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Christmas Meditations, Part One–Christmas Music

unnamedSleigh bells ring, are you listening?  Yes, I am listening, I am listening carefully, but I don’t hear any sleigh bells.  I hear fire engine sirens and police car sirens, although I don’t know which is which.  I hear big airplanes taking off out of LaGuardia after having made all their passengers wait in the boarding area for an extra hour and then wait on the plane on the tarmac for another hour just to put them in the Christmas spirit.  I hear people sloshing in the gutters because the streets are so crowded, and I hear advertisements for a Charlie Brown Christmas and the Grinch who stole Christmas but unfortunately gave it back.  I hear over and over a description of the clever trick of making your wife faint, crash, right on the floor without even trying to catch her, because you bought two sports cars with the family MasterCard.  I hear the vacuum every evening at the office, set on loud, I think they only vacuum when I am trying to work late.  And I hear a certain amount of drunken conversation at the Xmas office party. No that’s not right, I can’t hear anything at the office Christmas party because the music is too damn loud.  I don’t seem to hear any sleigh bells.

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Seven Hidden Gems for International Travelers

unnamedSeven Hidden Gems for International Travelers

The idea that there are “hidden gems” that no one knows about, but that you can visit easily as a general tourist, is a bit of a contradiction in terms.  But never mind that, here is my list of remarkable locations that are less well known, but rewarding to visit in the extreme. They are not entirely off the beaten track, but they’re not on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, either.

 1. Borobudur – This is a large and imposing Buddhist monument located on the central plains of Indonesia’s Java island, about 42 KM north west of the city of Yogyakarta, which means a local air flight from Jakarta, probably on Air Garuda. Both the monument and the trip are exciting–pray for a safe landing. And then you need a car and driver and guide to take you there as it’s really not close to anything much except rice fields.  Four levels of a square pyramid like structure, each level festooned with repeated and essentially identical statues of the Buddha, as well as bas reliefs telling the story of the Ramayana.  For the non-scholars, there is a very good orientation movie in the small visitors center which goes over this legend in simplified form.  Walking around all the levels, and ultimately reaching the top, is a memorable experience, and cannot help but make you wonder how they built such a massive edifice and how many artisans worked on the 400 plus statues of Buddha, and the other carvings.  It’s out of the way and hard to pronounce, but a fabulous site.  There are good tourist hotels in Yogyakarta, and the added bonus of a nearby Hindu temple site called Prambanan, the largest in Indonesia, that can be visited on the way to or from Borobudur.

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Quick Meals for the Weeknight Supper: How to turn lovely ingredients into a big freaking smoky burned mess in 15 minutes or less

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Day one: Listen to PBS interview of famous cook about his new book called “how to cook everything quick” and wonder if he meant quickly.  Recipe for chicken parmesan sounds interesting but am driving car so cannot write down.  Also he calls it “Chicken Parm” which is either charming or useless cuteness, cannot tell.  Saving time on title of recipe?

 

Day two: Go on internet, find famous cook and his YouTube pitch for said recipe.  But it is a little vague.  However, am not interested in buying $25 cook book for one small recipe.  Besides it looks easy.  Take vague notes.

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“Cleanse” is the new “diet” but kale is no substitute for caffeine

kale-438964_640We have some friends who we really like, and we thought they liked us.  We were having dim sum with them on a recent Sunday when they told us about this new miracle ‘cleanse’ that they had both just completed.  They urged us to try it.  I didn’t think that we looked that dissolute but who knows.  The “cleanse is called the BuzzFeed Food’s Clean Eating Challenge.  It lasts a couple of years – no, really, only two weeks, it just seems longer.  It has a several page grocery list (collard greens?  Really?) detailed recipes for three meals a day and two snacks a day for fourteen days. There is a lot, really a lot, of cooking, for almost every meal.  You can’t work and do this, you have to be there over the stove cooking all these damn vegetables.  And we chose to enhance the experience by embarking on the cleanse on the hottest two weeks of the summer, thereby assuring that we would be hunched over the stove with the nearby oven on full time in one hundred degree weather.  Fun.

From a scientific standpoint, the program is gluten free, it is largely dairy free, it is certainly carbohydrate free with no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no corn, no crackers, no sembei. Did I mention no potatoes or potato chips or Doritos or corn chips, in short none of the things that make life worth living.  No coffee. Not even decaf.  This has a tendency to bring out the homicidal in “cleanse” participants—there should be a warning label.  No alcohol, which reinforces the aforementioned.  You can drink green tea and water.  No juices, no Gatorade, no coke, no Pepsi, no gin and tonics, well you get the picture.  Wait, no beef, no pork, no corn dogs, no barbecue.  No butter, no oils except small amounts of olive oil titrated over the numerous salads.  No doughnuts.  Do I seem bitter?  It’s the old story, I should have read the documents.

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Secrets of the Ancient Hawaiians, and some Modern Ones, too

unnamedI lost my good judgment and went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai for a week in July. My smarter companion remarked, “You know, we’re leaving a house we could rent for $2000 a week, at a beach well known as among the best in the world, where we have a fully stocked kitchen, plenty of towels, beach chairs, access to excellent fresh vegetables, a full wine refrigerator with wine we have already paid for. We’re going to Hawaii where we will find essentially the same things, except all of that will have to be paid for again, except at higher prices.”

“Oh yeah, well what about the Na Pail coast?” I countered foolishly.

But we had a nice package deal so off we went to Kauai and stayed at the St Regis for five days, on three of which it rained, hard. This was not in the brochure. Of any of the pictures in the brochure.

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The World’s Best Restaurant?

unnamedIf someone said to you, let’s go to this restaurant that’s supposed to be pretty good.  They only offer tasting menus, and you have to choose one of the two:  the all-vegetable one, or the one with meat.  There are eleven courses, but they’re all pretty small (the lamb serving is the size of one third of your palm) and four of them are desserts.  The price is set at $295 per person.  There are a couple of alternatives for some of the courses – substituting a tiny amount of Wagyu beef for the tiny amount of lamb, for example – but this adds $100 to the price of the dinner.  The same for adding some Australian truffles to one of the vegetable dishes –$100.  You may of course order wine from the wine list, the wine is additive to the food cost. This is not a “wine pairings” sort of dinner, and the wait staff resists requests to make it so.  The service is fine, the restaurant is in a two story sort of old building that is pleasant but architecturally undistinguished.  So, you wannna go?

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Iraq my brain to see why i should care

Once upon a time there was a country that was located on one of the fringe areas of western geography and to which most people paid little attention.  It was made up of several diverse groups of people, separated by religious and ethnic differences, and with a long history of conflict and distrust among them.  Its boundaries had been set by the European colonial powers as an outcome of WWI with its breakup of traditional empires.  These borders were not particularly mindful of older divisions and rivalries and traditional territories.  It was ruled by a ruthless dictator who used force to keep his potentially divisive peoples together in some form of polity.

When the dictator was removed from power, the groups fell to bickering among themselves, and then fierce and bloody conflict broke out.  Militias, mass killings, mass graves, and neighbor vs. neighbor soon became the norm, along with shellings of civilians, hostage taking, rape, etc. There were larger countries armed with nuclear weapons who espoused the concerns of one or the other of the fighting ethnic groups.  The western powers were shocked, and the fear that this smaller war could easily lead to a larger one was discussed endlessly.  Many ways to keep the country together were proposed and some were tried.  But no one could muster the requisite amount of blood and treasure to impose a “colonial” solution.  Despite all the hand wringing, and all the bloodshed and reprehensible war crimes, the center did not hold.

The result, however, was not the creation of a terrorist haven, or the triggering of a larger war of the traditional powers.  The result was Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro.  And maybe Kosovo, depending on how one counts.  One large country—Yugoslavia—was now seven smaller ones.  Is the world better off or worse off?

It is hard to understand any argument that the US or NATO or the EU or the Bobbsey Twins should get involved in Iraq and the murderous, unfortunate conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites.  Let us stipulate that it is a tragedy for those directly involved, and that many innocent lives will be lost, and that maybe even a quite unattractive Islamist regime enforcing Sharia law will be established in part of the territory.  Productive capacity of all sorts will be destroyed, as well infrastructure that the US has built or funded.  Cultural landmarks will be desecrated or looted despite UN designation.  Competing parties from the outside, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, will support their own co-religionists and prolong the conflict.  And once everyone has finished killing enough of everyone else, there will most likely be three smaller, weaker countries where one had stood before.

These three countries will not be particularly attractive as global democratic partners, they will have values that we do not espouse, especially with regard to the treatment of women, they won’t like us much in general, and they won’t be very good trading partners. They will not be nice places in which to take a vacation.  But one thing is for sure—they will still sell us oil.  They have to, it’s all they’ve got and they will need the money.

Note as evidence for the above that just last week, Oryx Petroleum Corporation Limited a publicly traded and Toronto listed oil company, announced on 7 July a production and drilling update for the Demir Dagh field in the Hawler license area in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  The results were generally positive, with production capacity not approaching 4000 barrels per day.

Oryx Petroleum is the operator and has a 65% participating and working interest in the Hawler license area.  The Chief Operating Officer noted, “We expect to spud DD-7 [an appraisal well] in the coming weeks and expect to drill three additional development wells at Demir Dagh this year in order to increase production capacity and continue delineating the field.

Importantly, our operations remain largely unaffected by the security situation in northern Iraq, outside of the Kurdistan Region. We continue to vigilantly monitor the situation and implement measures to mitigate risks.”

 

That used to be important.  Thanks to the advances of technology, and not thanks particularly to US policy (see the Keystone XL pipeline debate), the US is rapidly headed to being a net oil exporter.  So the Iraq states, once the destruction is over, will sell their oil to Europe and India and China, which is probably just fine.

One or all of these countries may continue to pose threats to their neighbors, but they will pose no particular security threat to the US.  They may serve as a haven for terrorists, but there are lots of havens for terrorists and one more or less really won’t make that much difference, so long as we have the intelligence apparatus to keep watch and the long range weaponry to make terrorist training centers unpleasant places from time to time.

I would far rather live in a world with lots of little and unpowerful countries, versus one with fewer large, powerful countries.  China will no doubt be handful enough in the coming decades. Having three countries in what used to be Iraq instead of one is in fact a good thing, for us and for the rest of the world.

—-Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company.  His most recent book is Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, a humorous look at international business.  Learn more at www.rfhemphill.com.

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A new short story by Lydia Davis [sic]

When she received notification by mail that she was to be awarded the Man Booker International Prize for 2013, she stayed awake all night worrying that it would or wouldn’t affect her life.  She got up the next morning and brushed her teeth, using the ‘morning’ tooth brush, but still was unable to decide. The End.

—-Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company.  His most recent book is Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, a humorous look at international business.  Learn more at www.rfhemphill.com.

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Is there an App for that?

I am literate.  I can read and write, at least English. I know a bit of French and a bit less of Spanish.  I am what some call “numerate” in that I understand and can manipulate numbers, certainly well enough to balance a check book and construct a spread sheet that sums columns or rows of numbers.  I could probably calculate compound interest rates if I had to.  I got seven eighties on both the English and math college boards. I graduated from a nice college.  I know stuff.

And of course I am computer literate, at least I thought I was.  But perhaps not.  Or perhaps it’s not enough. Continue reading

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Save the cheetahs or we’ll eat you

Over the weekend I went to a benefit for saving the cheetahs, predators who live mainly in Namibia as does the dramatic looking woman, Dr. Laurie Marker, who is attempting to save them.  She resembles Diane Von Furstenberg if Diane were taller and had lots of curly hair.  And were younger and lived in Namibia.  The cheetahs have developed an unfortunate taste for the local livestock (sheep, goats, scrawny cows) and this does not set well with the reasonably poor herder/farmers.  So they kill the cheetahs, which does nothing good for saving them.  If you were to evacuate all the people from Namibia, you could save a lot of cheetahs very quickly, and probably no one in the rest of the world would really notice, excepting the evacuees. Continue reading

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