Step Out and Look Straight Ahead

I have learned something about being a pedestrian in these crazy Asian cities with thousands of motorbikes whizzing by like biblical locust plagues. It seems pretty clear that if you wait for a break in traffic you will die of old age before you ever get across the street.

What you need to do, I was told, is look down the street for whatever is coming in the next few seconds, avoid stepping in front of it, but then just walk out steadily and calmly .  Look straight ahead and whatever you do,  do not look at the traffic. People on motorbikes will see you and plan their route to avoid a collision.  What causes accidents is pedestrian second guessing—seeing  something coming and reacting by stopping or speeding up.  Just breathe and walk.

And it works. It is a crazy feeling to cross the street almost as if you were blind, but I’m still in one piece.

“There must be a lesson in this,” I thought to myself.  And of course, when I think there’s a lesson, I can usually come up with one, so for what it’s worth, here it is.   It’s easy to be stopped in our tracks by too much information, in this case the data point represented by every bike whizzing towards you.  It’s easy to think you need to react to everything, when in fact, the opposite is true.  Dithering can be deadly to an idea or action whose time has come.  Second guessing decisions, getting wrapped up in “what if’s,” can be utterly paralyzing.

And it not just uncertainties in our personal lives that the constant whoosh of too much input affects.  In these awful times, it is easy to get sucked into following every story and getting outraged over every horror of the daily news cycle. It’s all motorbikes bearing down on our vulnerable, frightened psyches.

Sure, this is oversimplified, but there is something to it. There’s always something headed  straight for us, often a whole streetful of things. We can focus on that  and get slammed, or we can step out, look straight ahead and just keep going.



Like Riding a Bike

You know the expression about never forgetting how to ride a bike?  Well, I tested it out today on Palau Ubin, an offshore island in Singapore.  I was looking for something to do after I checked in at the airport for my early flight to the Maldives tomorrow, and saw this island mentioned on a number of online “top attractions” lists.  Since it is accessed by the Changi Village Ferry Terminal and the airport is also in the suburb of Changi, I figured it sounded perfect.

I got to chatting with the hotel concierge, and he said  it was a good choice, since the island looks pretty much like Singapore looked before the colonial days.  He told me the best way to get around Palau Ubin is by bicycle. I responded without hesitation, “I think  I’ll just walk around a bit.” Then, as I was in the cab, I had a conversation with myself that went something like this:

Brave Laurel:  You know, you were planning on doing some bicycling this summer in the Baltic, since you have been to the ports many times before and that would be something different to do.

Chicken Laurel: Well, yes, but I was going to practice when I got home…

Brave Laurel: But this island is flat and it would be the perfect spot just to see how it goes.

Chicken Laurel: But I haven’t ridden a bike for over fifty years!

Brave Laurel: That will still be true in San Diego or the Baltic. If you won’t do it today, what makes you think you will do it then?

Chicken Laurel: Oh, okay, I’ll check out the bikes and if they look pretty basic, I’ll …well, I’ll think about it.

Fast forward. I have now ridden over to the island  on a “bumboat” (private boats that offer ferry service). This photo of the taxi service will give you an idea of the infrastructure of the place. Not a car or even a tuktuk in sight, and I wonder whether taking a taxi means you just jump onto the handlebars.


Then to my existential dread, I passed by a bike rental place.  The proprietors called out to me to rent one of their bikes.

Chicken Laurel: “Well….maybe.  I’ll have to think about it.”

Brave Laurel:  Bad, bad girl!

The proprietor pointed to a bike, and I agreed to go up the road a few yards to see if I could avoid maiming myself or someone else.  I actually did it without crashing, but it was pretty terrifying because the bike seemed so bulky.  The owner found another, scaled-down version, and I tried that out.  Lo and behold,  I managed a little better.

Brave Chicken Laurel set out on the bike and discovered several things.  First I was okay if I was not going too fast or anything other than in a straight line.  Second, that is not always possible, and I did a lot of stopping to make minor adjustments in my trajectory if I had to turn or found myself headed for a ditch. I also have no thigh strength for anything more than a slight incline.  But all that is minor compared to the thrill that Brave Laurel had won.

The  ride was beautiful, as this one image will show.

Forty  minutes later I brought the bike back. If you picture me whizzing down the road with my hair blowing back and my girlhood bike skills miraculously resurrected, forget it.    My fingers were twisted with cramps from having gripped the handlebars so tightly the whole time, and I felt halfway to a heart attack with anxiety, but I did it—

I did it!  I even managed a sweeping turn back to the shop by the end, although it almost landed me in the grass.  I beamed all the way back on the boat.

And yes, riding a bike after fifty years is just like—well, like riding a bike. You don’t forget the basics, but the rest is a different matter.  Chicken Laurel is not salivating to do it again, but the primary question of whether I am capable of it has been answered in the affirmative.

Here I am with my bike, below.  Too bad the photo the bike shop owner took makes it look as if I have gained fifty pounds, or maybe it’s just that the photo got a little stretched out in the post,   but I am so stoked about this accomplishment that I will share it anyway.

I think the conversation Brave and Chicken Laurel were having was really about something else altogether.  It was about pushing past boundaries and fulfilling promises to myself about not being so risk-averse that I miss out on the best things about being alive.  I rediscovered snorkeling in the Philippines and bike riding in Singapore.  I am rooting for Brave Laurel to keep Chicken Laurel on the straight and narrow, but in bike riding, sooner or later, I’ll have to learn how to turn.







Happy Travelersary!

This morning I got off the ship in Singapore on the first anniversary of My Year of Living Travelly. Now officially I have to make that plural, since I am booked pretty solid for the next twelve months.

On March 16 2018, I set out from San Diego to the  Amazon with my friend Jane Halsey to start my adventure.  Here we are, ready to go!

And here I am, exactly one year later, with friends, Dayle and Larry, who by coincidence are in Singapore waiting to get on the ship I left this morning. I met them on that first voyage, from Manaus, Brazil to Monte Carlo, so they are in a sense the bookends to the year.

Looking back through the photos of this amazing year—visiting nearly 30 countries and every continent but Antarctica—I found this photo of me sporting my favorite slogan, “Home is Where the Anchor Drops.

Note the two-fisted champagne.  I was holding  the photographer’s as well as my own, though some who have traveled with me may doubt that explanation, and with good cause.

That tee shirt got me thinking, because I am not sure I agree anymore.

Home is where my suitcases are. Even when I am back in San Diego, I live out of suitcases, because my condo is rented out. I really don’t have a home now.

Home is my wallet.  Money and credit cards make everything okay.

Home is crawling into bed, wherever that might be.  Right now it is a hotel bed in Singapore I am snuggled into as I write this.

Home  is seeing and touching my passport as I travel.  Yes, I compulsively worry about that,  and giving it a little pat is strong reassurance that I am okay.

Home is wherever  I put my toothbrush.  Much of the time as I move around I can’t remember exactly what pocket of which bag it is in  (example: right now), but it’s another thing it is very grounding to locate.

Home is having local currency.  Many places take dollars, but I still feel better knowing I have money for the taxi or the food hawker. Makes me feel at least marginally more local.

Home is FaceTime with Dan.  It is so nice to know he’s there, and that he’s got my back.

Home is clothes that still fit.  All’s right in the world when  I can zip up my pants and button my shirt. Add to that, home is when the laundry is newly done, and I have a choice of anything I want to wear.

Home is email and Facebook. Because home is friends, even many time zones away.

Home is pulling out a room key that (miraculously) I have not managed to lose.  Home is the absence of such annoyances.

Home is taking my shoes off after a loooong tour day.

Home is knowing I have a posse of friends on board.  I know so many crew and usually find a few lovely passengers fairly quickly. On this last cruise, when my hard drive crashed, I knew there were so many people who would help in any way they could.

Home is the latest hurdle surmounted, whatever it is.

Home for me is not an address anymore.  It isn’t a strucure with a roof and walls.  Home is where I am.  More than that, home is me being who I am. Home is saying “I got this”about whatever comes up. Home is simply feeling grounded and adequately in control. No anchor needs to drop. I carry all the home I need with me.





This cruise has marked a first for me.  I have to admit that, despite having a lot of fun with the guests and crew,  I am eager to get off the ship in Singapore in a few days.  There are a couple of reasons for this, the most compelling of which is that the meltdown of my hard drive has affected my comfort zone.

I am glad to have a good backup plan—and I am so relieved I do—but I don’t like having to rely on it. There’s a drone of worry that my slides won’t pull up from my flash drive onto the laptop in the show lounge, and even when they do, the formatting and some of the builds vanished in the exporting from Mac to PC, and things aren’t exactly the way I want them. So far so good, with two lectures to go, but it hasn’t been good for the peace of mind I usually have in abundance.

The second is that, as far as I can recall, this is the first back-to-back cruise I have done with the identical itinerary in reverse.  Some of the ports are good for one day but a bit thin for two (and in a few cases, three), so my eagerness to go ashore has been depleted, especially when the weather is as hot and humid as it has been. I am usually fine with “been there, done that,” kinds of ports because at the very least, it’s a different day, different people, different possibilities for serendipity.  Still,  I am a bit tired, and not really as up for that as I might be. Better get used to repetition  because this summer i will be going around and around in the Baltic for two months!

Third, this has been a long assignment for me.  I left home in early December, beginning in Bali, and not ending until Athens in May—five months total, and I am now into the fourth month.  I have been on and off ships, but mostly on.  It’s so long without a break,  because Australia and Asia are so far away that going home and coming back was too gruesome to consider when I set up my schedule.  Getting my life essentially for free while onboard was a huge part of the equation in pulling together My Year of Living Travelly, and paying the bills for land expenses can get pretty steep for a community college pensioner, so I set it up to have as much of the former and as little of the latter as possible— at most about nine or ten days on land at a time.

Still, this is the life for me.  I look forward to getting my laptop problem fixed, and expect that will put some bounce in my step.  And then—Bucket List!—I am off to the Maldives, a cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean, on an itinerary that will work its way back to Singapore,  with most stops, including Sri Lanka, in places I have never been, or am eager to see again.  I can’t wait!  But first a little recovery time, for my laptop, and me.



Happy Gene, Happy Feet

Keep Calm and Carry On. It’s a very British thing to say, and I had reason to remember it the day before yesterday when the hard drive on my laptop suddenly died.  I immediately plummeted into the lowest level of computer hell, because I use that laptop for my lectures and all of my files are stored there.

This could have been (and actually still might be) catastrophic, since without the slide shows and notes, I can’t fulfill my duties on this and other assignments before my scheduled return to San Diego in May.

Backups—don’t leave home without them and indeed I didn’t, having backed up everything (I hope) in the Cloud and on flash drives.  But as I quickly learned, it’s not always that simple.  The ship has lent me a PC, but my files are in Keynote and Pages, the Macquivalent of PowerPoint and Word, and they can’t be opened on a PC.  I can’t access my files in the Cloud because I have to get to them via my Mac.  To make things worse, the extra big and powerful external drive that has the most complete master copy of all my lectures has suddenly decided to be Read Only, so it won’t let me do the simplest tasks with the files, including editing or even moving them.

So I was seriously stuck ( and still am). But I have developed a coping strategy in life to relax as a reaction to stress, and this enables me to bypass panic and terror until such time as I have been able to determine what all the options are. Then, if no good option exists, panic and terror are called for, but not right off the bat. After a few deep breaths and reminders not to freak out, I weighed the situation and figured out my options.

The first question I came up with was, “who are my resources?”, and I came up with quite a few, from the cruise director to the IT officer on board,  to fellow passengers, to techies in our next port (Danang), and even all the way back to Dan in San Diego, because my desktop where I developed all the lectures is in his study, holding its treasure trove of work. The Hail Mary Pass was going to be to copy them all on a flash drive and overnight Fedex it to me,

Sure enough, just with the people on board, I was able (after a lot of time and frustration), to find ways, using the cruise director’s  Mac and the Bridge instructor’s PC, to  reformat in Powerpoint the rest of the slide shows for this cruise  so I can use the ship’s laptops.  My  lecture today went off without a hitch, and I am ready for the others.

That will get me through this cruise, but what about the time at sea after this until I fly home in May? I have somewhere between 15 and 20 lectures I need that are trapped inside the failed hard drive.  Cobbling  together fixes for each one sounds just way, way too stressful and scarily inadequate.

I had two possible ideas for a solution.  First, I could try to replace the hard drive, but there was really no place I could do this in our remaining ports , and I was only going to be in Singapore long enough to get to the airport to fly to Siem Riep to visit Angkor Wat.  Them it is on to the Maldives, and day stops at ports in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and the like.  No good opportunities seemed to exist for a quick fix.

Plan B seemed good. The Singapore airport duty free Apple Store has a really good price for a new one, so I thought I might pick one up and take it on my trip to Angkor Wat and work in the evenings on getting it running. But how would that work, if I am having trouble transferring files?

Worry kept me awake last night, and bingo—all os a sudden what to do came to me.  If I didn’t go to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, that would be too bad, and I would lose a lot of money on non-refundable flights and tours, but it would give me five days in Singapore, one of the best places in the world to solve problems like this.  I wrote to a certified Apple repair business in the city, and I have an appointment the day we dock, and they have already reserved the drive I need.  Besides, hanging out in Singapore while my laptop is in the hospital isn’t half bad!

My immediate problems are resolved, and a a flurry of cancellations and rebookings has set Plan B (or is it C or D?) in motion.  I am going to be okay.

But what does all this have to do with happy feet and happy genes?  I think I am just plain lucky not to be a worrier, and if I catastrophize for a while it is mostly to remind myself to dial it back because the worst possible outcome is usually highly unlikely.

The happy gene also causes me to count my blessings, and there are plenty here.  If this had happened after this cruise, my chances of being able to get it fixed, or even buy another, would have been pretty close to non-existent.  The happy gene also  helps me to be confident that I will get the help I need on the ship.  It’s a very nice gene to have, even if it doesn’t really exist.

And happy feet?  Well, yesterday morning, when there was really nothing I could do about any of it until people on the ship were available to help me, I took the shuttle into Danang and treated myself to a one-hour foot massage.  Maybe that poster saying “keep calm and carry on” should hav a foot instead of a crown.  Let the problems wait a while, I told myself.  I’m busy relaxing.



In the Vietnam War, most American soldiers did not die in conventional battles, but  in small numbers day in and day out by ambush.  Patrol  was the most dangerous assignment they had.

I won’t compare any figurative ambush I have experienced in Vietnam with the heart-pumping terror and consequences of the real thing, but the word itself is so apt for the emotional reactions that have hit me while visiting here.

I expected the war to serve as the backdrop of all my experiences, but didn’t know how. Now I do.

It comes when you look around a market and start dividing the people you see into those who lived through it and those too young to remember.

It comes when a tour guide casually brings up a name like Hamburger Hill as we pass by an otherwise undifferentiated tangle of  greenery.

It comes when you drive by the abandoned  Da Nang air base, with high-end beach resorts literally on the other side of the road from the rusted and abandoned airplane hangars, and realize there was nothing between the beach and the base at the time, and that where the resorts stand is where GIs waded ashore.

It comes when you look around Cathedral Square in Ho Chi Minh City, and suddenly realize that on top of an old building now dwarfed by the high rise behind it, is the tower where the helicopters landed in April 1975  to take the last escapees  to safety.  The ladder they climbed to reach the helipad is gone, but so, so easy to imagine.

It comes when you suddenly see a scarred and maimed body, evidence of the crippling damage of Agent Orange, napalm and land mines.

It comes when you are driving through rice fields and are told some of the graves you see scattered about are of people the farmers found shot dead on that spot and gave a decent burial to without caring who they were, and you realize in that instant just how profoundly decent the Vietnamese are, even in those terrible circumstances.

It comes when you realize you just want to keep saying “I’m sorry” all day long to these lovely, gentle, friendly people, who really, truly seem to have put it behind them.  They are doing a better job of that than I am, and I have another week of ambushes to go.

Bring it on.  I would much rather remember than forget.











Who Are All These People?

I just now realized that I didn’t post once on my last two-week cruise. It was a very busy one with lots of lecturing, touring, and socializing, with the added bonus of having my partner, Dan, on board with me.

Today  marks a transition I make every time I have back-to-back assignments. The day begins with the rigmarole associated with people leaving, and I grin inwardly because I don’t have to do it. That is followed by a day during which I do whatever I want ( in this case getting my hair cut and a little poking around Kowloon afterward) while others endures the stresses of departing and arriving.  Right now, many, including Dan, are in tin cans in the sky hurtling homeward. Others are unpacking and really happy their adventure is beginning.

All that (well, not the tin cans in the sky) is the good part. Tonight, my brain processes an identical refrain: Who are all these people?  Where are my cruise buddies I’ve come  to like so much? And who among these strangers will take their place? I don’t much  like this part at all!

This evening I will remain solo and anonymous, doing a quick sushi dinner on my own and disappearing into my suite (as they call it)  to rest up a little for the two-week performance that begins tomorrow. I will be ready then, but tonight I just breathe.