Tom's Travel Highlights
Washington, D.C., United States of America
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Beijing still inspires awe, both in its historic elegance and in its rapid modernization. The quaint, skinny hutongs are quickly being cleared to make way for large-scale buildings and high density housing. The advantages for residents include indoor plumbing, reliable electricity, and for some, indoor pools and homeowner associations.
Dispel your past images of a developing country. Beijing, like Shanghai, offers all the fast-paced and groovy excitement found in cities like Paris, London, and New York, complete with an underground live jazz bar. While numerous residents may not have indoor kitchens or plumbing, there are plenty of luxury cars and minivans wedged tightly in the narrow streets; hip and stylish clothing; and all the coolest gadgets you can imagine. It's no wonder that there are over 30 Java mobile phones offered in Beijing with at least 6 of them developed in China.
In June 2003, China loosened airspace restrictions for flights between North America and China. Previously, there was only one cross-polar route into the country and airlines had to seek approval for changes 6 months in advance. The new flights really didn't get put into practice until Sep, 2003 because of SARS. The airspace changes, approved by Russia, Mongolia, China, and the US, now allow three cross-polar routes with changes possible up to one hour before take-off. I think we took either the new cross polar route 2 or 3 from Chicago in a northern arc on the "North Bridge."
In route, we found ourselves amazingly close to the North Pole when light was still sufficient to see the vast expanse of frozen ice stretching in all directions. Allegedly, we could see the "pole" out our window. For those interested, up around the pole above 82 degrees latitude, planes use high frequency (HF) communication. The signal is repeatedly reflected from the earth's surface and ionosphere.
Tibet, Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China
Lhasa is the heart of the political and religious action in Tibet. The first impression -- every street lamp advertising China Telecom and its mobile cell service. Modernization is here in so many ways. Within the past three years, the western end of town has literally doubled the size of the city and offers army/military installations, Han Chinese-run stores, dense apartment buildings, a Chinese-specific marketplace, modern multi-story megaplexes/skyscrapers, and more being developed. This is where you can find all the top autos and construction equipment being sold - Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi, Tomaka, Jeep, etc.
We stopped at one village with solar power and a satellite dish, compliments of Belgium. They had a common pipe for water and terraces for growing crops to feed their herds. Goats roamed the village streets, narrow passages tying together houses of mud bricks and stone. Only a handful of the families could afford to send the kids to school but nearly every kid could read.
The three things this remote village wanted most were: 1) a paved road 2) everything and anything for the school and increased education 3) cleaner and more accessible water. Several adults needed dental care for abscessed teeth. The locals see a paved road as a way to improve the quality of life through access to markets and the ability to bring goods back to the village. It would allow them to sell their goods at a higher price, grow their herds, and accomplish their prioritized goals as set by the village council with input from the community.
If you decide to go, pack a few gifts in your bag. I highly recommend taking at least one soccer ball for the local school. All school supplies are needed! Other good gifts of friendship include shoes in good condition, wool clothing, and warm gloves.
Peru, South America
Peru, like Tibet, is steeped in history, mountains, folklore, legend, and riddles. The land is populated by generous people who demonstrate unwavering faith and determination. Thank you again to all the people who made my stay in Peru AMAZING!
Mexico, North America
Traveling Mexico by land is an inspired adventure. From San Ignacio to Isla Mujeres, you'll be treated to starry nights, great food, unforgettable sunsets, musica de Mexico, and endless festivities.
Other adventures include Europe, Russia, Central America, and the Caribbean.