Thursday, November 5, 2009

Universal Feeling

So this doesn’t necessarily relate to travel, although being the armchair traveler, I am most familiar with visiting places through other peoples experiences in words or songs. Anyway, this also may or may not be a random fact about me (remember those?). I’m not sure, but either way, I feel that this is a valid (although terrifying) truth that should be expressed.

It seems that some (I may be included, you never know) have a problem in every-day life communicating or saying what they feel. I don’t mean about everything under the sun, but about those things that require in-depth personal analysis, or revelation of intimate ideas and feelings. I know others are this way: I’ve dealt with them before (unfortunately). Why does communication get lost or misunderstood so easily? Potential for misunderstanding makes people not want to communicate at all because they feel that they will not be able to get across what they are trying to say or they are just afraid to reveal themselves in such a vulnerable way. When they try, it may come out all wrong and they fear that they shouldn’t have even tried in the first place. Fear bottles people up.

When writers write, or singers sing, or players play, they are not afraid of how they will be perceived. Or at least it seems that way. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a way to cope, a coping mechanism, that singers can say exactly what others are feeling, but feel that it is impossible to say.

I really admire those people that can tell me exactly what I’m feeling without even knowing me and my particular situation. Maybe it’s that they have felt what they are saying at one point in time, but not presently right when they are saying it. That must make it easier.

I can listen to a song or watch a movie and identify completely even to the point where I feel that the piece is written solely for me. Human experience is universal, I suppose. The emotions we feel are not unique to individuals. We all feel them, although maybe not at the same time or in the same way.

I look up to writers like James Baldwin or even to singers and songwriters like Evanescence. Their words are like poetry, invoking tranquility, joy, even wrath. With titles like Nobody Knows My Name, The Fire Next Time, Just Above My Head, and lyrics like “One day I’m gonna forget your name”, or “fear is only in our minds but its taking over all the time” there is no end to the many situations and feelings one can identify with. I know there are so many others but have you ever listened to John Mayer’s Gravity? Wow, does that song resonate with me. I know too that at any other given time when I am not drowning in my sorrow Bigger Than My body gives me chills. I feel like I am living exactly what is being said at that moment. It’s almost biographical.

It’s actually amazing to realize how readily one human being can identify with the experiences that a complete stranger has had. It makes it seem so trivial to be racist, sexist, or whatever other form of discrimination is out there. It’s sobering to realize that throughout the human experience we have such a limited range of emotions and responses to experiences that a songwriter thousands of miles away knows exactly how someone else is feeling going through a break-up or other tough situation that they couldn’t have possibly have guessed without knowing first-hand. I suppose that emotions such as love, fear, joy, anger, and so on cannot be escaped or denied by any.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Quebec City, Canada

While looking through a Budget travel magazine I happened upon a small advertisement for Canadian travel. The city profiled was Quebec City, a 500 year old city where the locals speak French just an hour flight from New York City. I’ve always wanted to go to France and to think, this little town seemed much more accessible right outside my home state instead of thousands of miles across the Atlantic.

Quebec City is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and is located within the Capitale-Nationale region. It is the second most populous city in the province.
Quebec City is internationally known for its Summer Festival,Winter Carnival, the Chateau Frontenac Hotel which stands out across the sky line and the street famous for its shops - Rue Du Petit-Champlain.

The Festival d'été, or Summer Festival which originated in 1968 is organised by groups of businesspersons and artists of Quebec City in order to show the artistic, economic, and touristic potential of the area. The Festival lasts 11 days and takes place over the first week of July. The Festival presents hundreds of genres in musical shows in various indoor and outdoor venues throughout the city.

The Carnaval de Quebec or Winter Carnival is an annual festival that takes place in Quebec City. The festival typically starts on the first Friday of January and continues for 17 days and ends when other areas in the world begin to celebrate Mardi Gras. Its activities include sleigh races, snow slides, skiing, snow rafting, snow sculpture contests and more. The winter festival is the largest winter celebration in the world with close to one million attendees.

The Château Frontenac hotel is another popular attraction here. It is not the tallest building in Quebec City, but overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, it is the most prominent feature of the city’s skyline, thus a symbol of the city.

Old Quebec City offers a variety of shopping opportunities on rue du petit-Champlain. One of the oldest commercial districts in North America, the Quarter petit-Champlain is also one of the most scenic areas. The stores and bistros are made of cobblestone and wood and have an old world charm and offer the best souvenirs and authentic cuisine to be found in Old Quebec.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

World's Prisons

There are now over 8.5 million men, women and children in prison. Some are just being held; others have been convicted and sentenced. Half of this number is in three countries: the US,Russia and China. The conditions of each prison vary from country to country, with some no different than hotels with locked doors to those no better than a hole in the ground. Daniel W. Van Ness 24 May 2001

Bang Kwang, Bangkok
Most corrupt

In Bang Kwang prison in Bangkok, Thailand, there are no facilities such as a proper exercise yard or sporting facilities, or anything else except bare cells. Brutal beatings are common. Corruption is endemic and the only way to survive without going crazy or ending it all is to stay on heroin, which can be bought from the guards, if you are lucky enough to have money.

Perpignan, France
Harshest Treatment

Perpignan prison in France is where Frank W. Abagnale, an American con artist who specialised in phoney checks, spent six months in the late 1960s. Abagnale was thrown, naked, into a cell in which he could not lie down or stand up and was kept in total darkness. He was not let out of that cell until he was released. He had no means of grooming or cleaning himself, and was fed food that had been thrown through his cell door onto the floor at irregular intervals. The sole amenity was a bucket which was not emptied very often.

Mark S. Lawson - posted Friday, 11 June 2004

San Pedro Prison, Bolivia
Most Backward

Convicts at San Pedro in Bolivia have to pay rent for a cell and they all have jobs within the prison. A large number have partners and children staying with them and tourists/backpackers are allowed to enter the prison but must be accompanied by a tour guide (a prisoner) for “safety reasons”. Tourists can even stay the night in a cell for a small fee and a large number of them frequent the jail in order to buy cocaine from inmates as it’s apparently the purest and cheapest in Bolivia. It’s also been suggested that local police only enter the facility to collect bribes.

Kresty Prison, St. Petersburg, Russia
Most Overcrowded

Russia’s prisons have a reputation for being the most overcrowded on earth, especially Kresty Prison in St. Petersburg. The official capacity is set at 3,000, but the actual population is always at least 10,000. Each prisoner is also said to only be allowed 4 square meters of space each and 15 minutes a week (a week!) to shower.

ADX Supermax, Florence, Colorado
Most Secure

This ‘high-tech alcatraz’ was opened in 1994 and is home to only the most violent and dangerous criminals in the country who have absolutely no contact with each other at any time and spend 22 hours per day in solitary confinement (cell size 7ft x 8ft). Any prisoner here has been convicted to no less than a 25 year sentence, pretty much ensuring that security be a top priority.

Leoben Justice Centre, Steiermark – Austria

This prison, located in Steiermark, Austria, has been rated as a five-star prison, if such a thing exists. Created by hohensinn architektur, Leoben Justice Centre is perhaps one of the most attractive and most comfortable prisons in the world. Alluding to the level of comfort are the two inscriptions on the prison’s perimeter: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” which is taken from The United States Declaration of Independence, and “Each of the persons deprived of their liberty must be humanely and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human being treated.


It's been a while, but i'm back with more interesting and weird topics to entertain and (hopefully) shock you in the months to come. Enjoy!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

World Music

I thought it fitting that my blog, which is mainly about travel and different things around the world, should include some international music. While there’s so much to choose from, I picked a few styles that stood out for me, to share. They are as follows along with a playlist of songs from artists in each of the genres (If you can't see the playlist, but you can an empty box with some text, just click "pop out player").

This style features the coastal music of Peru combined with Spanish, African and indigenous elements. Black Peruvian music features a blending of instruments, including the Spanish guitar, the cajón (a wooden box drum that is sat upon and played with the hands on the front and sides) and the quijada (the jawbone of a mule or donkey that has been dried so that the loose teeth produce a rattling sound - nice). In some areas, a gourd drum (called the checo or the angara) is also added, and contemporary groups have added the electric bass, Cuban conga drums and African-derived cowbells. Susana Baca provides the sample for this genre.

Arab Classical
Poetry is the very heart of Arab classical music. Heroic odes, oral histories and war and tribal narratives were at the crux of the pre-Islamic culture of the nomadic Arab peoples. Early Islam rejected music as being conducive to immorality. Many ultraconservative Muslims today continue to look down on music, and even ritual cantillation of Koranic verses and the muezzin's call to prayer are not considered "music." Even so, language and poetry are at the very heart of Arab culture; the Koran, too, is full of rich rhythms and rhyme, and its language is dazzling. So it is not surprising, then, that Arab music has flourished over the centuries, with a particularly deep relationship to its lyrical content.* Marcel Khalife demonstrates this style.
*Taken from National

Italian Regional Folk
In Northern Italy the music is often played in major keys, and the melodies are eerily reminiscent of Celtic music. There's a very strong dance tradition here, with bagpipes and fiddle the most important instruments. Bands like the acoustic Piva dal Carner or Fiamma Fumana combine acoustic instruments and traditional tunes and songs with electronics and beats. Those two are not the only bands from the area to push the boundaries. Mau Mau, from Piedmont, mixed its tradition with global beats to good effect in the early 1990s. Within the North, Genoa stands as an anomaly, with its own tavern singing called trallalero, a distant cousin of the polyphony found in Sardinia and Corsica. Although not widely known, and more historical than contemporary, it's proved an influence on some younger bands.* A selection from Fiamma Fumma was chosen to illustrate this genre of music.
*Taken From Natinal

Nordic Folk
Today, the Scandinavian folk scene is a diverse one, with experimentation in acoustic and electric styles. Nordic folk music faded in the 20’s but has since been undergoing a revival that gets larger as time goes on. This revival focuses on “back-to-the-land” principles and a return to simple rural life. Many artists have combined this message with modern beats and harmonies to make an impact on today’s generations, but it is a slow process. Instruments such as the nyckelharpa keyed fiddle and the Swedish bagpipe are still used as a testament to the old tradition as well. Laiska by Varttina showcases this style.

I’m sure that many people (at least from my generation) are familiar with the ska popularized by bands like No Doubt and Sublime in the late 90’s. However, they were just a few in the long line of musicians that have been performing ska since the 1960’s. Born on the island of Jamaica, ska was created somewhat accidentally out of a mixture of many different types of music. "Like the island's slogan—"Out of many, one people"—ska was born through the blending of many musical styles" (NGEO). In this new style the guitar and piano were combined in a "highly syncopated and clipped style, while the horn sections played melody lines borrowed from jazz, Latin music, mento and R&B"(NGEO). The selection for this genre is from Ernest Ranglin, one of the founding fathers of ska.

I first heard about this style of music while watching Jack’s Big Music show on Nick jr. with my niece and nephews. That show, by the way, is a testament to the good shows that do still exist for children today. I wish such shows existed for adults that not only provided good music but profiled different artists from around the world and provided background about their particular styles of music.
Zydeco adds an Caribbean rhythm to Cajun and African American rhythms by simplifying the melody and incessantly repeating it, not unlike blues in some respects. Over the years the style has generally come to be known as party music.
Zydeco groups feature the rub-board or frottoir, a type of raspy percussive instrument. The emphasis is on conveying emotion rather than on a story line, so instrumentals are most common. In the following playlist, this type of music is performed by Beau Jocque & the Zydeco High Rollers.

I’ve also included some extras that were pretty interesting to listen to. They are: Aventura with their song La Madre in the Bacchata style, Baba Zula with their Turkish Pop song Sevsem Olduruler, Sevmezsem Oldum, and from the World Fusion genre (cross-cultural musical collaborations that fuse Western pop with indigenous pop and folk traditions from around the world) i’ve included Snow by Dear Euphoria and A Tango for Guevera and Evita by Miyazawa.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Brandie Pahl's photography

My love for travel, photography and nature must have come from somewhere. I believe it favors the nurture rather than the nature side of the debate, as my parents don’t share the passion I do but my sister, Brandie, certainly does. I grew up interested in wildlife and landscape photography, while my sister was always into fashion. So much so that about a year ago she started making children’s clothing and accessories and developed a clothing line called Little Lotti Clothing, which she will soon begin selling through her website Recently she has usurped my progress down the marketable photography path by deciding to take the pictures for her site herself. She did a few preliminary shots with me as the over eager model which follow, and you can see her show off more of her talent on her blog The Delights of Anticipation.

This last one is my brainchild. What can I say? Fun with raw chicken.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Disgusting Insects/Random Fact #3

Recently I watched a television show called I was Bitten. It featured a variety of horrifying footage of brown recluse spider bites, rattlesnake bites, and even bear and shark attacks. Viewers were not spared from pictures and video of pus filled wounds, rotted tissue and bone-deep, teeth-made gashes. This gave me the idea for not only my next travel blog post, but also my third random fact: I actually enjoy watching crazy, disgusting, f**d up television shows. Beyond my morbid fascination though, I think it of the utmost necessity that while I research places I would like to visit, I may want to brush up on what deadly, hideous creatures I am very likely to encounter. As fascinating as it is to watch suffering and torture from afar, I am very reluctant to be the victim.

So everyone knows about disease carrying tsetse flies, mosquitoes harboring malaria, and vicious Africanized honey bees, and we’ve all seen that picture of a soldier holding an enormous Iraqi Camel Spider (they do only grow to six inches though…only six inches?!), but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Following are various bizarre, out-of-this world insects that most people don’t even know exist, much less right in their own backyards (or bed sheets).

Japanese Giant Hornet

This hornet located in Japan is just the size of the average persons thumb, (the entire thumb) but their sting can be fatal. Not only can the poison they inject disintegrate the flesh around the sting site, they can also shoot it over a few feet! In addition, they can fly 50 feet in a day and the pheromones they give off attract every other hornet from that hive to chase you 50 feet and shoot acidic poison in your eyes!! Apparently about 40 people a year die like this.

Bullet Ant
These inch-long ants live in the rainforests in Central and South America from Nicaragua to Paraguay. They live in trees and, get this, they shriek at you before they attack you! So that noise coming at you from the canopy of trees above is not a howler monkey, but an ant. AN ANT! And its about to attack you with an “unusually severe” sting that has been described as being similar to getting shot.

Bot Fly

So this one takes the cake for me. There are many species of Bot Fly, from the Horse Stomach Bot Fly to the Human Bot Fly, with most species found, once again, in Central and South America and other species in various corners of the world. This little dandy lays its eggs in grass, which animals eat (hence the origin of the name Horse Stomach Bot Fly) or on horseflies or mosquitoes which then land on humans (hence the origin of the name Human Bot Fly). What happens next is a scene from a B movie on the Sci-Fi channel. The eggs hatch on or in the animal or human and the larvae proceed to feed on the flesh or tissue of the victim.

Huge Spider

No-one seems to know what this is, but I thought I’d just throw it in, because it is absolutely HUGE. Imagine if you turned a corner in your house and this was sitting eye-level on your wall ready to attack and eat your face!!!

Bugs on Hand

Now apparently these bugs, whatever they are, aren’t poisonous, but I think it’s mighty ambitious of this person to have them crawling all over their arm.

I guess the bottom line is that yes most bugs get a bad rap, they’re not that threatening and obviously here for a reason. Their presence also won’t deter me from visiting any country, but I will definitely be more cautious when I rest up against a tree as I’m hiking through a rainforest in South America, or even just lounging in a house in Vanuatu (see Getting Stoned with Savages). I don’t mind sharing the planet with these creatures, I’d just rather I wasn’t aware of their brain-burrowing capabilities…

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Random Fact #2

I've finally found an idea for another random fact about myself. At first, I wanted to get all six facts done within a week, but as you can see that didn't happen. I forgot about it until a couple of days ago when my sister showed me an article request from Haro (help a reporter out). Someone was looking for stories from people who have unusual names and either already changed them, or want to change them. Thus was born my second random fact idea...

#2. I used to hate my name. When I was about fifteen or so, I tried to change it - not legally, but I did go by the name Nicole, my middle name, for a few months. Tamika is not necessarily an unusual name, but growing up in Oxford in the late 90's where minorities accounted for about 1% of the population, my name may as well have been Xiao-Zhi or Fadhila or some other foreign name. It didn't help either that the only reason my mother chose my name is because she thought I was going to be a boy until the moment she saw me. I was known as "baby Edwards" in the nursery until my mother finally stole the name Tamika from a friend that had just used that name for her newborn.
Naturally, because of guilt I suppose, my mother gave me the go ahead to change my name. So after running through many other options, I figured my middle name would be the easiest transition. I told everyone I knew to call me Nicole and even started receiving some mail with my new name on it. After a few months, though, I gave it up. I think I finally realized that a name is just a name and it doesn't reflect who I am.
I know there's plenty of people out there that believe that your name has a definite bearing on opportunities in life. We've all heard that ethnic sounding names on job applications will get less attention due to unfortunate stereotypes about irresponsibility, laziness, etc. Be that as it may, I don't believe that I fit whatever sterotype may be attached to my name and many other Tamikas probably don't fit it either. There are probably many Marys and Williams that don't fit whatever positive stereotype that there names elicit either. To me, the bottom line is that I know i'm much more than a name and that my character is what defines me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sooo, my wonderful sister just sent me what I can only regard as some sort of chainmail. I am to list six random facts about myself and then implore at least six others to do the same. Whether this will bring me good luck or a series of good hair days or something remains to be seen as I have reluctantly agreed to participate. The first random fact about myself, then is…

#1. I am an avid animal lover. Doesn’t matter the species, color, shape, or size, I love them all. Animals can do no wrong in my eyes (except of course for the occasional mauling of humans, and then I can’t help but assume the human had it coming). One of my early life goals was to open my own wildlife reservation where I could nurse injured tigers and rhinos, etc. back to life with my very own hands. Very cinematic, I know. I refer to full-grown dogs as puppies and squeal every, and I mean every, time I see one and I even have a special place in my heart for the naked mole rat. If only I were that enamored with my fellow man, but that’s another post.

Amazing,isn't he?

Absolutley Beautiful!


The one in the middle looks like an ewok.

Words aren't necessary. Just look!


I could go on and on, but there's other work to be done and sleep to be had.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Antarctica and Switzerland

In keeping with my proposed commitment to expand my own and my readers’ knowledge of the geography of the planet, I figured I could profile Antarctica, one of my top most interesting get-to-know places.

As far as vacations go, Antarctica is not necessarily the “go to” spot, but it is becoming increasingly popular. There are now cruises and even walking expeditions where you can actually explore parts of the continent on foot. Previously I had thought setting foot on the continent was only possible if you had a reason to be there, i.e. work/research or something similar, but definitely not just for fun. Apparently I was mistaken. I continue to meet people who have visited Antarctica for their annual vacations. Here are some interesting facts about the continent.

It almost never gets above 32° F (0° C) in Antarctica and the highest recorded temperature at the South Pole is 7° F (-13.8° C).

There are 28 airport landing facilities in Antarctica.

Fewer than 200,000 people have ever been to Antarctica (however, that number is steadily climbing).
Antarctica is the only land on our planet that is not owned by any country.

Although covered with ice (all but 0.4% of it, i.e.), Antarctica is the driest place on the planet, with an absolute humidity lower than the Gobi desert.

Hmm… not that interesting is it? So while I really want to go to Antarctica one day, I think the real experience is seeing it and being in awe of its reality. Since I haven’t been there, I don’t really think I can relate its appeal. I’ll get back to you all after I’ve gone.

Anyway, another place I’m dying to try is Switzerland; one of the most beautiful and picturesque countries in the world. This could possibly be more relatable because, after all, who doesn’t want to go to Switzerland??? Even just for the Swiss chocolate, mountains, clogs, and lederhosen… they do still wear clogs and lederhosen don’t they? I mean, they’ve got to give tourists something to feed off of.

But realistically, Switzerland has a rich culture both in historical and present-day context. Here, then, are some interesting facts about Switzerland.

There are 4 official languages in Switzerland : Swiss German (64%, many dialects), French (20.4%), Italian (6.5%), and Romansh (<1%)
A 2006 survey found that Zürich and Geneva had respectively the first and second highest quality of living in the world.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, and is still based there. The flag of the Red Cross is the flag of Switzerland with the colors inverted (who knew?)

The Swiss have a long tradition of watch-making, and are the uncontested leader in luxury watches, with brands like Audemars Piguet, Baume et Mercier, Breitling, Chopard, Franck Muller, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rado, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Tissot, Vacheron Constantin.

Switzerland knows a great variety of climates. From a polar climate in the high mountains above the snow line, to an almost subtropical climate in the southern Alp valleys.

Visiting Switzerland is not complete without seeing the Alps. The Bernese Oberland, or the highlands, is an area that offers one of the best views of the range in the country. The Swiss train system seems to be a popular way of navigating through the mountains and taking in the breathtaking scenery. Jungfraujoch is another mountain peak that I’d like to visit. At 3454m, the top of this mountain is the highest point in Switzerland. It boasts an indoor ice palace where everything is made completely of ice, even the floors and walls! Sounds cold, but beautiful. Between the never-ending waterfall in Wengen-Murren and the renowned chocolate and cheese fondue in Interlaken, and even the abundant wildlife in the Swiss national park, Switzerland seems like a country with a lot to offer the novice traveler like me.