Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

You can contact us at werkingwells (at) gmail . com

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Final Thank You from Only-Planet & Travel Rat

A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles. --Tim Cahill

Not only have we made new friends, we’ve also reconnected with old friends. Our too-few, too-infrequent, but much-cherished visits with friends were wonderful and they all deserve a hearty “thank you.”

In Japan:
ESI friends Nishio-san, Kozo-san and Kamo-san
Don & Pauline Hess at the World Friendship Center
Masatoshi Yonenaga & family

In Korea:
Kim Joong Young & family
Kim Kyoung-ja & family
Roh D-Young & family
Dr. Choi Keun Jin

In China:
Tom, Andrea & Roger Phillips
Don Eggert, Nancy Schmaus & family
Wendy & Andy in Lhasa

In Thailand:
Steve & Bua Cohen
Tom Jackson for his wonderful recommendations in Bangkok
Emma Greenaway (in Singapore too)

In Australia:
Peter, Lynn, Rebecca & Megan Williams
Norman, Charmaine & Sebastian Krueger
Graeme & Dianne Burch

In New Zealand:
Helen & Trevor and grandson David
Guy & Usi Mannering & kids
Jarg and Margaret Pettinga

In Vietnam:
Bay Bristol
Loi, Lein, Vu, Thanh and Bichney

In Germany:
Ute Spiess & family

In France:
Felix Leonard, Nicole Jourdan & Oliver

In Switzerland:
Kurt & Elsbeth Wigger
Aunt Hilda

In Norway:
Sidsel Knutsen
Norunn Svendsen & Victoria

In the USA:
Barbara & John Palmer
Marty & Heidi Wells & family
Frankie Werking
Grandma Bertha Werking
Grandma Vi Lake
Jess & Deb Gieck & family
Rhonda van Diest
Susi Wigger
Chris Johnson
Tori & Glenn Gilbert & family
Marianne & Loren Skogland and the crew at Milo’s for having the iced tea ready on our return
Kerry & Stephanie Vaughn-Matthews & family for receiving all of our mail
Tina Needham
Charity Adolf
Deborah Mandelsberg for her patient communications for Dylan’s schooling
Everyone who let us stay in their homes last summer (arigato, gracias)
Our friend who greeted us back with huge hugs

Around the world:
The loyal followers of the blog.
If you fed, housed or helped us and we neglected to thank you again, we thank you with heartfelt apologies.

And finally to our parents, Phyllis, Mike, Stormie and Scott, who housed us, fed us, and provided a patient ear when we called with our travel woes. We love you.

The Only Planet/Travel Rat Index: the numbers behind the stories

Countries Visited: 28 where we either stayed the night or got passports stamped:
Japan, South Korea, China, Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Germany, France, Italy, Vatican City, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Czech Republic, USA

Total distance traveled: 78,405 km (48,719 miles) That’s over two times around the globe
Time to circle the earth: 298 days
Average speed: 11.0 km/h (6.8 mph), or 8:48 minutes per mile if we were to run the whole time
Farthest travel in one day: 8408 km (5224 miles), Christchurch New Zealand to Singapore
Number of train trips: 17
Distance traveled by car: 3519 km (2187 miles)
Number of Ferry Trips: 4
Number of Plane trips: 39
Number of Camels ridden: 1
Number of Elephants ridden: 1

Total number of days homeless: 365 before returning to Portland, where we’re still counting
Places stayed from 6/12/05 until 6/13/06: 101
Weight of packs:
Day of departure: Andy 20kg (44 lb) Dylan 8kg (18 lb) Loey 12kg (26 lb)
Day of return: Andy 18kg (40 lb) Dylan 4kg (9 lb) Loey 9kg (20 lb)
Number of shirts we each packed: 5
Number of boxes mailed home: 85 (half for us, half as gifts for others)

Most expensive meals: Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridge's & Nobu, both in London
Cheapest meal: other than when someone hosted us, the MBK food court in Bangkik Thailand. For US$5 we ate like kings!
Places we ate Mexican food: Chengdu China, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai Thailand, Singapore, Paris France, and Cork Ireland
First meal upon returning to USA: Europa Café, NYC, an American breakfast!
Best popsicles and bubblegum: Korean bottle popsicles, Chinese Babol gum, Japanese green apple gum

Number of Pictures taken: 18,000+
Places Andy had his hair cut: Beijing China, Saigon Vietnam, Florence Italy, Glenwood Springs Colorado USA

Museums visited:

  • Japan: Edo Tokyo Museum, Studio Ghibli & Hiroshima Museum

  • China: Shanghai Museum, Forbidden City

  • Thailand: National Museum

  • Singapore: Asian Civilizations Museums

  • Macau: Macau history Museum

  • Australia: Natural History Museum, National Maritime Museum

  • New Zealand: Te Papa, Christchurch Art Gallery, Antarctic Center, Kelly Tarleton

  • India: Mahatma Gandhi’s residence

  • Egypt: The Egyptian Museum

  • Germany: Pharmacy Museum in Heidelberg

  • France: Musee D’Orsay, Louvre

  • Italy: Vatican Museum, Uffizi

  • Switzerland: Bern Historical Museum

  • Netherlands: Anne Frank House

  • Belgium: Chocolate Museum

  • United Kingdom: British Museum, Tower of London, Imperial War Museum, Tate Modern

  • Ireland: Blasket Island museum, Queenstown Experience

  • Czech Republic: Mucha museum, Museum of Communism, technology museum

Monuments & Must-do’s:
  • Japan: Todai-ji Temple, Tsukiji Fish Market, walking in Shibuya or Shinjuku, Kyoto, Silver temple, Gion, ryokan

  • Korea: Insadong shopping, Lotte World

  • China: Peace Hotel, walking along the Bund, Shanghai Acrobats, Yu Yuan Gardens and dumplings, Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Duck dinner Tiananmen, Lama Temple, dirt market, Great Wall, visiting a Hutong, haircut on the street, Terracotta Warriors (over-rated, but if you’re in the country…) Panda Reserve, Chengdu Peoples Park (with sugar rats)

  • Tibet: Portola Palace, Jokhang Temple, walking the Bharkor

  • Hong Kong: taking the tram to the top of Victoria Peak, just to see the buildings looking like they’re sideways. Tea at the Peninsula, window shopping at Shanghai Tang, Dim Sum at Maxims, Star Ferry, Escalator, Ocean Park Aquarium

  • Macau: St. Joseph's

  • Thailand: Wat Pra Khaew, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, the carriage room at the National Museum, eating at MBK, the floating market at Damneon Saduak, Chiang Mai. Erawon Temple

  • Malaysia: The Petronas towers, staying at the Mandarin Oriental

  • Singapore: tea at Raffles, lunch on Serangoon Road, shopping for a sari in Little India, walking on Orchard Road, fortune telling parrot

  • Australia: Koala Sanctuary, Australian Zoo, Melbourne Zoo, driving the Great Ocean Road, Sydney Harbour and Opera House, QVB, The Rocks, Sydney Tower, Powerhouse

  • New Zealand: Tamaki Maori Experience in Rotorua. Zorbing, swimming with dolphins

  • Vietnam: Reunification Palace, Cao Dai Temple, Cu Chi Tunnels, crazy house

  • Cambodia: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the Bayon

  • India: The Gate of India, Taj Hotel, Dhobi Ghats

  • Egypt: The Sphinx, the pyramids of Giza, the ancient bazaar

  • Germany: Schloss Auerbach, castle in Heidelberg

  • France: Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, Sacre Coeur, St. Sulpice, St. Eustace, catacombs, Eiffel Tower, Pere Lachaise, Parthenon, Arc de Triomphe

  • Italy: Trevi Fountain, St. Peters, Pantheon, Palatine, Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Capucine Church, Pointe Vecchio, Boboli, Baptistery, St. Croce, St. Marco, Rialto Bridge, just walking around

  • Switzerland: Bern clock, Bahnhofstrasse, altstadt

  • Netherlands: Red light district, boat tour

  • Belgium: Grand Place, Mannequin piss

  • United Kingdom: Buckingham Palace, Kings Cross station, Millennium Bridge, Foyles at Charing Cross Road, St. Pauls, London Eye, day trip to Oxford

  • Ireland: Trinity College, Page of Kells, Guinness Factory, Blarney Castle, Peat house experience

  • Czech Republic: Jewish Cemetery & Synagogues, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge

Portland Oregon USA: The final dispatch

Most of us have dreamed, if just for a moment, of chucking life's encumbrances and wandering free through exotic ports of mystery and magic.
--Theodorea Nelson and Andrea Gross

How do you end a trip like this? A trip that circumnavigated the planet, with enough total miles to circle the earth more than two times? A trip where we touched down on 28 countries, learned how to say hello in over 20 languages, and where we come back, to quote my friend Chris, “with a whole basketful of experiences”?

We return to where we started. It’s a bit anti-climatic but more poetic to go back to the city we love, where we have friends, where everyone knows your name (at least at Milo’s) and where we had made a home during the previous 12 years. We returned to Portland Oregon on June 13th, exactly a year from the date that we handed the keys over to our home and set out on this adventure. The first part was house-sitting, couch surfing and massaging the overseas part of the trip into launch mode while in Oregon, Colorado and Montana, but then we got to finally board our first international flight of the trip last August and the rest, as they say, is history.

Like every traveler, from Ernest Shackleton to Edmund Hillary, from Captain Cook to the fictitious Phileas Fogg, we set off to seek the world and came home only finding ourselves. Even now--before getting jobs, housing, cars, and all the accouterments of the American life--we realize how easy it seems to slide back into the place we were before. We have different priorities now: a smaller home is fine, renting is fine for a while, and we aren’t in a hurry to open up the storage unit full of boxes, let alone add to the piles of stuff in there. Chucking life’s encumbrances seemed easy and freeing and I think we kind of hesitate to embrace them again since that means the trip is truly over.

The immediate fears we had about getting hurt, getting really sick, or even getting killed on this trip were never realized, thank the gods, but what is more liberating is that we no longer have the fear of not having done it. For that reason alone we have no regrets and it was worth the money, the time, the frustrations, the bouts of homesickness, the culture shock, the sense of discombobulation and the fact that most of the time we lived with no more than we could carry on our backs. In fact, if we have any fears now, it’s that we didn’t stay away long enough, that we didn’t see every place we wanted to see, that we didn’t try harder to find a home overseas and that we let our time in Asia (mostly China) rule how we reacted to the rest of the trip.

What can we say? We’ve seen so many places, the historical and the modern. We’ve encountered so many people, 99.9 % of them pretty friendly and helpful, and we’ve come away with the most important lesson of all, that we are not the only people on this planet. Of course, intellectually you don’t need to travel as we did to know that, but the lessons really hit home when you are looking at clear cuts in New Zealand being sold to the Chinese, or anxiously awaiting a stop light to change so that you can get by the seven year old beggars who keep tapping at your car window while sitting in traffic in Mumbai. However we paint the picture, it will look different than life here in the USA, and in most cases there are no judgment calls to be made of better or worse, just different. Perhaps Mark Twain summed it up best when he said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” We can’t say that we’ve conquered all of our prejudice or narrow-mindedness (we still wonder at the lack of root beer or a decently cooked egg in most of the world), and we feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface in learning who we are as Americans and where we fit into the rest of the world, outside of the Bush/Cheney agenda of American hegemony. But for ourselves we know that we will soon pick up where we left off in Portland, seeing friends, arranging play dates for Dylan, going to work, the whole kit and caboodle, and the trip will be condensed to stories we remind each other about, stories we share with others, and stories we hope to create as we continue to cast our nets out into the world. Because once you’ve gotten wanderlust, it never goes away and there will be another trip--in a month, a week, a year--that demands to be taken.

Until then, the first order of business is to get a place to live. Since we sold our house (a decision that we don’t regret in the least), we need a new place to call home until we can settle into work and hopefully a new house.

But we come back to changes. Dylan will be attending the Arbor School in Tualatin starting in September, after sitting three years on a waiting list. While she is hesitant to leave her friends once again, she is at least willing to give it a try. The fact that there was a pet rat in a classroom when she visited Arbor doesn’t hurt.

Since we’ve joined the ranks of the 45 million uninsured Americans and also hope to buy a house again, Andy is already working on a job search. It helps being in Portland where he can follow up on applications and make appointments for interviews and networking.

As for me, well, there’s a lot on my to-do list. I have plans to write a book about the trip, not only because my wonderful friends and family keep encouraging me to produce one based on the blogs, but because once you start fulfilling one dream, the others seem do-able, and I’ve been dreaming of making writing my “paying” career for a long time. Should the needs arise (private school, a new home) with the money slow to appear, I may find myself working the stacks at Powell’s, or pushing KitchenAid mixers during the holiday rush, but my priority remains to make the writing a paying gig.

Sharing our adventures has been one of the joys of our trip and we thank you for subscribing, reading and passing the blog along to your friends. We are especially grateful for the emails we received on the road, encouraging us when we were down (like in Cambodia or Xi’an China) and sharing the “local” news. You were touchstones for us at very lonely times and we are grateful for your support. Our final word and caution is to not take all we say to heart. Don’t judge a place by what you’ve heard from us or by what you’ve read, but if you desire, get out there and see it for yourselves. It may deplete your pocket book but it only makes you richer. Until then, safe journeys to wherever your final destination may be…

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New York, New York: Start spreading the news…..

However you count it, 10 months, 44 weeks, or 315 days overseas and just a couple weeks short of a year of being homeless, we’ve brought our adventures back to the land we know so well. And what better place to have America greet you--with all of its glory, angst, food and shopping--than New York City!

It took only minutes after landing at JFK, during our passport inspection at immigration, to be reminded of what it’s like to be in America and be Americans. Armed with a combination of a mandate from the Department of Homeland Security and a strong curiosity, our immigration officer certainly took his time with us. When he asked how long we’d been out of the country, we all turned and looked at each other and said, “A long time.”
“How long?” he asked (this was his official job duty).
“Uh, we left the US on August 16th and this is our first time back.” He was incredulous. “Were you working?” he wanted to know.
“Nope,” we said.
“Where did you go?” he asked.
“Do you want us to list all the countries?” we replied.
We were given an affirmative reply, so we started, “Japan, Korea, China, Tibet, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia…” at this point he could tell this was getting long.
“So where are you coming in from?” he interrupted.
“Prague” we said, “via Frankfurt.”
“So was that as far east as you made it?” Relative to where? we wondered.
“You know, was Prague the farthest east in Europe you got?”
“No, we’ve been in Ireland, Norway, England…” but he cut us off again.
“Okay,” he wanted to know, “are you rich or something?”
“No, we sold our house and car and furniture.”
“But are you going to get a job?” he pressed.
At this point we knew we weren’t being grilled because we were suspicious persons entering the country, but because we were curiosities. Or perhaps we weren’t the least threatening people, but he had gauged our danger to be negligible, with Dylan looking groggy after the eight-hour flight and Andy and me having an abundance of determined optimism. We may have been misguided, pathetic, and goofy looking, yes. A domestic threat? Nope.

We could tell that he was truly baffled. Who were these crazy, seemingly clean-cut middle-aged folks with a small kid, and what were they doing? Part of it was his New York-ness, part of it was good old American friendliness and the idea that there are almost no questions which are off-limits, and part of it was that perhaps we weren’t what he usually saw coming down his line at the immigration stand. Welcome to America.

We must note that of all the immigration entries we’ve been through in all of the countries we’ve seen, including communist Vietnam, the United States is the most intimidating country to enter. The forms were a source of confusion for many of the people traveling with us--the Uzbeks next to us were having a particularly difficult time filling theirs out--and a combination of the video instructions for the forms and the impression that answering a question wrong (either by mistake or by having the wrong nationality) would get you a fast pass to Guantanamo Bay, caused a great deal of worry. But then, in classic American form, once the immigration procedures were completed on the plane, they put up a big sign welcoming people to the US and stating that they had the right to a courteous greeting, among other things (unfortunately I couldn’t take a picture due to security regulations), as they tried to soften the severe procedures.

Since we had visited NYC a couple years ago and seen all the major sights then, we felt no compulsion to do anything touristy. My friend Rhonda came up from Washington DC to spend the weekend with us, and we shopped, ate, and talked. It was wonderful. Most of the clothes I’ve been wearing have been in my pack since August and so I couldn’t get to an Ann Taylor Loft quick enough to get something new to wear. We satisfied some cravings for things we can only find in America (eggs benedict, iced tea, root beer, limeade) and made a couple pilgrimages to huge bookstores. Dylan had her own agenda, off to the American Girl Doll Store and Dylan’s Candy Bar!

And the conversations! Rhonda and I had long, drawn-out conversations that lasted four days, meandering their way from topic to topic in a way that is impossible to do on the phone. They were soothing to my travel-weary psyche.

We love New York! But it’s not time to come home, not yet. It will be a while before we get back to Portland. Our plans are to explore the United States for a few weeks. First we go to Florida to see the final Disney on our to-do list. Then take a trip up north to visit the Boston Wells, and make a stop in Colorado to see most of my family. Once we get back home, we know that it will be a while--at least a few months--before we get to travel, so we’re ending with a bang!

Upcoming: our final posts of the trip: what’s it all about, was it all worth it, reflections from Only-Planet and Travel Rat, and where do we go from here. Also the Werking Wells Travel Index, the numbers behind the story.