Travel

 

 

Over the years I've been to a number of places, and though I can't claim to be the most well-traveled world citizen, I can say that everyplace I've been to has left a deep impression on me. This is especially true of the places I've actually settled in for some length of time (Russia and China). Below is a small commented gallery.

 

Russia

Russia is a land of true friendships and true hardships. Going to Moscow in 1997 was my first international sojourn, and the world on the other side of the world was as different as though I had stepped through an airlock into outer space. A different language of course, but also the pace of society, the way people moved and looked with a mixture of brutality and elegance, was entrancing and intimidating at the same time. Most of this shock, I later realized, was due to years of anti-Soviet indoctrination we Americans were (un)knowingly exposed to during the Cold War. But getting to know people, make friends, and live a bit of the daily life of the Russian everyman, quickly burned away this superficial impression. It was here that I first pondered the possibility that people are the same everywhere. Everyone eats, drinks, loves, works, and so on, with surprisingly similar, neigh identical expressions and reactions to various aspects of these processes. The Russians are just as human as the Americans, I saw. What a shame there was a Cold War for so many years; how many friendships had we missed out on?

 

Typical Russia city street My punk rock friend Ruslan with his wife and daughter. Russian churches are quite ornate works of art. Moscow's subways are deep underground. Yes, that's a bear with me and the head of the St. Petersburg Wushu Team.

 

 

China

Asia was my second international sojourn, flying directly to Taiwan after getting my Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in 2002. Indeed I had already begun studying Chinese in my spare time with various conversation partners in Berkeley coffee houses, and these friends were mostly Taiwanese (the first person to teach me a Chinese utterance, however, was Tibetan!) Here again, lessons of my Russian experience were repeated with double force, for now I was crossing major racial as well as cultural lines. People are people. Granted the asian palette and aesthetic is quite different from what Westerners are used to (how many of us would relish eating live squid, ink and all?) , and some things the Taiwanese did seemed more clever or efficient than in the West (e.g. living accommodations ... I lived in a room the size of broom closet, but it had everything you'd need: TV, A/C, computer, etc. ). Not surprisingly, people in Taiwan had their own stereotypes of other peoples, most notably the mainland Chinese. When I moved to mainland China to take a postdoc at Tsinghua University in Beijing, I learned, again not surprisingly, that these stereotypes were quite off the mark. Wherever people are labeled as severe and extreme, I notice, they are in fact most helpful and hospitable when you get down to knowing them. One really new thing about Chinese, however, is that there seems to be a sense in which they think differently, especially in approaching unpredictable situations --- take traffic, for example: whereas in the West a red light means stop and one-way means what it says, in China these are only rough guidelines ... the defining rules are dynamic, and might be stated as "choose your direction and speed so as to minimize your travel time without causing a collision." When crossing the street, therefore, you would not normally wait for a car to fully pass, but rather immediately start to cross, continually walking towards the tail of the car (i.e. follow a "tractrix"). In more complex situations where you cannot predict the motion of all vehicles, it seems one takes a weighted average of all possibilities, similar to a quantum mechanical path integral!

What you see below is only a tiny, tiny sample of the huge number of photos I've collected over the years. Due to time/space restrictions I can't put them all up, but if you want to see a modest collection of photos of my journey through the legendary Shang-ri-la, there are some here and some here as well.

 

Taroko Gorge is one of the most beautiful places I've been to.
Mountain climbing in Taiwan is quite civilized.
Jiuzhaigou
My office in Tsinghua U.
Most streets in Beijing have separate bike lanes.
The Great Wall
The Stone Forest
Living complexes are closely spaced in Taipei
Kindergarten class I taught in Taipei
Shaolin temple
My Tibetan friends
The Forbidden City
You can find space in China
I met my wife Huixia in China

 

Scotland

My stay in Scotland was brief, spent during the Scottish Universities Summer School in Physics, which was on LHC Physics that year (2003), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Scotland, for its small population, has an incredibly high production rate of scientists (including James Clerk Maxwell, Alexander Graham Bell, d'Arcy Thomas, ...) . There's something special about a nice bowl of thick, lightly salted oats, followed by a good hill walk.

Deserted castle of Dunottar The castle at Edinburgh is something to behold. St. Andrews Comic relief courtesy of John Ellis

 

Japan

I visited Hitoshi Murayama's new Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe in March 2009 and absolutely loved the Japanese ideal of efficiency: trains were on time, secretaries/clerks were quick and courteous, and everything was nearly spotlessly clean and orderly, like in Lego Land.

Typical Street
Disneyland
Typical Lunch
Tokyo street
Sushi buffet at IPMU

 

 

Preparing for a Civilized Journey

Wherever I plan to go in my travels, I always check a little list of things to bring before I walk out the door. For some destinations, many of the items below are unnecessary, but I find that no place I have ever gone, be it in the mountains for hiking, the seashore for walking, the backwards countryside or the bustling city, in none of these places was I ever want of something desperately needed, as long as I first consulted the following list (not necessarily in any order):

ITEM
RATIONALE
Cash & ATM card
Don't leave home without it!
Passport & ID
Necessary for airplanes, hotels, emergencies.
Cell Phone & Battery Charger
Keep in contact.
Camera
Never can predict a great photo opportunity.
Sunblock
Nobody likes a sunburn.
Clothing
Feels good to change out of sweaty clothes, or for extended trips.
Sewing Kit
Fix embarrassing holes or lost buttons.
Guidebook
Avoid getting lost and give yourself fun ideas.
Glasses/sunglasses
Might need to see fine details or walk into the sun.
Knife & Spoon
For use outdoors.
Fan/Handkerchief
Keep cool in the heat or in crowded places.
Reading
May have to wait for a bus, or sit in a cafe.
Sketchbook
" " "
Pen/pencil
Necessary for sketching, jotting down info.
Earplugs
The hotel might be noisy.
Food
Snacks for the road.
Tea
Hotel tea is universally atrocious.
Toothbrush & Floss
Some backwater hotels don't provide these.
Shaving supplies
Might need a clean face for appointments.
A number of small gifts
A thank you to others who go out of their way to help you.
Deodorant & Mints
Make your presence pleasant to others.
Medicine
For indigestion, headache, etc.
Cup
For the outdoors.
Toilet Paper
Most restrooms in the world don't provide it.
Umbrella (fixed length)
Aside from staying dry, it's most useful for hiking and warding off dogs and monkeys.
Slippers
Hotel may not provide comfortable ones.
Electronic Dictionary
For travel in a foreign country.
Lighter & Firecrackers
Outdoor use : to make a fire, emergency signal, or scare away dangerous animals.
 

Of course, for extreme destinations such as camping on a glacier the above list must be extended to include your tent, sleeping bag, etc. It's fun to try making your own list, or "list of lists" for a range of specific destinations, minimizing the amount of stuff to carry but maximizing utility. Travel efficiency is a little hobby of mine --- if you have your own personal list of items that work out particularly well I'd love to hear about it!

Family Trip 1: Beach

Now that I have a family of my own to take care of, the type of lists and the things they contain have gotten more numerous and complex. Take the beach, for example (following assumes you're driving a car and have a credit card, which really obviates most items on the above foot-based list):

ITEM
RATIONALE
Cash & ATM card
Don't leave home without it!
House Key & ID
Especially if you have a self-locking door.
Smart Phone & Battery Charger
21st-century essential
Sunblock
Nobody likes a sunburn.
Swimsuits
duh.
Towels
Don't depend on drying out in the sun. Plus if you've read Douglas Adams ...
Plastic Bags
At least 6. For wet clothes, trash, "accidents", or treasures picked up on the sand.
Glasses/sunglasses
But not your best; might lose 'em in the ocean. For that matter don't bring anything you can't lose in the ocean.
Umbrella
Make a little shady oasis
Blankets/Tablecloth
For said oasis
Sand toys
Don't miss out on a sand castle
Snacks
nothing like fresh strawberries on the beach...
Water
Don't bother with juice or soda; nothing beats plain fresh water when you're thirsty, and you will be!
Big-wheeled stroller
Your surrogate camel for carrying stuff, or a quick nap for a little one. Big wheels usually in the back, so pull it backwards through the sand. Forget about small wheeled strollers unless you want to carry it.
Baby/Toddler supplies
Plenty of diapers, wipes, tissues.
Car toys
books and simple toys for the hour+ drive
 

 

 

 

home