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Monday, December 29, 2014

China’s Mandarins Shanghai The Pun

I’m appalled. China has banned puns. This is a crying shang. It has me seeing red. And almost as offensive is that, in reporting this news, many writers (clearly those not practiced at the fine art) have dubbed punning “the lowest form of humor.” 
Foo-ey, I say.
The Forbidden City
Those critics are simply noodles. Nonetheless, today I am opting to focus my ire on the Chinese mandarins who made the pun a forbidden ditty. Deng it, how could 1.357 billion people not like puns? Well, it turns out they do, and that has created a sticky pun problem.
Puns are actually considered an important feature of Chinese culture. Puns are ubiquitous in Chinese, because the language is not wonton for homophones. It’s all in the way the Chinese write words from characters. Substituting one character for another can alter the meaning of a phrase while hardly changing the sound.

IMO, China's Next Generation
is being pun-ished by this new ruling
At any rate, China’s State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued an order in November saying wordplay has no place in broadcasting and advertising.  While spearing a chopstick through the heart of punditry, the order conceded that “idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values.” Nonetheless, the statement says improper exploitation of words may lead to cultural and linguistic chaos. and could harm the nation’s young people. Certainly, the government doesn't want to have a han in that happening.

Here’s my slant. Clearly, the Chinese government is not panda’ing to its pun-crazed public here. In fact, yuan-a bet that this great wall has been erected as a form of censorship? Indeed, puns and wordplay are just one mao way the Chinese work around censorship in the Internet age. The Chinese use puns and wordplay to duck censorship software, designed to catch and embargo obscene or politically sensitive words. So, an entirely new lexicon of puns has been developed for online discussion of sensitive topics. As a result, the amount of online punning is one way to gauge the tempura-ture of public opinion.
I am just glad I do not have to wok a mile in the shoes of a Chinese writer. For if I were not able to employ the venerable pun, I might have to be peking into another line of work.

But No Puns Allowed

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Holiday Gifts for Travelers

It's that time of year when the Travel Elves drop off all sorts of sample goodies upon my doorstep for me to test. Here are a few of the products which pass gift-giving muster in my book. For more, you can watch my show-and- tell on Let's Talk Live: 


A Heys Ecotex 5 Piece Packing Cube Set is like a Russian Matryoshka doll. Unzip the biggest one and a smaller one appears...and so on and so on. The colorful quintet costs about $44 and a three-pack runs around $27. Both come with nifty little stick-on labels to identify what's in the bag. Available at http://shop.heys.ca/

It's not a foot rest. It's not a computer case. It's both. This Leggage laptop case has a nifty design that allows you to safely stow your computer and then use the case as a foot rest on the airplane. While the company claims that the wedges on the hard side serve to massage the tootsies...well, that may be stretching it just a bit. But especially for those with shorter legs, having a on-board foot rest will definitely add to comfort and better posture.
It's $79.99 at www.leggage.com.

LiteGear's Hybrid Rolling Tote is the perfect alternative to being weighed down by a heavy purse or tote bag. The fashionable roller, is just the right size for a change of clothing, an iPad, and many other small odds and ends, including your purse..With dimensions of 13.5″ x 8.5″ x 14.5″, it can either replace your carry-on or supplement it.  The LiteGear Hybrid Rolling Tote is available at Travelsmith, Amazon and other on-line retailers. The price ranges from $79.00 to $99.00.

Finally, from Shoes on the Fly, we have washable cotton bags in which to pack footwear. Sure, one can always use a plastic bag to separate shoes from clothing...but that's exactly why this is the perfect gift. It's one of those things that your favorite travelers might not buy for themselves, but they'll absolutely be happy 'soles' when they receive it.  The bags are adorned with various slogans and an embroidered bug matching the theme, They cost between $27.00 and $29.00 at www.shoesonthefly.com.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nine Images of Georgia (Okay, 11)

One of my most adventurous journeys of the year took place in October, when I headed to Georgia (the country). Take a listen to my perspective while looking at the pictures below.

Mother Georgia Stands Over Tbilisi 

Tbilisi's architecture is a mix of ancient and modern.
The white spaceship is the Tbilisi Public Service Hall,
affectionately known as The Mushroom.

Monks at the Alaverdi Monastery in the Khakheti
region has been making wines in qvervi for
more than 1000 years.
Georgia has been producing wine longer
 than any other place in the world....
8000 years!
The Sixth Century Jvari Monastery near Mtskheta is
a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Stalin was born here.
The Stalin Museum in his hometown of
Gori (appropriately-named) is a throwback
to Soviet times.

The Tskaltubo Health Resort is
where members of the Soviet Ministry
of Defense took the waters
back in the day.

While considered luxury during its heyday,
most would consider the rooms and facilities
rather spartan now.

The Caucasus Mountain Range
contains Europe's highest peak. 

The www.georgia.travel website isn't up and running, yet. If you can read Georgian (good luck with that), click here. Although what I am saying on the live stream doesn't always match the images, more pictures can be seen  here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Gifts for Travelers: Part II

Looking for a holiday list a frequent traveler?  Ho-ho-ho, here are some ideas!

For years, I've traveled with two tennis balls in my suitcase. No, I'm not looking for a pick-up game. Instead, I roll my back along the balls in the comfort of my hotel room. I place balls on either side of my spine and then press downward as I slide along pressure points and crack my tired bones. The choreography is a bit complicated--the challenge is keeping the balls parallel while rolling along. Well, now the RAD Roller is making my version of an everywhere massage tool easier. The company has developed a functional, lightweight and durable massage and release tool that looks like two fused balls. You can easily roll your back over it, and it's small enough to target other aching muscles and sore fascial tissue. $24.99

Worried you might bust a zipper thanks to all of those holiday gifts you are packing? Maybe you just want to distinguish your blah black or blue bags from all the others on the luggage carousel. ORB Luggage Straps come in a variety of snazzy designs, and they're only $9.95. Or you can buy a coordinated accessories pack containing a matching lock and luggage tag for $24.95 at various on-line retailers.

Speaking of straps, as I type this post, I am experimenting with the BackJoy Posture Band. While it took me a few minutes to figure out the way to set it up, I managed to tie it together and throw it around my arms. The comfortable elastic tension band gently pulls your shoulders back as you are sitting at a computer...or sitting on an airplane. Granted, if you walk around the airport wearing it, some people may think you are into S & M. Little do they know that your goal is solely to get your posture on the up and up. $19.99

Finally, for the uber-organized, Eagle Creek presents its Pack-It system. The smart, methodical and slightly OCD-prone traveler on your gift list will love it.  The PACK-IT line has everything from Folders, in which you can pack clothing to be wrinkle-free, to Cubes, perfect for compressing pants, Tees, or PJs.. You can buy them as stand-alones or as sets. For example, a starter set contains a mediim folder and a large and a small cube for $35.  Other pricing is available at http://shop.eaglecreek.com/.

Ideas for larger items can be found here.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Holiday Travel Tips

Need holiday travel tips? Here's a link to my November 14 appearance on Let's Talk Live. Below is a recap of the discussion.

1. Book your flights early in the day. Morning flights are less prone to delays. Furthermore, if you do get stranded, you have a day filled with alternative options ahead.

2. Fly in and out of secondary airports. BWI is likely going to be less crowded than Dulles; Midway an easier go than O'Hare. Fewer crowds during the holidays often equal fewer hassles.

3. Book non-stop flights, even if they cost a little more. With the potential for delays, cancellations and lost bags at a premium during the holidays, it's best to go for the most hassle-free options.

4. Avoid luggage fees by booking flights with an airline-branded credit card that offers one free checked bag for everyone on the reservation.

5. Speaking of checked bags, don't follow a one-person-packs-one-bag rule. Distribute everyone's stuff among the checked bags. That way, if one suitcase gets lost, everyone still has clothing.

6. Obvious Wisdom: Check all essentials in your carry-on. That includes chargers, cell phone, medicine, basic toiletries, and a change of clothing.

7. Obvious Wisdom 2: Don't travel on peak holiday travel days. Since Christmas and New Year's Day are on weekdays this year, it may be a bit easier to find decent "off-peak" flights. For example, if you choose not to fly out Christmas Day (which is perhaps the best day to travel), heading out on the Friday or Saturday after the holiday is likely to be better than on the Sunday.

8. To get alerts on low fares, check out www.airfarewatchdog.com..

9.  Keep a handle on the weather where you are, where you are going, and everywhere in between by checking www.weather.com. Travel insurance may help if you encounter weather delays along the way. In addition to covering additional costs like hotel overnights or meals, many travel insurance companies will also assist in re-booking you should a flight be cancelled. Before signing up, though, always read the fine print to know exactly what you are purchasing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Choosing A Private School for Your Child

When is a travel journalist not a travel journalist? When she is commissioned to write a piece about private schools for The Washington Post Magazine. I wrote the lead story in the section below. Parents, I would love to get your feedback. Enjoy.

PrivateSchools 11.02.14

Monday, October 20, 2014

Talking Iceland

On the day I was heading off to Georgia, I reported on my fortnight in Iceland. Here's the segment that aired on Around the World Radio in California on October 9. To accompany my dulcet tones, here are a few images. Please note: The segment cuts out about seven minutes in, but we reconnect after the hosts ramble for two minutes.

Skaftafell Glacier

 The Black Sand Beaches of Vik

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Reykjavik: The Sun Voyager 

Landscape near Krafla Volcano

Hverfjall Crater near Lake Myvatn

Pseudocraters near Lake Myvatn

The Northern Lights

Reykjavik: Church of Hallgrimur and Leif Eriksson

Hofn in the Eastern Fjord Region

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Curious Georgia: Nine Things to Know

To clarify before we count down, we are talking Georgia of Eastern Europe/west of Russia--not south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

1. Why is Georgia called Georgia? There are three theories.

--St. George is the patron saint in these parts.
--Some accounts I see online says it comes from the Perisan word gurj ...meaning wolf.
--I tend to believe my lovely guide, Tamara Natenadze, who says it comes from the Greek georgios, meaning land of agricultural or cultivation. She says Greeks came to the area in the first century before Christ and were surprised to find such an advanced culture....

2. ....which included wine production. Georgia has an uninterrupted 8,000-year history of grape cultivation, making it the oldest wine-producing region in the world. About 535 varieties of grapes are grown here.

3. Georgians, by the by, called themselves 'Kartvelebi'...derived from the pagan god Kartlos, said to be the father of all Georgians.

4. King of Queens: King Tamar was a woman who ruled Georgia during its medieval Golden Age.

5. More Girl Power, Georgia-Style: St. Nino brought Christianity to the region in 330 AD after wandering here from Cappadoccia.

6. The town where Joseph Stalin was born, and where a self-aggrandizing museum to the tyrannical dictator is located (opening date--1957), is called...appropriately... Gori.

7. Ushguli, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the highest village in Europe, located 7,218 feet above sea level.

8. Georgian Cultures: They eat lots of yogurt here, called matsoni. In places, it is made with the milk of water buffalo.

9. Dannon's 1977 ad featuring Georgian centenarians was the first US commercial shot in the former Soviet Union. It put both Georgia and yogurt on the map....although I highly doubt locals opt for the commercial brand.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Let's Talk Live About Airbnb

I chatted about Airbnb, taxes and regulation (oooh, sexy) on today's Let's Talk Live in Washington, DC. Below is the promo and here is the clip of the segment. Let me know what you think.

Monday, October 6, 2014

10 Images of Iceland

It's a busy week of media appearances. Today, I head over to WJLA-TV studios to do a Let's Talk Live segment about Airbnb. On Thursday, I report on Iceland for Around the World Radio in California. In the interim, I need to polish off an article about private schools for The Washington Post. Whew. 

If you aren't quite as busy, feel free to peruse these pictures of Iceland.

Simply put, Iceland is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries I have visited...and I have been to more than 50. It's raw, it's rugged and it's dramatic. The next several blog posts will be filled with images of scenic wonders (waterfalls, geysers, glaciers, craters and pseudo-craters); livestock (sheep and horses); and village scenes that seem to come straight out of the imagination. Oh, and did I mention the Northern Lights?

The Ring Road circles the island of Iceland, traveling through countryside and fjords,and past countless waterfalls, glaciers, and volcanoes. In all, it's more than 800 miles long.

Dettifoss in Northeastern Iceland is consideredthe most powerful waterfall in Europe.

Ho hum, another waterfall. Seljalandsfoss is in Southern Iceland. You can actually walk behind it!

Pseudocraters around Lake Myvatn in Northern Iceland.

Where else can you see pseudocraters? Mars.

Hverfell is an actual crater estimated to be 2,800-years-old. Located near Lake Myvatn, it's nearly 460 feet deep and more than half a mile around. Hverfell is one of Iceland’s most symmetrical volcanic explosion craters, and one of the largest of its kind in the world. I climbed to the top and looked around inside.

Vatnajökull National Park is home to the largest glacier outside of the polar regions. Arrive in Skaftafell and book a tour to walk on the glacier...or just amble around it. Skaftafell is four hours east of Reykjavik.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is actually the result of global warming (yes, Virginia, it exists). Located near Vatnajökull  this deep lake is filled with icebergs appearing to be blue. You can take a boat trip around the ice, or opt to get closer via a Zodiac.

These last two shots are designed to tease you into coming back for more. Djúpivogur is a charming town in the Eastern fjord region, and the place where I found my Monopoly game (and a designer leather dress and a reindeer bracelet). 

Below, one of many images of the Northern Lights, as seen around Lake Myvatn on the night of major solar flare activity. Note--this picture was taken with a Nikon Cool Pix L-820--not a fancy camera. No tripod was used.

For more information on Iceland, go to www.visiticeland.com.

Monday, September 29, 2014

9 Cool Things to Know About Iceland

1. Geyser comes from the Icelandic word Geysir, meaning hot spring. That, in turn, comes from the Old Norse Geysa, meaning to rush forth.

2. Iceland is considered among the Top 10 happiest countries in the world. What's not to like? 

3. That said, Iceland could be said to be splitting apart. The country runs along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, meaning, geographically, it includes parts of both the European and North American continental plates. This phenomenon can be best seen at Þingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland's first parliament (930 AD--the world's oldest continuously-running parliament) and plenty of fissures unrelated to politics.

4.Reykjavik played host to Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. The meeting is considered by historians as the first thaw of the Cold War....

5. ...only adding to Iceland's reputation as the most peaceful country in the world.

6. It's also one of the most progressive in political terms. Iceland had the world's first directly-elected female head of state (1980) and the world's first openly gay head of state (2009).

7. If you clicked on the links above, you'll notice the names of both female leaders end in dóttir.  This is part of the old Nordic tradition of using patronymic names. In Iceland, surnames are not passed down from generation to generation. Instead, the suffix sson or dóttir (daughter) is added to the father's first name to create a new last name. 

8. Because people are so often referred to by their first names (even in places like Parliament and the phone book), Iceland has an officially approved list of names. Given names must be "capable of having Icelandic grammatical endings" and may not "conflict with the linguistic structure of Iceland". If a name contains a letter that doesn't not exist in the Icelandic alphabet (like C, for example), said name is verboten.

9. Iceland has 3,088 miles of coastline.