connectivity at this place and that it was one of their features for first class travelers. I found out there was a WiFi hotspot at a bar in the nearby food court. So I headed in that direction, paid the fee, and got all of my net stuff taken care of nice and quickly. I listened to last week's show and was appalled at how bad I sounded. My apologies to any listeners who had to sit through that. I went back to the lounge and did a cursory glance at the payphone bank they had. They looked good but they all proudly claimed to not take incoming calls which would make them pretty useless. Nevertheless I used my cell phone to dial some of the numbers that were on the phones. One of them rang! So much for their little signs and notices. I contacted the studio, gave them the number, set up my computer, and got my complimentary snacks and drinks together. I love it when things work out well. The timing of this stopover could not have been more perfect for me. My train from Los Angeles pulled in 90 minutes before my show began, leaving me just enough time to listen to the previous week's edition. My train to New York began boarding at 7 p.m., precisely when I would be finished with this week's program. And I had a nice comfortable environment to do the show from on a good old-fashioned Bell payphone. It felt like the first program in a long time where I wasn't traveling even though I still was. Unfortunately we're preempted next week so there won't be a homecoming on the air. And the week after we have to plunge into fundraising mode again.

Back to the grind. I realized as the show ended that I still hadn't gotten my ticket for New York. I had done the whole reservation thing over the net but I still needed to actually stick my credit card into a machine to have the ticket spit out. I had the most inane exchange with an Amtrak employee in the first class lounge when I was trying to figure out where the machine was. "You don't have a ticket? How did you get in here?" "I have a ticket from my last train. I need to get one for my next train." "Because you can't get in here without a ticket." "Yes, I know. But I need to get my ticket for New York." "You don't have your ticket to New York yet?" "No, that's why I need the machine." "New York is boarding now." "Yeah, so do you know where the ticket machine is?" "You need to get your ticket right away." I swear, do these people think up ways to drive passengers crazy or does this all come naturally? I finally extracted the information out of her and 45 seconds later I was back with a freshly printed ticket. While I was getting my checked bags back, I saw a familiar sight. There was a guy standing in front of me wearing one of 2600's old anti-MPAA shirts. Holy shit! Naturally I tapped him on the shoulder and asked where he had gotten it. It had been directly from us as it turns out. Not only that but he was friends with someone on Long Island who had just gotten one of the area's only LPFM licenses. Fascinating stuff. I wound up being seated with this guy and his wife at dinner later. They were true train enthusiasts, having ridden all over the country. They knew the ins and outs of Amtrak and how the freight lines basically were running the show insofar as track conditions and availability. They also knew a great deal about the New York subway system. This was a conversation that could have gone on for days. But the one thing I learned which may wind up changing my life was that Amtrak allows people to hitch private cars onto their trains! That means if I somehow manage to get a hold of a refurbished boxcar or something, I can work out a deal with Amtrak and have it stuck onto the end of virtually any of their trains. Of course the deal breaker is probably finding out how much getting a refurbished boxcar would cost as well as how and where to store it. But the concept is pretty damn cool and something I never thought was possible. It's always nice to be surprised.

29 September, 2005 Day 76. And so we arrive at the end point of this journey as my train bears down on New York City where I began it all back on the 17th of July. I can verify that the world is indeed round and that if you keep going in a particular direction you will wind up back where you started. It's good to have that confirmed. I can also verify that the world is one hell of an interesting place to explore. There's so much space, so much diversity, and a preponderance of friendly people to help you feel comfortable. That has been the case for me since Day One. I started today really early in the morning since I couldn't sleep any longer. I had gone to sleep pretty early last night and I got maybe six hours total. I couldn't keep it going any longer because of the fear of falling off the bunk bed which seemed quite possible with the violent rocking. And my back was also killing me from being forced to lie in unnatural positions. I didn't mind getting up before light though. I knew I would be seeing home today and that made any pain or inconvenience well worth it.

I think this train is better than the one I was on previously. For one thing it's not a doubledecker. That right away means there's a little more room. It also means the bunk bed is higher up. My cubicle has a higher ceiling as well as a toilet. Not sure how I feel about the latter since it's right smack next to the lower bed and if/when you do use it you're pressed up against the hallway window with a curtain that doesn't do a great job covering the whole thing. It's funny how every Amtrak experience I have just seems to get a little weirder. I'm back in my time zone according to my phones. That alone is a good feeling. At breakfast I discovered that we had just passed Buffalo. Not exactly the most direct route to New York from Chicago but I guess it's not supposed to be about the time. Still, considering I can drive between Chicago and New York in 12 hours and this is taking 18 at fairly high speeds, you have to wonder. Why is it always done in the least efficient way? What could a bullet train between the two cities accomplish? I guess I can always dream. I think I had some of my best conversations with fellow passengers today. I talked some more with the retired New York cop who it turns out was heading out to a town on Long Island right in my neck of the woods. How strange was that? There was a guy heading to Nova Scotia with his wife and I had a nice chat about the Acadian section and what a great city Halifax was and why Cape Breton shouldn't be missed. There was a woman from Wisconsin who had just hopped on the train by herself on a whim to check out the turning leaves in New England. Nobody else in her family could go so she just did it herself. How awesome is that? She was considering heading back though since our train was late and she was in danger of missing her connection in Albany. I called Amtrak from my cell phone and made sure there was a train she could catch. I hate to see dreams dashed. And once we got to Albany we were all able to stretch our legs a bit while the train changed engines. I talked to the guy I had met last night with the 2600 shirt. Today he was wearing a Jack-FM shirt. That's the latest radio craze which basically involves a much bigger library of music and somewhat personalized automated personalities. After talking to him for a little while, I realized that this was the guy who had invented the entire idea! So I wound up having a lengthy conversation all about radio that lasted practically the entire trip back to New York. All things considered, I have to give Amtrak a lot of credit just for being there. The people who work on their trains are very committed and a pleasure to be around. They genuinely seem to care about what they do and they do as good a job as they can with what they have. You can sense the frustration though concerning the hurdles that they have to jump just in order to do their jobs. Now there's a rumor that government cuts will force the hot meal service to be eliminated. It's just so distressing to see something so good picked apart until it becomes less and less appealing. Train travel is probably the most interesting means of getting from place to place in this country. The people you meet, the sights you see, the overall relaxation you gain from the non-frenzied travel are all elements you just won't find in a plane or a car. And if I can say that after experiencing the poorly maintained tracks and badly designed sleeper cars, train travel must be a really worthwhile experience. Just imagine what a great experience it would be if the system were taken care of like it is in every other civilized nation. My injuries will heal and I'll eventually catch up on my sleep. But losing any more of our passenger rail service would hurt so much more. Not only must it not be crippled any further but it needs to be built up and expanded. The government already pumps billions into the airline industry and keeps gas prices artificially low. Why not make trains strong again? They give back so much and they always get you there in the end. And anyone who still doubts this need only look at their effectiveness and success in Europe and Asia. So what have I learned in the past 76 days? Way too much to sum up in only a few paragraphs. So I'll

just try and touch upon a few of the things that hit me at the moment. I expect I'll be reminded of quite a few others at unpredictable times in the years ahead. When you tell people you've gone around the world without flying, the reaction is almost always some expression of being impressed. And it certainly is an impressive thing to do, even if everybody were doing it which, sadly, they aren't. But all I've done is walk down one narrow path, seeing the things that stood out to me, no doubt missing a great deal more. I could just as easily have picked a different path and still gone around the world while seeing entirely different sights. Or I could have just done completely different things in the exact same places and come away with a totally different experience. My point is it's not so much the going around the world thing but more just throwing yourself out there for a period of time and simply living among strangers and opening yourself up to new and different experiences. You can do most of that without even leaving your home town. Traveling merely makes it more of a necessity to talk to different people, eat different food, see things in a different way. But that ability is always there for the taking. And I think that's something I'm as guilty as anyone else of forgetting. I don't as a rule start conversations with strangers. Nor do I go to places like restaurants and movies by myself. I tend to view people with suspicion until I really get to know them. And I almost always go for the path of least resistance in getting a task accomplished even though it may mean not learning something new. Slowly, each of these flaws has ebbed a bit since July. My view of people is a whole lot more optimistic and I don't feel nearly as self conscious as I usually do. When you're traveling, everyone is somewhat vulnerable and strange looking to those who don't know them. So there really isn't a reason to think that you're the one everyone's pointing and staring at. I've gone through this metamorphosis many times before, almost always after having gone somewhere different and spent a good deal of time with new people. But I always slowly revert back over weeks and months. I want to fight it this time and try and hold onto as much as I can from the experiences I've had. Those common themes of curiosity, friendliness, and helping out those who need it - *that's* reality, not the insular world I keep finding myself pulled into. But the day to day struggles and the mundane routines that latch onto us make it next to impossible to keep this idealism paramount in our minds. And the fact that others won't identify with what I've been through certainly won't help. Inside of a week, I expect I'll be much closer to their perspective than they will be to my present one. But it hasn't happened yet so I intend to relish the high that I'm still feeling from the past two and a half months. A good part of it is a simple sense of relief. Whenever you go into a new situation or a new place, you never really know what to expect. I remember how I felt the first time I went to Europe back in 1989. I was scared shitless until I realized that I could communicate and that people were still people over there. Life is a series of that same realization on an increasingly grand scale. Hopefully once you've realized it enough times you'll experience some form of enlightenment that will carry you through to the next stage. But whether or not that ever happens, you won't have a chance if you don't try. I wound up spending a whole lot less money than I thought I would. Even in the expensive countries like England and Japan, it wasn't hard to live cheaply with a little ingenuity. The same can be said of the transportation itself. You can always find cheap ways to get from one place to another if you're persistent and imaginative. And there's no reason at all to not travel lightly which only adds to your flexibility. In my case, I had a bunch of constraints that literally weighed me down. Having to carry camera equipment, a computer, microphones, and satellite equipment turned one bag into three. But even with the extra weight, I was still able to do everything I wanted to do. Sticking to my rule of not

taking a plane was also a constraint but as it was the heart of the trip in the first place I certainly don't regret it for an instant. But it did add somewhat to the expense which is something you certainly don't have to do if you simply want to visit some of these places. I'm glad I got to experience the Queen Mary 2 as it's the kind of world I almost never get to see. And between the opulence of a cruise ship and the down to earth living of a Mongolian ger, I never felt out of place or unwelcome. People as a rule want to share their lives and their stories with others. Circumstances make us different in one way or another. And way too often we judge the people before we ever get a chance to communicate. I've said that before but I think now I realize that it doesn't just apply to those "other" people who are ignorant and close-minded. It's all of us. Whether the categorization is white, black, rich, poor, cop, activist, we too often reach the conclusion before we ever hear the beginning. That's the first mistake and it leads to all of the others. So if you really want to experience the feelings you get when you travel to strange and distant places and you don't have the ability at the moment to actually go anywhere, all you have to do is just open yourself up some more. That means listening to what others have to say even if you think you don't agree, sharing what you have even if you don't know the person you're sharing with, accepting people for who they are even if they're not the kind of people you would normally spend time with. It's like music, as so much in this world is. If you just listen to one type, you're not going to have much of a frame of reference and you certainly won't know much outside of a very limited scope. Open yourself up to other sources and not only does your knowledge base and appreciation widen dramatically but you will come into contact with an exponentially wider group of people. I think we need to take a good look at ourselves and see exactly how limited we've made our lives. How many places will you not go? How many types of people will you not spend any time with? How many kinds of food will you not eat? How many things will you not do? We all develop our tastes and our preferences. But if we only live by those and are never willing to experiment, try something different, or even violate our own value set now and then, where is the potential to grow and to change? Or even to reinforce our existing beliefs? We're not here to just do the same thing day after day. We're here to try a whole lot of different things and learn a little more every time we do. That's what you get from traveling and exploration if you do it the right way. And that's what you can also get just from living if you open yourself up to it. I want to thank everyone who's written with words of encouragement or suggestions on things to try or do while I was on this voyage. I'm so very glad I wrote all of this down while it was going on. Sure, it took time and I probably could have done a lot more fun stuff if I didn't have to write every night. But I would have lost so many little memories that only stay fresh for a short period of time, especially when there are so many new ones pouring in constantly. You really need to build a degree of discipline if you want to pull something like this off and maintaining this journal has certainly helped me to do that. I hope that through these words as well as through the images and the radio shows, you all were able to experience some of the excitement of the world. Thanks for listening.

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