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Preview: Bob Marcacci

To Bob & Back Again

bmarcacci AT gmail DOT com

Updated: 2018-03-06T15:46:04.398+03:00


Brew Qrew Baseball Comes to an End


Great way to end the season, Brew Qrew.
Baseball season in Qatar is finished. At the start of the season, I was asked to fill-in as Head Coach at the last minute as no one else had volunteered to coach the second of two teams in the Qatar Little League (QLL) Minor League Devision. I had some experience coaching, having assisted with Vito's previous teams for the past three seasons, but I had never really tried to handle my own squad. Anyway, I took the reins of the Milwauqee Brewers against my better judgment.

It was not the most culturally sensitive choice of team names, perhaps, but I didn't have anything to do with choosing it. The first one that I was offered was the Qleveland Indians (equally awkward for different reasons), but due to the blockade in Qatar or some other ordering snafu, those uniforms were replaced by Brewers uniforms so there you have it.

I took my job seriously, researching activities and drills each week before practice and spending hours crafting lineups and various rotations, but I decided from the very beginning to move all of the kids around every inning every week so that everyone would get an opportunity to play every position; no one would be able to play any particular position every week.  I'm not sure where I came across this idea or if it was my own, but I thought it would build more awareness of the game and instill a greater sense of teamwork. I think it did, although, not everyone (parents) considered my decision so noble.

Anyway, we played our last game today, closing out the year on a high with a two-game win streak. I stuck by my method all season and its success was quite apparent in the last two weeks as both games featured inning-ending or game-ending plays that cleared our bench in jubilation!

There were many challenges throughout the season and I don't know if I handled everything as gracefully as I could have, but I learned a tremendous amount and really enjoyed myself. I have to say that I really looked forward to both practices and games, even though it meant driving across Doha during rush hour or getting up early on Friday morning. More importantly, however, I believe the kids had a great time learning about the game and learning about how to get along with each other.

Sports Anyone?


Almost everyone had the day off today to observe National Sport Day in Qatar, part of an ongoing movement here to emphasize physical activity. A day off for almost any reason is always welcome and this occasion was no different. After waking up and breakfasting, Vito and I played some Wii Resort Sports on the television, occupying ourselves until Angela emerged from the bedroom. You can see that our holiday was already in full swing.

While we were waiting, I took a break and signed up for beIN Connect, the local sports media provider, which would allow us to watch olympic events on the computer. I was feeling left out of the olympic action without a way to watch any of the games, so I caved and subscribed for one month of online service for $18 (approximately 67 QAR). Signing up was quite easy and, within minutes, Vito and I were watching men's halfpipe qualifying in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It seems like we will also be able to watch NBA basketball games and tennis matches from the tournament in Doha, otherwise unavailable.

People enjoying Oxygen Park on Sports Day.
Eventually, we motivated enough to get out of the apartment, loaded Vito's bicycle into the back of the CRV and drove to Education City where a number of activities were scheduled throughout the campus. The weather was fantastic with clear skies and a light breeze, and really couldn't have been any better. Vito ran into a friend and pedaled around Oxygen Park while Angela and I walked. I wanted to win a t-shirt by participating in one of the hosted events, but I ended up socializing with friends instead.

We ended our day by driving out the the Education City Golf Club, which looked deserted, and then returned home to while away the afternoon...

A Year in the Making


The previous week was very dusty. In fact, the dust was so bad that baseball practice was cancelled on Monday.

Anyway, I finally posted the final entry about our trip to Myanmar last winter. It took me more than a year to finish—obviously, I put off completing it for whatever reasons—but an overview of our trip is finally ready for mass consumption. Now, to start writing about our trip to India in December...

Back in the Swing


The spring semester started a couple weeks ago, and so far, so good. Vito's schedule keeps us busy: swimming on Sunday, baseball practice on Monday, trombone and wind ensemble lessons on Tuesday, theory and piano lessons on Wednesday, swimming again on Thursday, and a baseball game on Friday morning. I am the head coach of his baseball team this year so I'm more involved in those activities, as well. Also, Sunday through Wednesday, Angela teaches in the evenings, which complicates matters, but it doesn't pose an insurmountable challenge. Our only day without scheduled  activities is Saturday, but it often means we have to catch up with everything that we put off during the week, such as buying groceries. One good thing that you probably know about such a busy schedule is that it makes time pass quickly.

In any case, the new year is a natural time for renewal. Looking through my social media footprint from the past year and upon further non-technological reflection, it seems that my previous post about the difficulties of 2017 was not entirely accurate. I guess the foggy weather had clouded my ability to weigh the various elements accurately. Anyway, the tempest that reared its head at the end of last year has quieted for the time being and, to mark the transition to a new period, I have implemented a name change for the blog. I may update the blog just as infrequently, but I have always simply used my own name as the blog's title, and I thought I would try something new.

One Fog to Another


The morning started with fog, the thick, white, billowy stuff of dreams, and lingered through the morning. Fog is not unusual here in Doha and not nearly as unusual as rain, but it is certainly not very common. I didn't know if it was a good omen or just another sign of the continued combustion, confusion and obfuscation of this year, but I looked at it positively. What other defense is there?

I can't divulge all of the difficulties of this year, but 2017 was hard on Marcacci & Co. My social media has not revealed much, and much was too sensitive for you run-of-the-mill e-stalkers, but this is about all you're going to get as a summation. Many of you (any of you?) know one part or another of the story anyway, but both Angela and I are glad the year is coming to a close. The one saving grace in this trying year is that Vito has done well at his endeavors despite the difficulties that his parents faced. I hope y'all had better memories. At least, we've all lived through them so far.

At night, the fog returned. It was nice to walk out in it. What's in store for the rest of this year? What's in store for the next one?

In Some Small Moment


Fanar, Qatar's Islamic Cultural Center
Today was the last day of work before the winter break. I dressed and arrived at the office as usual. The ABP Student Services sponsored a Qatar National Day breakfast for the staff and we assembled at the appointed hour. I ate a chapati (a sort of thick Indian tortilla) breakfast burrito and drank two cups of karak (black tea with cardamom, milk and sugar). There were also National Day souvenirs to gather and I came home with a Fanar magnet. The Emir blockade t-shirts were too small or I would have grabbed one for Vito.

After breaking our fast, we milled about and visited with one another until grades were verified. It was the last day for one of my colleagues, Christine, who will not be returning in January so it wasn't an entirely festive occasion. Then we trickled out, most of us looking toward holiday travel plans. I had my own travel plans in mind, but the three of us will remain in Doha for another week before departing for Kerala, India next Friday.

After leaving the office, I went to get Angela and then we went to Vito's school to help with the National Day / Holiday party that was planned for his classroom. I put napkins on the table and served cake and juice. It was fun and we spoke with Vito's teachers and met a few of the parents of some of his classmates. We felt lucky that we had a chance to get involved with Vito at school.

Our day didn't end there: we ran some errands, picked up Vito when school ended, ran into some friends, spoke with all our parents and watched a double-session of Survivor before retiring to our bedtime rituals and sleep. These may not seem like incredibly memorable experiences, but I am always surprised at how much I forget. The more I write, the more I realize what I am leaving out, what will be forgotten. This is a small way to capture some of those memories. Perhaps you were there is some small moment.

Home Sick


I'm doing things today that I haven't done in agesor I haven't done them here. It would be great to stay at home and pursue whatever suits my fancy on a more regular basis, such as drafting this little blog ramble, but that is simply unrealistic. How did I find such time? I called in sick today with an actual evil cold.

Colds are evil. Last Thursday, Vito showed some symptoms of one, but it was mostly cleared up by Friday morning. I told him it was a kind of 24-hour bug. There were some coughing and sniffling side effects, but he didn't feel or look as whipped as he had on Thursday. Saturday night after dinner, I started feeling something creeping up on me in the form of an unpleasant sensation in my throat, and I assumed it would be similar to what Vito had contracted, but I was mistaken. My version is well-mired in its second day and looking at more. See? Evil.

When I woke up yesterday, my throat was scratchy and it was hard to swallow. I popped in a lozenge, grabbed a box of cold capsules and hopped off to work, as usual, but I should have stayed home. What started as mildly irritating only worsened as the day lengthened. In an effort to suppress my symptoms, I doled out additional doses of medicine, swilled ginger and lemon tea and nursed my tender nostrils with tissue after tissue, but nothing improved my condition. By the time I went to bed, I was a mess. When I woke up this morning, I simply moved from bed to couch, not feeling much better. I knew I would have to stay at home today. So that's where I am, standing at my upright desk contemplating evil.

After making coffee and eating a bowl of granola with blueberries, I swallowed a couple of smooth orange cold capsules, but the effects are wearing offtime to re-medicate. Angela went out to buy groceries and the house is quiet, but she'll be back.

Am I happy about sending an alternate lesson plan to work today instead of what I had planned? Something akin to busy work. Should I be sleeping instead of facing off against the computer. Should I be grading papers instead of blogging about my bug?

I really hate missing work—it's really more work to miss workand hope to be back at it tomorrow. My symptoms seem to be subsiding. A good night's rest should set me straight.

Abu Dhabi, Etc.


Let the fun begin!Last weekend, before the unusual cold arrived that has settled on this region over the past week, both Vito and I did not have to go to work on Sunday, so the three of us left Doha and spent three days in Abu Dhabi for a little UAE getaway. We left on Thursday night and returned Sunday afternoon. Our flight departed at 7:30PM, but there was a one-hour time difference. All told, we were seated at the Brauhaus at the Beach Rotana by 10:30PM, tired but happily waiting for our brews and platters of boiled and grilled sausages, something we couldn't get in Doha.Friday was reserved for a visit to Ferrari World, which was one of the main reasons for choosing to go to Abu Dhabi. Hanging red lanterns and a large dragon greeted us at the entrance of the theme park decorated in celebration for Chinese New Year. Highlights of the day included the three of us riding the world's fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, which was breathtaking, and then only me riding the world's highest loop rollercoaster on the Flying Aces ride. Aside from the rollercoasters that venture out-of-doors, Ferrari World is the largest indoor theme park in the world! The park wasn't terribly crowded, but it is still developing and people were working on three of four projects simultaneously while we were there. Despite the fact that work was on-going, there were plenty of other things to keep us occupied.The inner courtyard of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.Notice the unusual chandeliers inside theSheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.Another reason to go to Abu Dhabi was to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque there, which may, perhaps, be considered among the most beautiful mosques in the world. It looks particularly stunning at night, the white marble bright with colored lights and its high minarets and domes welcoming people as they enter the city. We spent Saturday morning wandering around an Abu Dhabi neighborhood near the corniche, and then we walked along part of the corniche which followed a long sandy beach. We were impressed that there was such a huge public beach in the center of the city.The weather was great--surprisingly warm for mid-winter--and after walking in the sun for a while, we started to really feel the heat. We hailed a cab and drove to the Jumeriah Hotel at Etihad Towers and took the elevator up to the observation deck, which gave us a fantastic 360° view of the city. When we were finished with our refreshments, we drove to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque before going back to our hotel for the evening. Vito and I went for the swim in the infinity pool which overlooked the sea--there were quite a few people around the pool, the last of the weekend revelers. When we were done with our swim and after the sunlight had all but disappeared, we went up to our room to change before heading out to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner.Inside the Abu Dhabi International Airport departures terminal.We didn't have much of an agenda for Sunday morning and we had to leave for the airport after lunch, so we just sat in the sun resting on lounge chairs by the sea. Most of the weekend guests had left so we felt like we had the beach to ourselves. Abu Dhabi was a slower and quieter place, and it was almost a disgrace to barge in for a three-day whirlwind weekend. It felt like we were surrounded by water and we crossed numerous bridges in our short visit. When asking about the mild traffic and the quaint atmosphere of the city, a taxi driver mentioned that many people went to Dubai on the weekend and, in fact, a former colleague of mine that had moved there a few years ago was doing just that so we didn't get to see him and his wife.[...]



if i name the new president it's too much
it's a power thing

i have all of it

you know who i'm talking about
i'll probably end up on someone's list for this

how many of us on the head of a pin

naming or not naming to our heart's content
a rose is a rose is a rose

by any other name

if you move the letters around you get SPOUT

the implications won't warm you any

consider this
an early Valentine's gift

for the run-a-mouth

run amok


Myanmar, Day 12-16: Buddha Caves, Ngapali Beach, Yangon Redux & Doha Return


Exploring Pindaya Cave.We woke early the next morning to drive through the fog to the Pindaya Caves, which are a group of caves filled with Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes. It sounded like quite an unusual place, and we had time to spare before our midday flight to Ngapali Beach, so, even though it added a few hours to our travel time, we wanted to try to squeeze it in.We made the early drive through the foggy countryside and Angela and Vito slept most of the way. When we were approaching the site, we could see a long staircase up the side of the mountain for religious visitors who wanted to make the pilgrimage but, as monitoring our time was important and as the religious significance was lost on us, we simply drove as close as we could to the entrance. The caverns were a kind of maze with many niches and nooks to discover, full of mainly gold statues of various shapes, sizes and styles. It was certainly an unusual place, and we were impressed that there weren't any tourists, so it felt like our own discovery. When we were done roaming the caverns, our driver took us to a little workshop on the way out of town and we watched a young lady show us how she made paper. Angela helped her add flowers to the mulch. I bought a small blank book of the paper, which was bound together with a bamboo spine. When we were finished, we made the remaining journey to the airport and awaited our flight to Ngapali Beach.The view from the lounge chair.After we landed, someone from Lin Thar Oo Lodge met us at the airport and we were soon checked in. Ngapali Beach was located in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, which is where the Rohingya people are involved in some conflict with the government, but we did not witness any unrest. In fact, travel seemed to be quite restricted in that region, and we really had no designs on straying too far from our lodgings. Our bungalow was situated right on the wide white sand, and we didn't really do much for the next three days except walk up and down the beach, lie on lounge chairs and swim in the Bay of Bengal, which was exactly what we had been planning to do. Vito spent most of the time floating in an inner tube, available for rent on the beach, or digging in the sand.Unfortunately, on our last day Vito was violently ill and didn't really sleep much, getting up every few hours to go to the bathroom. We were worried because we were returning to Yangon the next day and it could add an unwelcome level of complexity to our travel. Vito seemed weak but much better the next morning and we packed our things and traveled back to Yangon. We had booked a hotel in the city center, which would place us in the heart of the New Year's Even celebration. By the time we had arrived at the hotel, however, I was feeling bad and, by that afternoon, both Angela and I were struck down with the same illness that thrashed Vito the day before. We we spent the rest of New Year's Eve in our hotel room watching a Myanmarese New Year's Eve TV special.On the following morning, we gathered our belongings, went to the airport and, eventually, returned to our home in Doha. Despite our new year's illnesses, we had had a great trip—more than what we had expected in many way—and the people were accommodating and friendly everywhere we went.[...]

Myanmar, Day 10 & 11: Lake Inle


Figure among the In Dein ruins.On the morning of the 10th, our 8:30AM flight from Mandalay departed on time and landed about an hour later at Heho Airport, the closest point of arrival near Lake Inle, our next destination. The taxi from the airport was 20,000 kyat (about $15), and it took us approximately 45 minutes to get from there to Sandalwood Hotel. On the way, up over a mountain and down into a valley, we had to stop at a little wooden booth along the side of the road and pay the Inle Zone Entrance Fee of $10, but after reaching our destination and checking in, we went out on foot to look for something to eat in downtown Nyaungshwe, the main village at the north end of the lake.One of the views from Red Mountain Winery.There were other tourists around, but not many. We walked through the somewhat deserted market in town, although it well after noon and most of the market seemed to be closing down for the day as many spaces were vacant and the people were few. Once we'd had our fill of Myanmarian domestic goods in the market, we found a few restaurants and eventually settled on the unassuming Lin Htett, wonderfully surprised with, perhaps, our best bowl of noodles yet! After lunch, it was hot and we returned to our hotel for a rest. In the evening, we hired a driver to take us to the nearby Red Mountain Winery and we sampled their vintages while the sun went down over the green valley, the lake and the vineyards. Vito played in the garden dotted with large poinsettia bushes and bougainvillea. The rest of the evening was uneventful with a less-than-satisfactory search for a good dinner restaurant and, on discovering that we were lacking the necessary cash to pay for the lackluster meal that we had settled for and before returning to the hotel, Angela and Vito waited at the restaurant while I searched for an ATM machine to retrieve the necessary remuneration for our meal.Early morning mystique.The next morning, after an early breakfast, we embarked upon a motorized canoe tour of the lake. Quite cold and foggy when we left, we wouldn't be able to see the beautifully dark and verdant mountains that surrounded the lake until later. Everything was shrouded in fog, and it was even colder speeding over the water in the long thin wooden canoe with the spume showering us in the mysterious early morning. We weren't part of a tour group, but many other people were doing the same thing. Other people in other boats, however, were bundled up in warm clothing and used umbrellas to block the water, but we hadn't really prepared for such cold conditions. It did not take long for the fog to burn off, however, and the sun soon warmed us and helped us forget the cold beginning of the day.You can see a man in the background with one of the distinctfishing nets, posing for a group of tourists on a different boat.After speeding out over the lake for a while, we stopped among a small group of fisherman. They didn't really seem to be fishing, but only posing for us, after which we were obliged to donate something for their efforts. The fisherman had a unique way of holding the conical net or rowing with one foot. Later on, we actually saw what appeared to be authentic fishermen fishing in this manner, but we did not venture close to them so as not to disturb their occupation. We continued on passing thatched huts and row upon row of wooden stakes where something was being cultivated at the edge of the lake and, after about one hour, it seemed that we had traveled to the opposite side of the lake. The driver of our canoe steered us onto a narrow channel that veered off from the lake and we sped through the brown water past some kind of river village comprised of wooden houses and shops on stilts. The village was really quite large and veined with various canals and wat[...]

Myanmar, Day 9: Christmas in Mandalay


We all woke up about the same time, but Vito was certain that Santa had stopped by in the night, and so he spent thirty minutes looking around the room for presents that Santa may have hidden, even though we explained that the Easter Bunny was the one that hid things, not Santa. Moreover, we had strongly hinted that, because Vito had not informed Santa ahead of time that we would be in Mandalay at Christmas (although, he had mentioned the fact in a scroll that he left for Santa rolled up under our tree in Doha), the likelihood of receiving anything here was quite low. Nevertheless, that didn't stop him from looking, including within our zipped luggage and backpacks.Shweinbin Kyaung, an old Buddhist Monastery. Still tired from the adventure of the previous day, with no real itinerary for the day, and after a lazy morning and a breakfast of white bread, chicken sausage, bacon, eggs and coffee (Vito had juice), we headed out to visit the jade market. It took a while to hail a cab, but eventually we found one. We didn't want to buy any jade, but we were interested in seeing the place. The parking area outside the entrance was crammed with motorbikes and a truck with large blaring speakers was advertising what looked like a soccer match for later in the day, so there was an excitement in the air. After paying a nominal entrance fee, we entered and started looking around. Rows of vendors, jade polishers and engravers were in their stalls and many people were crowded around various tables piled with plastic bags of jade. The sound of jade bracelets clinking could be heard all around us, and on either side men and women examined jade in various forms, looking at pieces with discerning eyes, others shining penlights through the translucent stone to look for imperfections, still more were looking at uncut jade stones or sorting polished stones in little cupped steel dishes or on scales. As always, men standing around chewing betel nut and spitting the red juice into spittoons. Garbage cans  and sewage drains were overflowing. We browsed the jade wares, looked more closely at some black jade, which we had never seen before, examined a few pendants, and then made our way back toward the entrance to leave. The guidebook we were using mentioned a renowned tea house nearby and a notable attraction in the area and we went in search of those places.The tea house, Unison Teahouse, was full and lively. We ordered two house teas and Vito ordered a dragonfruit smoothie. The tea barista had an unusual way of mixing the tea with sweetened condensed milk—holding the teapot high over his head when pouring—before slinging the hot glasses of tea to the window. The tea was delicious and, after finishing, we walked to the nearby Shweinbin Kyaung, an old teak Buddhist monastery. It was quiet and there were only a few other foreigners snooping around. When we were ready to leave, it was hard to find a taxi on the quiet side street, but we managed to hire two motorbike drivers (Vito and myself on one and Angela on the other) to take us to King Galon's gold leaf workshop.The drivers waited for us to finish and then took us to lunch. We returned to Mingalabar (an establishment that we had eaten at on our first night in Mandalay), because the food was divine—pickled tea leaf salad and shan noodles. The desert, a brown-sugar covered puffed rice, which resembled popcorn, was spectacular. Following lunch, we found another tea house, starting to really enjoy people-watching from such locations, and then caught a cab back to our hotel to rest before going out for Christmas dinner at Bistro 82.When we arrived at our hotel, many people seemed to be boarding. There hadn't appeared to be so many guests staying in the hotel so we asked the porter wh[...]

Myanmar, Day 8: Mahāgandhāyon Monastery, Inwa Island & U Bein's Bridge


Vito prepares to strike the bell.This day was a sightseeing cavalcade, filled with activities from start to finish. After breakfasting in the dining hall of the hotel, Shelly met us at 9AM and took us to Mahamuni Paya, The Great Sage temple. I read somewhere that, along with Mount Kyaiktiyo, this was among the holiest sites in Myanmar. We entered along a passageway lighted with eerie green lights and palm readers. Vito thought the place should have been renamed the Bell Temple as there were numerous brass bells around the holy site—we went around hammering them with the blunted wooden strikers. In the central room of the complex, men were lined up and thronging around the massive gold statue—The Great Sage, I suppose—overgrown and misshapen at its base with bulbous, knobby, golden protrusions, waiting to apply gold leaf. Women were not allowed to enter the room where the statue was located and waited outside and prayed. I went inside to get close to the statue, but I didn't have any gold leaf to apply so I just felt out of place. We wandered around for a little longer not understanding much. After a monk stopped to ask where I was from and if Vito and Angela were in my family, clearly practicing his English, we left.Lunch at Mahāgandhāyon Monastery.Our driver stopped at a shop that specialized in wood carving, but we didn't buy anything. We returned to the car and drove to Mahāgandhāyon Monastery, which our driver referred to as the Buddhist University, and where we watched monks and nuns of all ages line up to enter their dining hall for lunch. They were holding large black pots and, as they filed into the dining hall lined with long wooden tables and benches, a process that lasted fifteen or twenty minutes, many onlookers donated money, food or other items (notebooks, packaged food, pens, razors, etc.) by dropping them onto the pots. Shelly said that there were around 1500 monks. I somehow felt like a bad tourist. After watching the lunch procession, we went to look at the kitchen where all of the food was prepared for the monks. A dingy, drab place with little light, like most of the kitchens we'd seen in Myanmar, but everything was on an enormous scale—Vito was impressed with a man who was shoveling rice (with a real shovel!) into a large wooden tub. We gawked and snapped with the rest of the other tourists, and headed out, again, stopping briefly at a silk garment workshop wherein many craftspeople were using old wooden looms to design dresses and other articles of clothing. We were curious, but we weren't really in the market for those kinds of goods. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Buddhas inside a crescent-shaped room at Umin Thounzeh Temple.We didn't shop long, returned to the car and drove to Sagaing where white and gold stupas dotted the tree-covered hills. On the way to the temple, young female nuns in pink and young male monks in their typical red robes—kids—were roaming the streets after lunch, playing and laughing and throwing rocks just like any young people anywhere. We stopped at Umin Thounzeh, a terraced temple at the top of a high hill, but, even with a driver, we couldn't avoid the stairway climb. There were a few small sights and a nice view. Then we relocated to the nearby Soon U Ponya Shin Paya, where we made offerings before a giant gold Buddha and, before leaving, as we were a little hungry, I bought banana wrapped in sticky rice and steamed in a banana leaf, which was delicious and quelled our hunger sufficie[...]

Myanmar, Day 7: Bagan Departure & Mandalay Arrival


We packed and went to the airport to catch an early flight for Mandalay. Before checking in, Angela tried to withdraw money, but the ATM took her card. There was a momentary panic as the airport was crowded, we had no money and we thought we might miss our flight; however, as the airport was really quite small with only one large area to check in and one large waiting area, help arrived within a few minutes. After clearing away the receipts that had jammed the machine, her card was returned. I tried to withdraw money from a different machine and it worked without further incident and we were soon waiting on the orange, plastic, 1970s-style moulded seats. There were no screens or boards showing flight information: we had to wait for the stewards to call out our flight number. We didn't have to wait long, thought, and we were soon on our way to Mandalay.Clothes hanging out to dry outside the Karaweik Mobile Hotel.After we landed, I exchanged the USD that I had withdrawn at the airport in Bagan for kyat, and we gathered our suitcases before catching a taxi to our hotel, the Mandalay Karaweik Mobile Hotel designed to resemble a Myanmari royal barge, which, as far as we could tell, moored to the bank of the river, wasn't really mobile, but it was definitely a boat. The lodgings seemed a little dubious, too, after we descended a flight of stairs down to the river, which was flanked with makeshift clotheslines. We checked in without much delay and were soon shown to our room on the starboard side of the vessel. The room was almost entirely constructed out of teak wood like the rest of the boat, and it was really quite beautiful. I wouldn't call it a luxury hotel and we were quite a ways out of the city, but were weren't planning on spending much time there, so after settling in and doing a bit of research, we took another taxi to Marie Min, a vegetarian restaurant near the Mandalay Royal Palace and then, after eating, made our way there.A typical building at the Mandalya Royal Palace.Vito enjoying the first ofmany lychee-flavored beverages.Foreign visitors could only enter the Mandalay Royal Palace from one gate as the palace appeared to be a functioning military complex and the uniformed officers took our IDs before we entered. The old, red, wooden buildings were beautiful, but the highlight was a tall cylindrical building around which was constructed a spiral staircase so that visitors could climb to the top for a nice view of the manicured palace grounds. Coincidentally, we ran into Vito's kindergarten teacher, Ms. Tara, at the Mandalay Palace, which was an unexpected surprise. After catching up a bit and parting company, we stopped for a cold drink as it was quite warm, and Vito was discovering that he enjoyed lychee-flavor beverages, which he first tried in Yangon. On the way out, we haggled with a lad with red-stained teeth (whose name sounded like "Shelly" but then not really) who agreed to bring us around to a few more sites and then, additionally, guide us on the following day.Some of the 729 stupas at Kuthodaw Pagoda.Next, we took a short ride in Shelly's taxi to Shwenandaw Monastery or The Golden Palace Monastery, which is the only remaining original structure from the Royal Palace and built almost entirely out of teak wood. It is supposedly renowned for its Buddhist wood carvings, but it was a smallish site, crowded with tourists and surrounded by souvenir vendors and, in the end, didn't captivate our attention much. After that, we moved on to Kuthodaw Pagoda, which, unknown to us at the time, boasts the world's largest book, a stone-inscribed page of which is contained within each of numerous little, white, lichen-marred stupas that really weren't so little and surro[...]

Myanmar, Day 5 & 6: Bagan by E-Bike


Upon waking and looking out the window, which had a view of the back side of the resort, hot-air balloons were starting to rise into the sky and drift across the Bagan plains. It looked like fun, and as we were going to be here for a couple days, we checked the price of such an adventure and discovered that it would cost $380 per person! That was quite a bit out of our price range and we decided against doing it. In any case, the idea of a hot-air balloon ride was not as thrilling to us as keeping our feet firmly on the ground.Vito dismounts an e-bike.Breakfast, as usual, was included, so we dressed and made our way down to the outdoor dining area. It was somewhat chilly, but the sun was out and the spread of fresh food was dynamic and enticing, including everything you might expect. Vito was particularly thrilled that there was an omelet station, and Angela and I were excited about the noodle station, which meant, of course, that we could eat more mohinga. We were beginning to expect mohinga at every hotel we might stay in during our trip. After eating our fill, a taxi brought us to a shop at which we could rent electronic bikes or e-bikes as everyone was calling them. We rented two for 6,000 kyat (about $4) and could use them the whole day. We could have rented them from our hotel, but they were almost three times the price! allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />We spent this day and the next bumping along dirt roads and exploring the Bagan plains. There were a few large paved roads, but almost all of the roads were squirrel-y dirt jobs that cross-crossed in and out of the relatively dense vegetation. E-bikes were everywhere and that method of transport made it easy to cover a greater distance quickly and fun to zip around from one pagoda or temple to another. Traffic was light or non-existent and really only consisted of other tourists on bicycles or e-bikes, tuk-tuks or an odd tour bus, so it really wasn't treacherous to travel in such a manner, even without the helmets that would have been required in other places. We hadn't planned on trying to visit every ruin that dotted the countryside, but there were considerable distances between some of the sites and walking or riding old-fashioned bicycles would have not allowed us to see as much without getting exhausted, especially in the heat. We also had Vito to consider, who would have balked at strenuous bike-riding or walking in hot conditions. With only two e-bikes, Vito (who was obviously under age) rode on the back of mine and Angela drove her own. The e-bikes were simple to operated and almost completely silent so it was quite pleasant to drive around with them.The first of many temples.Anyway, the ancient, mostly reddish-orange (or pink, depending on the light or time of day), brick ruins were scattered everywhere with no apparent order, and we pinballed around with no sense of urgency. Some were nicely restored and clearly cared for and some were left with weeds growing out of the roofs. Once we started, the sheer volume of structures was overwhelming, and, with little information to follow and little or no obvious identifying markers or signs, it made exploration much more difficult but also mysterious and surprising. Many of the ruins could be thoroughly explored and we wandered through the dark passages within and climbed the exterior facades and staircases without. The many carvings, designs, figurines, paintings and statues were unique and[...]

Myanmar, Day 4: Yangon Departure & Bagan Arrival


We left Yangon in the morning after eating breakfast at our hotel. As we had done each morning since we arrived, we tried the mohinga again and, again, it was different! Still tasty, just different. I described it briefly in a previous post, but I will add a bit more detail: mohinga seemed to be a kind of noodle soup with very thin noodles in a fish paste and onion oil broth, sprinkled with sesame seeds and containing tomatoes, eggs, chickpea powder and onions. After breakfast, our driver, Zo, met us outside the hotel and took us to the airport. Our flight to Bagan would depart at 10:30AM and we had about 90 minutes to kill. We noticed the Italians that had been staying in our hotel were waiting for the same flight as us, but we didn't really acknowledge each other beyond exchanging smiles. Anyway, after checking in, we settled down to a cup of coffee and took advantage of thirty minutes of free wi-fi, which seemed lightning-quick compared to the snail's-pace service we had received at the hotel.The plane, a little two-propellor job, left on time and the flight lasted about two uneventful hours. On the way out of the airport after landing, we had to pay an additional fee of 25,000 kyats each (approximately $18 per person) to enter the Bagan Archaeological Zone—we were noticing that there were quite a few hidden fees in a trip to Myanmar. Following a brief taxi from the airport to Amazing Bagan Resort, which was, according to Vito, as amazing as advertised, we left our luggage in the room, enjoyed the complimentary fruit platter that was waiting for us, oriented ourselves to the surrounding area and then went for a bike ride using the hotel's complimentary bicycles. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />We rode into Nyaung-U, which was the closest village to our hotel, and ate lunch at Weather Spoon. We ordered the pickled tea leaf salad (a Burmese specialty and, after one tasting, already becoming our favorite dish) and a couple other salads, washed them down with bottles of Dagon and Mandalay beer, and then made our way back to the hotel. We passed by the ruins of a few old temples along the way, but nothing that really captured our imaginations or prepared us for the surprises that were coming. The bikes weren't in the best condition, and it was a little uncomfortable to ride them for very long, but we eventually made it back to our hotel.Later, when considering our evening plans, we realized that had eaten so much at lunch so late in the day that we weren't really hungry, but we made plans to go out anyway to see, at least, a little bit more of Bagan. We decided that we would try The Moon, a vegetarian spot that had printed "Be Kind to Animals" on the sign for the restaurant which had become so iconic that all the other restaurants and shops in the same area copied them by adding the same expression in the exact same style to their own signs. Otherwise, without street lamps, the road to the restaurant was almost completely dark and we arrived at what appeared to be a wide dirt field--we could see that it would't be easy to get around at night. We ate (Angela tried the pineapple and coconut curry, but there was not much else to write home about even though I am, essentially, doing that) and then taxied back to our hotel to sleep, tired, but excited about what the next day would bring.[...]

Myanmar, Day 3: Mount Kyaiktiyo


We rose early this morning, our last full day in Yangon, to travel to Mount Kyaiktiyo, the Golden Rock, another Buddhist holy site at which we could see a giant gold boulder balancing at the summit of the mountain. It was a 3-hour drive to the mountain, so we had to get an early start and departed at 5AM. There wasn't much to see until the sun came up when we were outside the city. There were many makeshift buses on the road—trucks, really, that had been converted into buses—stuffed with commuters going to work. Some of the buses were so full that people were simply riding on top of them! It wasn't uncommon to see a truck with 5 or 6 people on the roof. When our driver, Zo, picked us up, he was listening to what sounded like Buddhist chanting, but after about an hour, he switched to a  CD of popular music from the West that included songs by artists such as The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Neal Sedaka that was the soundtrack for the rest of the day.How many people can go up the mountain at one time?Eventually, we arrived and parked, and then our driver walked us over to the loading area where there were many large trucks full of people. We were shuffled about and finally squeezed in with everyone else looking to drive up to see the Golden Rock. After the 45-minute, pedal-to-the-metal grind up the mountain, we climbed out of the truck and proceeded toward the Golden Rock that we could see in the distance at the end of an asphalt path at the top of flight of stairs. As we had done a couple days prior when we entered Shwedagon Pagoda, we had to pay a fee of 10,000 kyats each (about $7 each) to enter the Bago Archaeological Zone and an additional fee to enter the site itself by purchasing the Foreigner Entrance Fee Card, which was $6 per person. You can see us wearing the emblems of commercialism around our necks in the picture below. With a variety of irregularly shaped buildings and some giant bells and gongs to bang on, the site was, otherwise, not particularly impressive, although it was deep in the mountains, and so the natural setting away from the Golden Rock was quite beautiful to behold. A number of small groups looked like they were having picnics, but Angela observed that they had probably spent the night.On the footpath to The Golden Rock.There were hundreds of Burmese people, but almost none that looked like tourists, which appealed to us. It's one thing to see tourists at the main attractions in the capital city, but it's another thing to travel 3 hours away from the capital—it requires a more serious commitment. Anyway, there were numerous vendors along the short pathway leading to the stairway at which point we had to remove our shoes before treading on the sacred ground. Along the way, I bought what looked like some spicy fried potato pancakes and sticky rice that was covered in coconut to eat. All told, we did not stay more than two hours. We weren't terribly pleased with our decision to visit the Golden Rock: it was a long journey and, as we weren't on a religious pilgrimage and didn't have prayer at the heart of our visit, we certainly missed the significance of the experience. I don't want to be too critical, however. Looking back, it seems like an arduous, memorable adventure which, perhaps because it required so much effort to go there and return, is more firmly planted in our minds.In any case, the return to our hotel was unremarkable. Zo seemed to think we liked the Western music so much that we listened to the same CD for the entirety of our 3-hour return trip to Yangon. We were tired and the three of us nodded off at different points along the wa[...]

Myanmar, Day 2: The Yangon Circular Railway


The next morning, tired from traveling and looking for a milder sightseeing experience to help us acclimate to the new time zone, the three of us headed out to catch the Yangon Circular Railway train, which traveled along a circular route around the suburbs of Yangon; the round trip lasted about 2½ hours from start to finish and was recommended on many travel sites. One ticket was 200 Ks (just about 15¢) so it really made for a worthwhile gamble to cover a bit more ground and see a wider swathe of the people. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The train arrived as scheduled and we climbed aboard. Train cars were full but not overly crowded; we found seats easily and there was room for people to walk up and down the center of each carriage. A handful of the other passengers looked like tourists, but, for the most part, the train seemed to be full of Burmese people. We clacked along from station to station and, while the countryside was beautiful, the real entertainment was watching the people: red-grinned men selling packets of green leaf-wrapped betel-nut came and went, women boarding at each stop carrying large metal basins on their heads full of different edible items who prepared what looked like spicy salads flecked with chili pepper and dressed with an abundance of herbs and sauces or selling what appeared to be fried bread or varieties of sticky rice, kids clustering everywhere selling everything from bread to water.About halfway through the trip, the train had nearly emptied, but, at what was essentially the furthest point outside Yangon, there was a flurry of excitement and many people suddenly climbed on board, loading big barrel-sized burlap bags of produce through the windows and doors and filling the train car with the goods that they were apparently bringing into the city, much of it unidentifiable to us. There were so many bags loaded under the seats and in the central aisle that there really wasn't any room to move about.The busy end of the street market.Our ride came to an end, and we exited the station with the rest of the passengers, hungry but excited about everything we had seen. We wandered into a nearby neighborhood to look for a Burmese restaurant, which we found, but which also did not impress us much, and then we walked through a street market. We noticed that, along with the many colonial buildings in the area, there were also many mosques. It was surprising because we did not expect to see so many and it really hadn't been described in any of the guides that we had read before traveling to Myanmar. We were essentially in the city center, notable for Sule Pagoda in the middle of a roundabout, but it was hot and we were too tired to enter. We continued walking until we reached The Strand Hotel, stopped for a coffee, and then, exhausted from the long train ride and walk, we caught a cab back to our hotel to take a nap before going back out in the evening.Sule Pagoda from our taxi.For dinner, we hailed a cab and asked to go to Feel Myanmar, a street food eatery specializing in local cuisine. Stations to prepare various dishes were set up on the sidewalk and in front of the restaurant. Little low stainless steel tables and plastic stools were arranged in the street near the sidewalks, and many people were making food and many others were eating. Most of the seats were taken, in fact, but eve[...]

Myanmar, Day 1: Doha Departure & Yangon Arrival


Friday evening, the three of us left Doha at 8:20PM and flew 5½ hours before landing at our destination: Yangon, Myanmar. Some people are not familiar with Myanmar and recognize the country by its former name, Burma. Even though I was relieved of my scholastic responsibilities by 3PM on Thursday and could leave the country at that time, we couldn't leave then as there were no flights available. So, after school on Thursday, we went to see the new movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at the Gulf Mall, ate a quick meal at Shake Shack and then went home to open Christmas presents. We wanted to open our Christmas presents so early, because we would be traveling on the holiday, and, even though there weren't very many gifts, we didn't want to lug them around during our vacation. In any case, Vito had customized his letter to Santa this year and held out hopes that the naughty-or-nice guardian would leave something particular under our tree in Doha and also deliver something to him wherever we were in our travels.There is about a five hour time different between Qatar and Myanmar so, even though the flight was relatively short, we arrived in the morning (which would have made it around 2AM for us if we had stayed in Qatar). I don't remember doing much aside from eating on the plane. We were served a beverage and a light snack shortly after takeoff and then served breakfast just before landing—it seemed excessive for such a short flight, but we weren't really complaining. After disembarking, clearing customs, gathering our two suitcases, exchanging US dollars for Myanmarian Kyats (sounds like 'chat') and arranging a taxi to our hotel, we reached our final destination, the Merchant Art Boutique Hotel, by 7:30AM. The few couches in the small lobby were full of guests (I could recognize that four of them were speaking Italian) with their backpacks and luggage who looked like they had also just arrived on the same early flight as us, which wasn't a good sign, and we were really much too early to check in so the room wasn't ready. We asked to leave our suitcases, and, even though both Angela and I had not slept much (Vito had slept for about three hours) we coated ourselves with mosquito repellant and headed out to explore the neighborhood around our hotel.The location turned out to be quite well-considered. Winding our way through the criss-cross streets and through a roadside market that was readying itself for another day, we stumbled across a small temple, removed our shoes and socks, and entered to look around. It was relatively unremarkable aside from a large pond brimming with gigantic catfish. When we had finished, we climbed a tall hill, a wood-covered and columned stairway lined with vendors, to the entrance of Shwedagon Pagoda, perhaps Myanmar's most famous sight. The high walls were decorated with elaborate and brightly painted scenes carved into wood. We paid the 24,000 Kyat foreign entrance fee (approximately$18) and received a brochure that indicated multiple entrances, one at each of the east, north, south and west entrances. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The stunning central stupa—a great, wide, golden, pregnant behemoth around which every other structure crowded—could be seen from the bottom of the hill and was surrounded by statues and stupa[...]

What's on our Christmas Tree


The Holiday Season


We're in the middle of the holiday season again, or, well, it was closer to the middle last week when I started writing this post. Anyway, I have always loved this time of the year—and I still do—even though it's a little different in the desert. For instance, with the call to prayer sounding out across the city, we went to the beach to go swimming last Friday morning, which is not a typically winter activity for us. In past years, it has been too cool to enjoy the beach, but this year has been an exception. Even though the holidays are a little different here, Angela and I still want to expose Vito to our traditions while he develops these new ones...The holiday season really starts with Halloween on the last day of October. Many here in Qatar consider Halloween a forbidden celebration, but events still take place in the ex-pat communities. There is a certain amount of preparation involved in the requisite holiday costuming necessary for Halloween, so the hype actually begins a little before the end of the month. There are enough activities and parties, however, so that we don't miss the holiday's purer stateside version. Vito's school, The American School of Doha, usually holds a gigantic Halloween carnival complete with carnival games, haunted hallways and trick-or-treating (although it was cancelled this year due to construction on campus), but, in addition to what his school has established, for the past few years, Vito has also gone trick-or-treating in multiple compounds around Doha.The next holiday is Thanksgiving, which arrives at the end of November. For the past five years, we have brined and baked a turkey, and invited guests to a Thanksgiving potluck dinner at our apartment. Thursday is the end of the work week here and, as most adults work during the day, we have started throwing our party on the day after Thanksgiving. Many of our guests are not American, so it has changed the flavor of the event, somewhat, but it has become a nice new tradition for us and for the few that have annually returned. The day after the party, we clean up the Thanksgiving mess, put the Christmas tree together and decorate for that holiday.As usual, Christmas really throws its weight around at the end of December. Obviously, the Christmas emphasis is greatly reduced in this part of the world, but we do our best to celebrate. Last week, Angela and I strung a string of lights around our windows in the living room. As Angela is Italian and I am American, we have two slightly different ideas about how to celebrate Christmas, so navigating The expectations of The Befana, the family and Santa can be challenging. Christmas is always further complicated, because, once the semester ends, many teaching families leave to return to their native lands or to travel. It ends up shortening the time allotted for celebration considerably, because people have to get their social events arranged before people leave the city. We don't cut our own Christmas tree, either, as we used to do when Vito was a baby, but we have a little plastic Christmas tree to assemble that someone gave us when we first arrived here in Doha.New Year's Eve caps off the holiday season on the last day of the year to ring in a new one, which closes out two full months of celebration-worthy occasions and chaos. Happy holidays![...]



thanks for living

thanks for divvying up your time to include some of mine

thanks for fine weather and friends
and enemies too and animals
and what begins and ends
and the rainbow that you might see at the heart of it

thanks for freeing what you love
for being above or below it or quite possibly
you don't know it
your first or last one
among stars
what's mine is ours

thanks for staying flowers or fading
and following the sun or the dark
hark! who cowers there
in some spark i loved

thanks for loving back or not
with your knack for nuance and niceties
you're easy to please
you tease sometimes
too much or too little

thanks for such-and-such
and hey-diddle-diddle
the cat and the fiddle
the cow jumped over the moon

thanks for too soon or late
two four six eight
who do we a-ppre-ci-ate

thanks for being great or green

thanks for making the scene
one you'll remember
be mine ember
i'm fine
you're so warm

thanks for charming me

In a Fog...


It has been a while since my last post, but so it goes...

I read a headline on Flipboard earlier this week about making time every day to write for fifteen minutes, but it took me all week to finally get started. When I sat down to write this morning, I answered an e-mail that had arrived some time ago, but it wasn't the type of writing that I had intended to do and it killed my fifteen minutes. Anyway, I'm going on my second fifteen minutes...

It has been foggy all week, but today it's not. The fog reminded me of living in California. When we first moved to Qatar and throughout, perhaps, our first two years here, the morning call to prayer, or Adhan, often woke up Vito in the morning. There's a mosque about one block from our compound, and the call to prayer, which is broadcast across the neighborhood, can be heard quite clearly from his bedroom. He seems to sleep through it now without difficulty.

About a week ago, however, there was an additional call to prayer or something of the sort--it didn't sound like the regular call to prayer. It woke Angela who emerged earlier than usual in the morning and commented on it. While we could not understand the broadcast, we assumed something out of the ordinary had happened.

Later that morning after arriving at the office and while standing in line at Starbucks, I asked a student about it. The student informed me that sometimes they have "extra credit" and that the Emir had prayed for rain. While not rain, the fog may be the closest we're getting to it for the time being...

il bruco mouve i piedini


il bruco mouve i piedini(the caterpillar moves its little feet)step over stepreturning from marketthere was no father or motherno sisters or brothersno aunts or unclesno forty-two cousins to go fishing withmaybe’s going to diechirped a birdstep over stephe ran as fast as his old legs could carry himsomeone wants to harm my mastershe thoughtit’ll be safe to go to the riversaid a cross squirrelwhat’s’matterasked a deerpopping corn in hot sandwith a stickstep over stepit was easy to get--My version of "The Decimator", Travis Macdonald's Impromptu #20 awaiting your curious discovery on The Found Poetry Review. In a few words, I transcribed source material from 10 books on my bookshelf and, after imposing Macdonald's erasure strategy, sculpted the above. I used books from my son Vito's bookshelf to limit my workload. Thanks, Asmaa Al-Qaysi, for that great idea!Source material came from The American School of Doha's 2014-2015 Elementary Schools yearbook, Tabby McTat by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler, Pimpa: Buongiorno, Prato!, Who Would Win? Alligator Vs. Python by Jerry Pallotta, The Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese, The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola, "I Can't" Said the Ant by Polly Cameron, The Selfish Crocodile by Faustin Charles and Michael Terry, Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mosel and a Wilco Publishing House version of an Arabian Nights story, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.[...]

When Speaking of Translation


Ooh! It suits you. Naked.
It's you, mommy. Go, coral. No,
Go chill. Can I?

Homophonic translation from the Japanese haiku by Yosa Buson:

utsutsu naki
tsumami-gokoro no
kocho kana

And the real translation by Yuzuru Miura:

Butterfly in my hand--
As if it were a spirit
Unearthly, insubstantial


Inspired by Michael Leong's Impromptu #19 hosted by The Found Poetry Review.