Geographically Humble Spanish Lessons

Whether or not you have a lot of free time, do yourself a favor and learn even just a few words of another language.  You don’t need wholesome reasons to do it either– it could be to get more bread at a restaurant, finally ask that person on a date, or to make sure mechanic doesn’t muss anything else up in your car.  To boot, I don’t really speak Cantonese beyond a few travel phrases, but given its staccato nature, it’s probably my favorite language in which to curse (唔該, early ’90s Stephen Chow and Ng Man Tat movies).

Thus, counting foreign language study as one of my hobbies, I will give everyone a brief vocabulary lesson in Spanish, using as a guide humble points of interest – no, they’re more like points of no interest to anyone but me – in Mexico, El Salvador, and Cuba.

Very humble.

As an example, take this sign by a bridge, or puente, in El Salvador.  I was en route between the city of Santa Ana and Joya de Cerén, the American version of Pompeii when I saw the inferiority complex in full swing.  Or, was it just laziness?

In Spanish, río means river and sucio means dirty.  Folks, if it’s that nasty, why not make it a río limpio (clean)?  If you’re curious about how dirty it might be, plan your visit today!

Puente Cara Sucia I

Really, the dirty face bridge?!  And it has a twin?

Yes, given that we now know that puente is bridge and sucia is dirty, the new word, cara, means face.  You will find these two blips on highway 150D near the Mexican city of Córdoba in Veracruz (state), and apparently back in El Salvador, too.

Somewhere along highway 145D a bit north of the Puente Chiapas in Mexico’s Chiapas state lies this fella.  Sorry, I mean this sign laden with irony.

Puente Sin Nombre literally means “Bridge Without a Name,” so you can either wax poetic about it, or let the Chiapas government know that calling it a Bridge Without a Name gives it a name.  Or, was everyone in on it?

This one is more on point.  Bienvenidos a Campeche = Welcome to Campeche (state).  Easy.  To the left of the sign, we have “termina Yucatan,” or “the end of Yucatan (state),” and “principia Campeche,” or “the start of Campeche (state).”

Now we’re getting into the weird.  Near Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state, we’ve got this sign; to the north, Veracruz, to the east, Uzbekistan???  No, seriously…Samarkand(a)- besides being a suburb of Villahermosa – is a Silk Road treasure found in the Central Asian republic.  Perhaps I will write about my time there one day.   Oh, right-on the above sign, “reduzca la velocidad” means “reduce the speed.”

Meanwhile, how do they expect us to get to Uzbekistan from here?

Oh, I know.  A Cuban bus.

Cuban bus, near Viñales, “Transporting to the Future”

A Tale of Six Ceviche (in Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru)

Ceviche (seh-VEE-chay) – or, is it cebiche? – is one of Peru’s most famous culinary exports, though its origins are indeed a mystery.  It might have stemmed from the Incas, who discovered that chicha, or fermented maize, could help preserve seafood.  Perhaps it was the Spanish conquistadors from Andalusia, who introduced different citruses such as lime and orange to the region.  Or, did the Japanese, after their first wave of emigration to Peru in 1899, lend a hand in ceviche’s modern-day presentation?

No matter who created it, ceviche is one of my all-time favorite seafood dishes.  But, just like how pizza comes in many forms, the definition of ceviche is wide open to interpretation.

Though many countries in Latin America may make a claim to similar seaside fare, Peru’s is undoubtedly the most celebrated:

Whereas these days there are countless cevichería dotting Lima’s culinary scene, the classic way is to mix up diced fish, salt, chilies, red onion, and lime juice, with that last one added to cook the fish. Finally, place camote – sweet potato on one side, and corn on other.

And now the question you’ve all been wondering…what do you do with the spicy lime juice mixture after you’ve gulped down the ceviche?  In Peru, that delicious stuff is called leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), and can be consumed as a shot; it’s often though of as a cure for resaca, or hangovers.

Now that we know about the standard ceviche, what could anyone possibly want to change with the recipe, especially with something called tiger’s milk?

On that note, let’s switch national capitals, from Lima, Peru to Quito, Ecuador.  Ecuador has some really tasty meals, too, but their typical ceviche tends to have a tomato sauce-base (sometimes ketchup) and shrimp, and is served with popcorn and/or plantain chips:

What these two bowls might lack in aesthetic value, they more than made up for it in flavor!  Still, ketchup in ceviche…I hope it was used sparingly.  But, this does help me transition to the next country on our ceviche trip through Latin America, Mexico…

Why am I skipping over places like Colombia, Cuba, and Chile?  Simple…I haven’t tried ceviche in them.  Also, I could save the “three Cs” for another post.  Gotta strategize!

Moving on to one of my top three food countries, I had a friend in the state of Veracruz who found great joy in showing off her country’s food.  Who am I to argue?  In the case of the first photo, we tried a marisquería (mariscos = seafood) called Mariscos El Bayo.  On the menu, besides freshly caught crab were shrimp ceviche tostadas (tostada = big toasted tortilla):

Whoa, whoa, now they’re taking the liquid aspect away, and instead placing a slice of avocado?  Mixed feelings, to be sure.  Why can’t we have the avocado in EVERY ceviche – even if they are native to Mexico – AND get some piquant leche de tigre action?

Huh?  Now, you’ve taken away the avocado, used a very sweet tomato sauce, but raised the bar with a whole glut of different seafood?  That’s right, at Coctelería Cajun, in Ciudad del Carmen in the state of Campeche, shrimp and octopus are the norm.  Can’t complain about that.  Plus, it had oysters, crab, squid, and snail; no wonder it was called Vuelva a la Vida, or “{it} brings you back to life!”

By this point, you might be thinking, the ceviche looks great and all, but I furl my brow at these inexpensive-looking wares and utensils.  Popcorn, harrumph!

Fine.  I’ve saved the boujee – but equally scrumptious – ceviche for the last.  Enter, Agua & Sal, a cebichería located in the upmarket Polanco district of Mexico City.  They have delectable Peruvian and Mexican offerings of ceviche, as well as separate fish and seafood dishes.  Although I did try Agua & Sal’s mainstay Peruvian ceviche, and an excellent plate of scallops, I will highlight their cebiche a la leña:

Taking ceviche to another level, the leña, or firewood, lended a smoky, earthy flavor to the shrimp and róbalo, or sea bass, and the red onions and chile rayado (dried, smoked chile) salsa provided the welcome heat.  Really, I would go back in a heartbeat to any of these six places, and Agua & Sal…is no exception.


I hope that you’ve learned a bit more about the varying styles of ceviche today, and maybe you could even share where you’ve had your best plate, no matter where in the world it was!

2021 Pandemic Travel, from Mexico to Mexico (with a Brief Border Crossing Guide)

During a stint in Chicago a few years ago, I found that Frontier Airlines offered some really good deals to/from Harlingen, Texas (airport code HRL), close to the Mexican border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros.   Then, from one of those cities, it’s a cheap flight to where ever else in Mexico.

Selling corn by Reynosa’s main bus station, Mexico

Yes, why not escape those sultry winters for which Illinois is so famous?

Now, some might say those Mexican border cities don’t have the greatest reputation for safety.  The same could be said about many US cities.  Those two sentences don’t cancel each other out, but I also don’t wander around sporting ostentatious jewelry, Mamiya cameras, or Señor Frog’s apparel.

Having already become familiar with crossing from Reynosa to Hidalgo/McAllen multiple times, and then once from Matamoros to Brownsville, I felt comfortable testing the Texas border again last month, after having been in Mexico for a few weeks.

Even more amusing?  My destination*: Mexico, Missouri.

Now, to address the elephant in the room, as of January 26th, 2021, all international flights landing in the US require passengers to show negative COVID-19 test results, with few exceptions.  However, land borders are exempt from this.  I booked my ticket to Mexico before this was announced, and only ever book one-ways.

After a pleasant and delicious part-business/part-leisure trip to Mexico, it came time to say “hasta la próxima,” or until next time.  First stop, Reynosa, via Mexico City.

The new Reynosa terminal had just opened a few days prior, and it was certainly a world of difference from the older claustrophobic structure.  I guess it comes down to business people visiting maquiladoras, or mostly tariff- and duty-free factories, often near the US border.   From leaving the plane to hopping in a 280 peso taxi (pre-paid; I asked for a receipt, but they didn’t “have” any) to the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge. it took all of 30 minutes.  Not bad.

Once you’re deposited at the pedestrian bridge, you will find a number of dentists and pharmacies, extant primarily for Texans scouting cheaper prices.  It’s a bit grimy, though, and food options weren’t plentiful.  Though, I did manage to score some tasty parting steak tacos:

Found on Calle Zaragoza, I think this order of six tacos cost less than 50 pesos!

I grant you that hygiene practices were a little suspect, but I will be damned if I wasn’t going to get one more Mexican meal before leaving to fast-foodsville.

Once you’re ready to cross to Texas, you can amble up the white gently-inclining wheelchair/luggage-accessible pedestrian bridge in the plaza.  Note: you will need to have a 5 peso coin (or I think 25 cents) to exit Mexico, although they do not have any exit formalities other than a turnstile.

Having done this trip a few times, I can’t estimate how long it would take to cross.  The average wait time for me was ~45 minutes, but you may want to take into consideration customs officers taking lunch breaks, weekends, holidays, etc.

Once on the Texas side – called Hidalgo – there’s…not much.  Duty free shops, comida corrida (fast food), shady taxis, and vans.  Luckily, Lyft operates in the area, and can whisk you away to the nearest large city, McAllen, and its convenient airport (airport code MFE):

Earlier, I said that my destination was Mexico, Missouri.  That’s partially true.  I was visiting family in the St. Louis-area, and wanted to drive around a bit, looking for really local bbq.  Noticing Mexico on the map, I made it so.

Going from this…

to this…

You might ask, why would you ever want to leave the southerly Mexico for this one?

Well, I have prepared a rejoinder, just for you: “I don’t know.”

I’d rather be in Reynosa

You see, there was talk of a giant tater tot stuffed with barbecue at one restaurant, and the fallback across the street sounded just as good.  Alas, due to a combination of the pandemic, and restaurants not updating their search engine details, no bbq for me.  And to throw salt in the wound, the best edible I could find in the area (i.e. that was open) was a sweet peanut corn flake snack from a chain store:

Taco, eat your heart out:(

The moral of the story? Crossing the Mexico-US land border = piece of cake, visiting Mexico, Missouri = better to go when it doesn’t look like the rapture just took place.

Local Drinks: Tejate and Pozontle (Oaxaca, Mexico)

I’ve trumpeted Mexico’s outstanding food before, but how about their drinks?  Does their array of natural juices, Prehispanic concoctions, liquors, and Jarritos nicely complement Mexican cuisine?  Yes, quite often, I must say!

On the topic of indigenous beverages, let’s look at a couple – tejate, and pozontle – which both originate in the present-day state of Oaxaca.

Fantasy: It’s a food market in Mexico, I am invincible!
Reality: It’s a food market (in Mexico), throw good hygiene to the wind.

Yes, tejate, the first of today’s two Pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus) drinks, is often seen in vats at markets and bazaars in Oaxaca.  Centuries before the Aztecs, the Zapotec peoples of contemporary Oaxaca were enjoying tejate.  Its ingredients include water, toasted corn, pixtle (ground roasted mamey pits; incidentally, pitztli means bone or seed in the Aztec language Nahuatl), fermented cacao beans, and cacao flowers.  The cacao was most likely introduced to Oaxaca from Chiapas state in Mexico through early bartering.

Generally, it is served in a bowl made of jícara, an inedible fruit from the calabash tree:

The Jícara Tree

I consider tejate a light and very frothy drink, a bit bitter and not too sweet.  Though there are indeed, differences in flavors, I had a similar opinion regarding the less well-known Oaxacan beverage, pozontle.

On a visit to a random market in Oaxaca, I stumbled upon La Pozontoleria, a small kiosk serving up this foamy and slightly sweet “shake” more easily found at rural wedding ceremonies in traditional hillside Oaxacan pueblos (towns).

Pozontle’s four more recognizable ingredients are water, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and ground specks of cacao and corn.  The cacao and corn are rolled into little spheres, which are then dissolved in panela water.  The fifth ingredient, called cocolmécatl, is a vine in the Smilax genus that when ground, causes the rest of the pozontle mixture to foam.


Many of us might be quite familiar with Mexican dishes.  But when it comes to Prehispanic drinks, that’s an entirely different world worth discovering.

Coins, Coins, Obnoxious Coins

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 1Coins are obnoxious.  It’s not their fault…no, no, it’s because governments ’round the world can’t resist weighing down our jeans or handbags – or not, as you’ll see shortly – with coinage.  Is it in deference to those of us easily distracted folk, eager to make music out of the clanging currency?  Or, are they still produced so that cuprolaminophobics – look it up! – can amble over to the nearest train track to have their way with coins?

Kudos to Canada for stopping the minting of the tangible penny.  (As an aside, I like how their official mint website has a section for “our products.”)  Denmark’s central bank doesn’t produce paper money or coins.  On the flip side, too many countries around the world accept US or foreign coins.  Plus, quarters are so darn useful, whether it’s for one-armed bandits or one-night stands.

Getting back on track, I guess I used to be something of a numismatist, or coin collector.  The majority of my collection consists of coins more useful these days as paper weights than legal tender – for instance, pre-euro, and something from Zimbabwe in the ’80s – but that’s part of the point of it being a hobby, no?  What follows is a sampling of some of the less welcome members to pockets worldwide (and yes, I realize that they’re still money)…

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 2The left column, with examples (top to bottom) from Hong Kong, the Maldives, Zimbabwe, and the UK, are ones that have not been eluded by the American diet.  However, if one of those ever fell from your hand or pocket, you’d definitely notice it.

At the same time, are those any more obnoxious by their extremely light opposites in the right column? We have the Japanese one (y)en, the Indonesian 500 rupiah, and the bane of my consumerist existence while in China, the fen.  If a cashier gives you a fen, it’s a euphemism for the country laughing at you.  Bad advice: try spending it in Taiwan.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 4With the US quarter as a guide, the left column, with Costa Rica and the UK again, as well as the right column with Hong Kong, Belize, and the same 50p from the UK, display coins that are too darn big.  Though we’re nowhere near the scale of the monolithic currency of some Pacific Islands, what’s the reason for this?  Save for Costa Rica, it seems as if imperialism isn’t the only category in which the British got carried away…

The right column also shows some of the funkier shapes of coins.  Someone was asleep at the switch one day, and now his/her handy work gets the attention of bloggers.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 3Starting from the left, we have the Japanese five (y)en, the US dime, 50 cents from South Africa, 5 sentimo from the Philippines, one tetri from Georgia, 5 koruna from the Czech Republic, and 20 colones from Costa Rica.

The first time I noticed a perforated coin was in Japan.  Curious about why some coins have a hole in them?  Necklaces are one reason, sewing coins into clothing, another.  Thinking about it another way, the Japanese 5 en coin isn’t worth much – particularly outside of Japan – but string it onto some jewelry, and watch your coffers grow.

As for the middle column, that coinage is ridiculous small; the US penny – for its size and its denomination – and the 20 colones, were placed in the photo for comparison.  I’d feel sheepish (particularly outside of their home countries) trying to pay for something with tetri, or the colones for that matter.  Can you imagine a coin-only checkout line?


I hope that you enjoyed this brief tour of coins around the world.  Are there any standouts in your book?

Welcome to Chinatown

As a child, I used to think that the Manhattan Chinatown was one of the coolest neighborhoods to wander around, be puzzled by the Chinese characters written all over the place, and to visit a vastly different culture without needing to hop on a plane.  Later on, I learned that you could get ersatz versions of Western desserts for low prices, but the standout for me was always the (Portuguese-inspired) egg tart.

In any event, after starting to travel, I realized that New York City’s Chinatowns were missing something prominent that other 华埠 (huábù) /  唐人街 (tángrén jiē) proudly displayed– a paifang (牌坊 páifāng).

朝陽門 (Chaoyang Gate), Yokohama Chinatown, Japan

Historians believe that paifang, aka pailou (牌楼 páilou) were influenced by the ancient Indian torana gate, in which four gates – representing four important life events of Buddha – were placed at the four cardinal directions, on paths leading to a stupa.

Breaking down the word paifang, the pai refers to any number of communities in a fang, or precinct.  Originally, they served as markers to designate individual fang, but eventually became more ornamental in purpose.

西安門 (Xi’an Gate), Kobe Chinatown, Japan

Paifang were historically inscribed with specific moral principles to obey, and/or praise the government for recent accomplishments.  Thereafter, icons such as plants and animals whose sounds were homophones with auspicious words – e.g. fruit bat, which also sounds like “blessing.”  Though, modern ones take a more…hospitable approach to phraseology.  For example, a number of paifang have carved into them the idiom 天下为公 (天下 tiānxià “everywhere below heaven,” “the whole world/China;” 为 wèi “for;”公 gōng “the public,” collectively owned”)– this roughly translates as the world is for everyone.

With that background exposited, let’s dive into some Chinatown paifang photos from around the world…with a couple of surprises added to the mix.

What?!  A paifang in China?  Of course!  This one leads the way to the Ge’an community (隔岸村), in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen.  If you’re a tourist and you ended up here, you’ve got quite the wanderlust.

The joke’s on all of us…this paifang is the entrance to a restaurant in Istanbul.  Or, maybe Chinatown will simply “annex” this district.

Latin America++

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Manchester, United Kingdom

 

Busan, Republic of Korea

USA

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But, the questions remains– when is one of New York City’s Chinatowns going to receive its first paifang?

Language Learning on the Road, Guanajuato-Style (Mexico)

And you thought you came here to learn Spanish…

On the way to the small but bustling city of Guanajuato, capital of the eponymous state – known for silver mines and narrow streets – I noticed that some road signs on the outskirts were written in three languages– Spanish, English, and Japanese.

マジですか (maji desu ka- really?)

Is it that hordes of newlywed Japanese tourists are lining up to consummate their marriage at El Callejón del Beso (aka The Alley of the Kiss)?

違います! (chigaimasu – wrong!)

It’s all about the auto industry.

On January 1, 1994 NAFTA, the tripartite free-trade agreement involving Mexico, the US, and Canada, came into effect. In short (i.e. for the purposes of this post), globalization swung Mexico’s lower-cost and less-regulated doors wide-open to manufacturing. (On July 1, 2020 NAFTA morphed into the USMCA, though many of NAFTA’s original provisions still ring true.)

GM opened its first plant in Guanajuato soon after NAFTA was introduced. Years later, other countries such as Germany and Japan followed, with VW, Mazda, and Toyota as the primary brands. This is in addition to the maquiladoras, foreign-run factories, often by the US-Mexico border, which typically produce goods for the company’s home base.

Thus, with the increase in Japanese car firms in the state came the need for Japanese engineers, technicians, and executives, some with families. In 2016, a Japanese consulate opened in León, Guanajuato’s largest city, to serve the thousands of recent expats in Guanajuato and nearby states. Since 2009, more than 80 Japanese companies have been established in Guanajuato alone, hence the need for a consulate.

Now, given that Mexico is also known for coffee, perhaps coffee ramen isn’t too far off?

Parallel Photography: Appreciating Impermanence

For most of my life, I’ve lived close to or in big, vast cities.  Vast.  Wandering around them, eating all over them, and perhaps most memorably, photographing them.

Yet, after a recent cleaning of the closet, I am remiss about one major aspect of my photos from years back– for the most part, they don’t demonstrate transience in the urban jungle.  Yes, of course I have shots of friends and family, but also of certain stores that no longer exist, food not readily available, and pairs of JNCO jeans too spacious even for a Missouri Walmart.  But, rare is the photo that shows a building, mass transit system, or complex under various phases of construction – and on that bandwagon, how the neighborhood might be changing with said construction.  Also rare, shots of the same subject during different seasons.

Only within the past decade have I thought more about this notion of the ephemeral qualities of photographed subjects; in Japanese, this idea of feeling compassion for impermanence is known as  物の哀れ (もの の あはれ), literally “the sorrow of things.”

Take this photo as an example:

Starting from Somewhere, in the Middle of Nowhere

Soon after the Guangmingcheng station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link opened in late 2011, I went to the area specifically to photograph “what might become.”  In other words, China is building high-speed rail stations at ludicrous speed, with neighborhoods booming up directly around those new stations.  Amusingly – and ironically, for the purposes of this post – not much has changed where this photo was taken.

However, if it’s change you’ve got on your mind, then check this out…

February 2005, my first visit to Guangzhou, China.  Back then, the White Swan Hotel was the swankiest place in town by a long shot, national high-speed rail was still in the planning stages, and I didn’t know any Chinese.  And how about that metro rail map?  Amusingly, each station has the Chinese character for station in the name (站 zhan4), in case you’d confuse the circles for donut shops.

Now, what if we look at a Guangzhou metro map from November 2019?

Apologies for the lack of clarity in the photo, but the point is made.  Although mind-numbingly long and crowded, you can now travel from Guangzhou’s primary high-speed rail station Guangzhou South – to Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, with a minimum of one transfer.  In fact, you can take the metro to neighboring Foshan, best known for being the ancestral home of Bruce Lee, and its own metro system.   Even wilder, you will probably eventually be able to ride a metro from Hong Kong to Shenzhen to Dongguan to Guangzhou to Foshan, once – or, if – the merger takes place.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve also become more appreciate of the seasons, be it for their effect on trees, flowers, and potholes, or for the timely foods that appear.  For instance, take this late spring photo of Clark Square Park in Evanston, Illinois, USA:

Looks peaceful, right?  What you can’t see just beyond the trees and rocks is Lake Michigan, a large part of what makes Chicagoland livable for a few months of the year, yet what also makes it…

a torture the rest of the time!  I took this absolutely frigid shot during the “polar vortex” of 2019, and I’m still shivering as a result.  Nevertheless, it was this pair of photos that made me think more closely attentively about choosing certain subjects to photograph, and then sticking with them over time to document changes.


Are you interested in photography?  How do you feel about photographing things that time doesn’t ignore?

Oaxaca’s Crunchy Tlayuda (Mexico)

Mexico, thus far, is one of my three favorite countries in which to eat –the other two being Japan and Turkey.  During my brief time in Southern California, I used to cross over to Tijuana just to get a series of lunches, and then overdo it by chomping on churros while waiting to get back in the US.

CHURROS, at the San Ysidro Border Crossing

After meeting some affable Mexican folks in my travels, my awareness of regional Mexican cuisines grew, as we started taking road trips throughout their delicious country.  I will cover more of these stories in later posts, but for now, we’re going to take a look at the tlayuda, the Oaxacan specialty that might count pizza as a distant relative…all the way in Italy.

In Oaxaca, the word tlayuda generally refers to a fried or toasted giant corn tortilla.   They were first consumed in Prehispanic times — that is, before Hernán Cortés started marauding civilizations in the 1500s; in the native Nahuatl language, tlayuda is derived from tlao-li, or husked corn, and uda, or abundance.

Tlayuda are eaten either with granulated sugar, or with any number of savory ingredients…

Tlayuda at El Milenario (Restaurant), Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Time for the good stuff!  Savory tlayuda are first, smothered in a mix of refried beans and pork lard, the latter called asiento.  Then…whatever!  For the one above, I ordered it with ground chorizo, squash blossoms, quesillo (Oaxaca cheese; roughly similar to mozzarella), radishes, avocados, tomatoes, and a couple of flora unique to the region.

On the left, the green pod (and its seeds) is called guaje.  Although the pod is inedible, the seeds have an eclectic flavor profile, something of a grassy pumpkin seed.  More importantly, the guaje, being plentiful in the region during the time of Cortés, lent present-day Oaxaca its name.  Since the Spanish couldn’t pronounce Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the plant, they abridged it to become Oaxaca.  So much easierright???

And on the right, pipicha, or chepiche.  Does it bear a striking resemblance to tarragon?  Yes…but the flavor is more like a citrus cilantro, with a hint of minty licorice.  Used by Aztecs and other ancient tribes to treat the liver, pipicha also are high in antioxidants, and can be used to cleanse the palate after a meal.  I felt that the flavor was quite strong, so I would recommend using it sparingly.


What would you put on your ideal tlayuda?

Traveling to the Wrong Destination is Still Traveling

Ever end up in the wrong city?  I ask this, because I read a story a few years ago about someone flying to the wrong “Taiwan.”  Which is to say, the passenger meant to go to the island, but ended up in Taiyuan, China instead.  Never mind that the two places are spelled differently – in both English and Chinese, that the former isn’t a city, and that the person likely needed a visa for China, but I decided to see how common this type of mistake was.  Indeed, it does happen from time to time, that folks end up in the wrong place– just ask these travelers.

Although China did for a spell have a thing for building its own versions of European hotspots – Austrian villages, anyone? – supposedly, the central government has put the kibosh on those.  Then again, it’s unlikely one would confuse Paris, Tianducheng for Paris, France…or even Paris, Texas.

And then we have Atlanta, which really doesn’t want you to get anywhere quickly if you’re looking for an address on Peachtree Street.  (Hint: there are no less than 71 streets with the name Peachtree in them.)

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Located – I’m Shocked – on Peachtree Street

Thus, in the vein of this topic, I’ll pose this question to my readers– if someone offered you a trip to Mecca, which would you choose?:

Mecca, population ~ 7, 100, in California?  It is also close to the fascinatingly dubious Salton Sea, which I’ll get to in a later post.

Or…

Mecca, population ~ 1.5 million, in Saudi Arabia?

Suggestion: Having been to both, Saudi dates are the best I’ve ever tried.