July 2004


No lie.

Yesterday marked the end of a long few weeks. It’s been a huge push to get things knocked out this summer before the staff comes back for the fall and crushes us with tech requests.

I ended the week by going to a visitation for a colleague who passed away this week. I didn’t work with him closely, but I knew him pretty well. He was vitally involved with this town and its people. His life is a testament to what people should so with their time on Earth. What a loss for us who remain. I hope I have a fraction of the impact he’s had on people’s lives. I think the people who turned out for him rival my Uncle Al’s funeral. It leaves a gaping hole when the good ones go, but (not to be trite) they live on in all of us. This guy made the lives of countless people here richer. I hope we can all honor him by paying it forward.

I’m going away for a much-needed vacation with Denise and the kids for the two weeks. So there’s a somewhat valid reason why updates will be sporadic for a bit.

My vacations are fun. We can just take the camper and head out for a week without even a reservation at a campsite. Totally spontaneous and free-form.

Not that that’s what I did.

Gotta go!

(no, not that wall, although Pink Floyd is prevalent on my latest iPod mixes)

Joe seems to be cool with my posting his picture, so here it is (the copyright I was worried about was Joe’s–he took the pic, so he has the say if it’s published). I shrunk it for the web page, but it looks nicer at 1024 x 768. Wouldn’t fit on the page that way, though.

Joe Mancuso at the Great Wall of China

Someday I’ll travel to cool places like this too…

[Another travelogue from Joe–yes, Joe works in education for the DOD and has off in the summers. I don’t know too many people who make the most of their time off like Joe does. I’m jealous! (no, I work during the summer for my school, contrary to popular belief)]

Laos ( The Lao People’s Democratic Republic) has been called by many a collection of peoples more than a country of people. There are four major tribes and variousethnic minorities in the Lao. In this sense it helps to blur the markedly strong line between China and its southern neighbors. It has special meaning to me since it completes the progression from mainland ancestors to the Marianas Islands.

Luang Prubang, is the old capital of Lao PDR. It was named “the best preserved city in SE Asia” by UNESCO, and it must be… Sitting in the jungle on the banks of the Mekong with mountains around it…It looks something like Dehong, China along the Burmese border but it much lighter on opium trafficking (jeez, did I forget to mention that in my last email from China?) and it is nice to stroll at night without being covered with insects with attitude. The town has mucho dollars flowing in (literally…they use USD, Thai Baht and Lao Kip as common currency). Most are European tourists, with the exception of the guy who sat next to me at the theatre who was from Ridley Park…no kidding [Joe and I grew up in Ridley Park, PA. –Dave].

This place looks like its frozen in time…the people are so mellow….the whole town looks like they put ritalin in the water supply, they are always smiling and itlooks like they are ready to fall asleep with that smile…its as if they are still sighing from the civil war and the French colonization being over. Got high blood pressure? Deadlines at work? Trouble sleeping? Forget tricyclic antidepressants and check out the action here.

I’m overlooking the Mekong River in an all hardwood, six roomlodge for 3 dollars a night (I was proud of averaging $8 a night in China)…eating French/Laotian Food, sticky rice and Beerlao… Life is good. If you haven’t been here and want to go to SE Asia, this is the place to do it in style…Some of the more high brow restaurants have French menus and speak French, as many of the older people do. I have to give credit to the French, they really made an impression on the Laotions to excel in fine cuisine. Every meal here is an odyssey.

Vientianne next, then Pongsovang, then Pakse, then Siem Reap, Cambodia to see the great ruins of Angkor.., something I’ve been waiting intently over 5 years to see.

I spent a couple days in Chiang Mai with an old friends from Guam (Doc Kaufman and his girlfriend) and it was so great to catch up with him. I could have sat up talking about his travels for weeks…the guy is a machine. He just got back from India and spent 2 months in Tibet last year hiking all over… People like him and John Breckinridge aren’t travelers, they are adventurers… What I would give to wander the earthfull time, on a whimlike these guys… Yim treated us to homecooked Thai food and it wasso good I still can taste it when I close my eyes… Suchhospitality…I feel like a homebody talking with these guys…we did themandatory elephant show and ride throught the jungles outside ChiangMai, then I had to catch a flight to Laos. I can’t wait to catch up with them again soon.

Tonight I went to a Laotian Ramayanan Ballet (dance theatre). It is starting to seem like all of SE Asia is somesort of mix of Indian and Chinese with a historical spin on it. Ironically (as my trip sort of began there) everything seems to go back to Everest and the Himalayas. The Mekong gets its start there in China as does the Brahmaputra, Indus, Yangtzee… And India, though seemingly unable to hoistitself above water, seems to have profoundly influenced the rest of Asia. Much of the language throughout here is based largely on Sandskrit. The Southern tribes of Yunnan in China are significant presence here in Laos, they had spread to Thailand where they became the Thai’s and (genetic evidence suggests…) were the people who originally inhabited Guam thousands of years ago and became the Chamorros.

Well, it’s Internet blackout for awhile…hope all is well with you.

Joe

“One of the grandest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weights of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the Slavery of Home, man feels once more happy.” Richard Burton, Journal

Borrowed from a narrative by Dr. Jay D. Kaufman, 26 Nov. to 16 Dec. 20

Wonderful. I get one task done this morning, postpone another, hose my wife’s new PowerBook and have to rebuild it, making me an hour late to start for Philly (taking my nephew to the airport for his trip back to Florida), make it to the Philly Airport with seconds to spare, go meet Kevin for a good dinner and dicsussion of the new movie we’re working on, drive back to Etown from Philly for what seems the hundredth time this month, get home and think about the rest of the week’s work before vacation, and…

…see on the news that one of my elementary schools is on fire.

Great.

At least it’s mostly confined to the kitchen–hope my cafeteria server is OK. WGAL says it’s at least $50K worth of damage. The police are already caling it suspicious.

[My brother Joe lives in Guam and travels all over that part of the world whenever he gets vacation. Right now he’s off to China, and he’s letting me post some of the travelogue notes he’s sending out. Pretty interesting stuff.]

Post 8, China:
“It sure is a great wall”…Richard Nixon, 1972

So we got to Jinshaling without further incident and made to hike to Simitai, along the least touristed section of the wall. These sections are unimproved, authentic and the most elaborate constructions along the wall. Some areas are partially disintegrated, many were near perfect, set against rolling mountians, lush green forests, sheer cliffs, rocky ravines, river valleys and such. Parts of the trek were climbing on all fours, straight up…really cool stuff. Hard to imagine troops mobilizing cannons very far.

The hike was beautiful and I HIGHLY recommend taking the time to see this rarely visited section the the wall (it is 4 hours each way from Beijing). At the end many of us chose to ride the cable harness to the bottom of the river valley and take a boat back to the bus pickup point. What a ride…;-)

Hope your Fourth of July was great. Keep you posted.

More on Simitai:
“Simatai is the only section of the Great Wall which retains the original features of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. It is 5.4km in length, with 35 beacon towers. Ingeniously conceived and uniquely designed, inimitable and diversified, Simati incorporates the differing characteristics of each section of the Wall. Clinging precariously to Yanshan Mountain, this unique stretch is known for its steepness and ingenuity.
Its steepness is simply because it was built on a precipitous mountain, but it also offers many spots that are unparalleled on other of the Wall’s sections. Simatai’s Tianti (Heavenly Ladder) and Tianqiao (Sky Bridge) are particularly dangerous unless one is safety conscious. If you suffer from vertigo, don’t look down. You could be transfixed with fear.
Simitai’s ingenuity comes in where its many beacon towers are concerned. It is densely dotted with them, one pair of them being a mere 43.8 meters apart while two others have 600 meters between them. Other sections? towers were built at intervals of 500 meters. At Simitai, the walls are in single, double and trapeziform forms, the watchtowers being round or oblate with two or three floors. The roofs of the towers are also diverse: some are flat, some cymbiform and some domical.
That the Simitai section is imposing and unique is beyond question, the more so in that it has limestone caves beneath it. Perhaps more interesting is that two springs called Mandarin Duck are at the foot of the Wall. The eastern duck is cold, its counterpart warm. The springs converge into a single lake, which means that half its waters are cold, the remainder warm. In winter, hot steam rises from the lake to form a marvelous spectacle.”

[Joe sent a great pic of the wall along, but I’m not sure I should post it, copyright and all.]

As you can see below from the quoted spam/scam email I got in my inbox last week, they’re even personalizing the scams now. Think I should go for the money? Theo says it’s a sure thing (wink, wink). I’ll miss Bernard, even though he never existed…

“Attn: Dave Mancuso

I am Barrister THEOPHILUS OKOH personal attorney to late MR. BERNARD MANCUSO, a national of your country, who used to work with Chevron Oil Company here in Nigeria herein after, shall be referred to as my client. My client with his entire family (The wife and two Children) was involved in the explosion in Lagos, Nigeria, on January 27, 2002, that claimed many lives and properties. Regrettably, my client and the family lost their lives in that unfortunate incident. Since then I have made several inquiries to your embassy to locate any of my clients extended relatives this has also proved unsuccessful. After several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to track his last name over the Internet, to locate any member of his family hence I contacted you.
My purpose of contacting you is to assist in repatriating/retrieving the money and property left behind by my client prior to his death before they are declared unserviceable by the company and the bank where the deceased had an account valued at about US$2.8 Million dollars. The bank had issued me a notice to provide the next of kin or have the account close while the money sent to the federation account in compliance to Nigeria banking ethics. Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives for over one year now I seek your consent as the next of kin of the deceased since you have the same last name/surname so that the proceeds of this account valued at US$2.8 million dollars with accrued interest up to date can be paid to you. I have all the necessary official and legal documents that can be used to back up your claim. All I require is your honest co-operation to enable me as the legal attorney to the deceased in seeing that you receive your inheritance fund. I guarantee that this will be executed legitimately to protect you from any breach of the law.”

I’ve been too swamped to post much to the blog in the last few weeks (those of you who have watched have seen it decompress and lose shape literally), so I have a couple of posts from my brother Joe on his further travels in China. This one makes American road rage look tame by comparison–read Joe’s email for yourself:

“Drunken Boxing techniques are based on the legend of the ‘Eight Immortals’ of the Taoist Sect from Chinese Mythology. Each of the techniques in the Drunken Set demonstrates an attribute of one of the Immortals. The principle concept behind Drunken Kung Fu, is to move as if one were half drunk. The secret behind Drunken style kung fu is the sudden release of power from awkward positions.”

On the way to Jinshaling, North of Beijing, to hike to Great Wall to Simatai, our bus was cut off making a left turn in the left lane – from the left… The taxi driver who nearly capsized us, spun out and came to a stop causing a traffic freeze. He was so convinced of his right he got out and went into a rage in the middle of the road (a divided 8 lane boulevard). Our driver was a young wiry guy who looked like he had had a long night out with his buddies and had been too long without a cigarette. Yeah you can see where this is going… Forget about meditative face preservation and control of emotions.¬ Apparently some things in the East are settled the hard way.

The taxi driver grabbed our driver by the shirt and they wrestled back and forth exchanging their own deeply philsophical viewpoints on the accident. The guy just wasn’t giving in… then it happened…The taxi driver struck first (we were all amazed as he was twice our drivers age, but he was much larger). He looked like he was dancing like a baboon in heat but landed a pretty solid one in the chest of our driver.

Battle in Beijing… Shaolin showdown. Thrilla in Manila… Our guy woke up and came loose at the seams. He danced around the other guy smacking him around, until he had him beside his car hood, then came down off his heels with a head blow that we could hear inside the bus over the horns blaring. The taxi driver hit the hood with a thump and staggered around for awhile, his eye was swelling shut fast. He looked as if he had calmed down and asked our driver to call the police. Our driver – still shaking- gladly obliged, walking away to dial… Then the bus driver tried to reach into our bus and grab the keys to throw them down the sewer. I was riding shotgum so I grabbed them and went to push him away when our driver came back for more.

Bystanders cleared the way and our driver took the chance to clear out. What a trip, it was not even 10am yet and we already got our money’s worth. I got off a clear shot of the fight but when I turned over my camera to have the pictures burned to CD, both copies (camera and CD) were gone. Coincidence or Big Brother watching? Who knows in communist China… I plan to try to salvage the files when I get back to Guam.

God, I love this country…

…and it isn’t pretty. The picture doesn’t do them justice–the muck was worse in person.

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