How Mexico Changed Me

Mexican Flag

Mexican Flag

I admit it; I used to be a Gringo (don’t tell anyone else). A long time ago, the only thing I knew about Mexico was what the United States media pushed out to everyone. I thought of Mexico as a destitute place where everyone was trying to cross the border into the USA. I could not have been further from the truth.

I had just started a job at a gigantic international company and my boss informed me that I had to go down to Aguascalientes, Mexico to meet my North American team. I begrudgingly did so, anxious at what I would find. When I arrived, I was in utter shock at how wrong my preconceptions had been.

North American Team's Office

North American Team’s Office

Aguascalientes was a modern city with a thriving middle class. It looked like it was taken straight out of somewhere in the south east United States. Everyone I had met was proud to be Mexican and live in Mexico. They showed me around their city as well as bringing me into their homes and introducing me to their families. This had shaken me to the core; if I was so wrong about Mexico, what else was I wrong about? I then began my quest to open my mind and discover what I was missing on this great planet of ours.

What happened to my cultural perceptions paled in comparison to what happened to my culinary ones. I grew up thinking that I had liked Mexican food . . . Ha! I did not even know what Mexican food was!!! It turns out that most of the stuff (especially from the chain restaurants) is Tex-Mex, NOT actually what anyone would find anywhere in Mexico. The food I found in Mexico was fresh with complex flavors yet served simply. A real taco was not a hard shell jammed with as much things as one could fit, it was a soft corn tortilla, a well prepared meat and usually a lime on the side. If you wanted condiments, your choices were limited to the fresh salsas they had made right there or some hot local sauces . . . that’s it.

The only place where I saw massive accompaniments was at a restaurant that served Queso Fundido. If you haven’t tried this dish, which is similar to a Fondue, try it immediately! Here you get a boiling clay pot of melted cheese, plain or with your choice of an addition, soft corn tortillas and a tiered Lazy Susan of crazy condiments. This tray of splendor contained, the usual, guacamole, sour cream, etc., but it also contained grilled knob onions, mushrooms, chilis, and much more. Think of Queso Fundido as a Quesadilla on steroids. You could also order the melted cheese cooked with lovely things such as Chorizo sausage, mushrooms, onions, and/or so much more.

Whenever I went down there for business, I would usually go down early and leave late in order to take advantage of the weekends and visit some places, along with having some leisure time for myself to spend time with the team outside of work. During the work week, my friend Sergio asked if I wanted to go for a typical Sunday family breakfast at a restaurant the upcoming Sunday. There was no way I would ever pass up an opportunity like this, so I quickly agreed.

Sunday Breakfast with Sergio

Sunday Breakfast with Sergio

Sunday morning came and Sergio picked me up at the hotel I was staying in. Along the way, he told me that this particular restaurant had two restaurants side by side. One was open in the evenings for dinner, while the one he was taking me to was open only for breakfast. (What an odd use of space?!?) There, he introduced me to the most wondrous of all breakfast foods, chilaquiles. What are chilaquiles you ask? They are fried, crispy tortilla chips, cooked until ever so slightly softened with either red or green salsa and then topped with crema. From there you order it as is or with pulled chicken, egg, or whatever else they have on the menu. I know this sounds an awful lot like nachos, but believe me, they are so vastly different. Once you try them, you will want to start every morning with a plate of fresh chilaquiles. This is something I would have never thought I would love eating for breakfast.

One weekend, my buddy Fernando and his family took me up to the silver mining town of Zacatecas. On the way there, they stopped off in this small town to get, what Fernando and his wife said, were the best gorditas in Mexico. We pulled up to this hole-in-the-wall restaurant that was surprisingly clean, warm and friendly. Being the Gringo I was, I was surprised to see that they only served gorditas . . . no tacos, no tortas, no tamale, just gorditas. I quickly learned a valuable lesson. If you do one thing and do it extremely well, people will go out of their way to acquire what you are offering. That is a concept that is very foreign to people from the States.

Later on that evening, they took me to a restaurant dedicated to some famous general named Francisco Villa. The restaurant was decorated like a house/museum to this guy. Apparently, they thought very highly of the great achievements he did for Mexico. I sat there wondering why I had never heard of this general before. Then it dawned on me . . . I DID! Mexicans often have odd nicknames for their formal names. One nickname for Francisco is Paco. Another is Pancho. This was a restaurant in honor of Pancho Villa!!! Another life altering event happened at that moment. I suddenly realized that what we are taught in history class is completely subjective to where you live and who is teaching it. Villains could be heroes and heroes could be villains.

Pancho Villa's Restaurant

Pancho Villa’s Restaurant

The only downside to visiting Mexico was that I could not eat what restaurants were trying to pass as Mexican food for years after that first visit. Eventually, I came to grips with it by calling it Tex-Mex. Also, in recent years there have been a lot of authentic Mexican places popping up from full blown restaurants, to street carts, to hole in the walls.

Overall, Mexico changed the way I look at the world. It proved that all I thought was fact was merely an illusion which others proposed to me. I knew from then on, that if I was to truly understand the world and its myriad cultures, I would have to get out there and discover it myself. In essence, Mexico changed who I was at my core and what I believe in as a citizen of this great planet.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Make your own judgments about locations and people.
  • Immerse yourself fully in other cultures.
  • Go outside of your comfort zone and try new things.
  • Discover local history through new eyes.
  • Shed your old beliefs, open your mind and discover the truth for yourself.

Author:                 Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                     7/20/2014

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How Amsterdam Is Misunderstood

Amsterdam, the misunderstood …

I sit here in the business class lounge on yet another trip to my Amsterdam office. I hear the heated conversation of a fellow business man on the phone with his wife arguing vehemently about him having to go to Amsterdam for work. He wholeheartedly puts forth that he has no choice and if he does not go, he will be fired. He goes on to say that he is going there for work and not “for fun”. But his wife is having none of it. She would rather give up their financial stability than risk her husband partying and/or being unfaithful to her. I do not know their situation.   For all I know he could be a raging drug addict pervert who has hurt her many times before. That is not what this article is about. It is about the magnificent city that is Amsterdam. Everyone has preconceptions about this jewel of a city, but they are most likely vastly incomplete. Amsterdam is a treasure chest with no bottom!

While it is true that prostitution and mild drug use are legal, it does not mean that those activities are the only reason to go there. Smoking is legal in the United States, but I’m not going to start smoking because I am there. These very same vices are accessible in regions around the globe with varying degrees of legality/enforcement. If someone is going to partake in those activities, they probably already have elsewhere. Additionally, if you have jealousy or sobriety worries for your spouse going places, then you have bigger issues than the trip at hand to deal with.

Beautiful Canal

Beautiful Amsterdam Canal

Amsterdam is one of those picturesque places that is imagined but rarely exists for most of us. It is divided by manmade canals rather than just streets. These waterways are lined with tall, thin, beautifully architected buildings which used to be warehouses/houses for the traders from its shipping hay day. These houses now serve as residences and offices. The beauty is surreal and one can only imagine what it would be like living or working there. Allow me to brag a moment … it is truly breathtaking to be able to work from an office right on a canal. The fresh air gently blowing in while passenger boats float by with tourists or locals out for a day on the water … absolutely magical.

Office Canal

Canal view from office

I cannot stress this enough, Amsterdam is one of the best walking cities of the world! There is very little automobile traffic in the city center (Centrum). Commuters and locals take well thought out trolleys throughout the city, but they are not overwhelming. That leaves room for pedestrians and bicycles … oh there are bicycles … everywhere! (Note: Bicycles and cars/buses have right of way. So stay alert!) As one walks, there are major roadways and tiny alleyways each hosting unique treasures. These routes are lined with small and unique shops and businesses.   One can enjoyably get lost searching for what amazing thing lies around the next corner.

Hint: If you have a Smartphone, turn on your GPS and add your hotel or specific other destination to your favorites and NEVER get lost!!! Amsterdam is that small and easy to navigate.

 The Dutch people … what an amazing culture! Due to Amsterdam’s status as a premier tourist destination, everyone I met was friendly, warm and welcoming. As with most European metropolitan areas, the people speak many other languages besides their own … and well too. You will have little trouble speaking with the locals. As a matter of fact, you should engage them as much as possible. Everyone has an interesting story or viewpoint and they are eager to hear yours.

 So, what do you like to do? Arts and culture? Amsterdam has some of the finest and most unique museums. They have it all, from Van Gogh to Medieval Torture. Are you a foodie? Because the Dutch have a history of world exploration, they import everything and with that comes an eclectic mix of world cuisines. Fancy Tibetan? They got it. Argentinean steaks? Yup! American fast food? Unfortunately yes to that too. I had one of the best and most unique sandwiches from an Italian sandwich shop called Cora Broodjes (Cora Sandwiches – http://www.cora-broodjes.nl/) on Prinsengracht.

Cora Sandwiches

Cora Sandwiches

Do you like to party? Amsterdam’s got an amazing nightlife. And they really aren’t serving coffee as the top item in those coffee shops. Europeans are well aware of the lure of Amsterdam. Some fly in, party all night without sleep and then catch a flight back home the next day … yeah it’s that kind of city!

 Do you like the water? Rent a paddle boat (or bike boat) and cruise the canals at your own pace. Want a guided tour, get on a canal tour boat and navigate the waterways learning all about what made Amsterdam a jewel in Europe’s crown.

Paddle Bikes

Paddle Bikes

While the tourists are indulging themselves in anything they could imagine, the local population operates right along side as if the rest does not exist. Parents with front and rear bicycle baby seats peddle along cobblestone streets. Women with skirts and high heals peddle their bikes with a style and grace that they must be born with. Business people zipping along in trolley cars heading to their next appointment. Old and young couples strolling the canals hand in hand without a care in the world. Yeah, the locals know how good they’ve got it.

Is Amsterdam wooden clogs and tulips? Yes.
Is it tall thin row houses and canals? Yes.
Is it prostitutes and drugs? Yes.
Is it bicycles and boats? Yes.
Amsterdam is all of this and so much more!

It is a safe, friendly, beautiful, historic city that everyone should come, explore and discover what Amsterdam is to them.

Travel Note: If you want REALLY good beef ribs in an old world super friendly atmosphere, get yourself to Café de Klos (Kerkstraat 41-43). There is usually a long wait for the few tables that they have there, but no worries . . . they own the bar across the street and you can hang out over there for some drinks and appetizers while you wait. If you want to cut down the wait time, ask to sit at the bar instead of a table (for some reason, there is more bar space than table space). The staff is hysterical and will make fun of themselves and you in a heartbeat, so don’t go there if you are of the faint of heart. But if you play along, you will become a regular in their eyes and will have an awesome time. Need a menu, just call the bartender over . . . it’s on their shirts! If you go, ask for Marik (aka Mark – looks like Kiefer Sutherland) and tell him Superman sent you.

Cafe de Klos Menu

Cafe de Klos Menu

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Make your own judgments about Amsterdam.
  • Get around by walking or renting a bike.
  • Use the GPS/Maps feature on your Smartphone.
  • Talk with the locals.
  • Get outside of your comfort zone and try something new.

Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      8/12/2014

 

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Travelers Guide To The Shaolin Temple

Sifu Pete Chema

Sifu Pete Chema

On this, which was my fourth trip to China, I had one new and specific goal and that was to make a martial arts pilgrimage to the Shaolin Temple to see for myself where it all began. You can read all about it on the Internet or in books, however, there is no substitute for personal experience. I have over 40 years experience in the martial arts and have trained with some of the best masters in the world. I continue to enjoy the styles of Gong Fu I already practice but I have an open mind as to what I might not have seen or learned. Some say the Shaolin Temple is utterly amazing and the only true place to study Gong Fu. Others say it is a tourist trap with unqualified teachers all too ready to take your money and then teach you something of little real value. I was expecting something in-between these two views, and I just had to see for myself!

I will try to provide information in the article that will enable you to take this unique trip yourself if your spirit of adventure compels you. Let me warn you though, traveling in China can be difficult and confusing but it is not impossible. I have a little advantage though because I can speak some Chinese and of course, this is very helpful. (TIP: For the bare essentials see the Understandin’ article: Top Ten Chinese (Mandarin) Phrases) However, even without Chinese language ability, you can take the trip and I assure you…it will be the adventure of a lifetime in more ways than one!

My journey to the Shaolin Temple from Beijing began with the purchase of my train ticket to Zhengzhou city, which is the provincial capital of Henan Province. There were two trains available from the Beijing West Railroad Station: one in the morning and one in the evening. There is actually a ticket window where English is spoken and this is the shortest line for tickets because practically no one speaks English! Be careful because there are several railroad stations in Beijing offering transportation to various parts of China. I decided to take the evening train 10:48 PM. Enjoying amenities, I opted for the sleeper car so I did not have to pay for a hotel that evening and when I awoke at about 6 AM, I would have already arrived in Zhengzhou. This sleeper car costs $264 Yuan or about $ 39 US dollars. Each sleeping compartment accommodates four people and you want to make sure you buy the ticket for one of the two bottom beds since there is a lot more room on the bottom than on the upper berths. The mattress is super firm almost like the cushion on a hard couch but it is not uncomfortable. Also a word of advice if you have never been to China: Always carry your own toilet tissue and be prepared for the type of toilets that are common in China and also on the train; that is, a hole in the floor…no toilet bowl. The hard economy class seat on the train is much cheaper but I was trying to rest and save my energy for the Temple.

I did not know what training and adventure would be in store for me. Zhengzhou City is very close to the smaller city of Dengfeng, which is located near the Shaolin Temple. Located at the foot of Taishi Mountain, Dengfeng would be my home base since the temple is only 15 minutes by bus or taxi.

There are many hotels in Dengfeng and one just needs to consult with a tour book for a recommendation on accommodations. I personally like the Lonely Planet Tour guidebook because in addition to the English, it includes the Chinese characters for the names of places, which are essential to show a cab driver where you want to go.

My first impression of the Shaolin temple was that it is more magnificent, beautiful and larger than I had imagined! There is a huge statue with hands in the traditional Shaolin salutation, which greets visitors as they file through the three spectacular arches of the entrance gate.

Traditional Shaolin Salutation

Traditional Shaolin Salutation

Entrance Gate

Entrance Gate

The first building that one sees on the right after entering the Temple grounds is the famous Shaolin Monastery Wushu Institute at Tagou.  This Institute is one of China’s largest Traditional Shaolin Kung Fu academies. Tagou is famous for its rigorous training and its students receive top-level training in open hand and weaponry. This Academy has trained some of China’s top martial arts experts and teachers. The admittance office is located through the open courtyard on the right, up a small hill. One needs to go to the second floor of the building to find the office. I was told that they accept students of all levels and are flexible to accommodate one’s schedule. Fortunately the Special Manager of Foreign Affairs there that day was a friendly young girl who speaks perfect English.

Needless to say what I saw was amazing! Thousands of students practicing at a time. Yes, literally thousands! Martial artists were everywhere! In the open fields, in the courtyards, in the Academy’s training halls and just about any other place you looked!

Shaolin Students Practicing

Shaolin Students Practicing

Coaches were teaching students of all ages. Children who look just old enough to walk were tumbling, training forms and displaying remarkable flexibility.

Coach & Student

Coach & Student

Martial artist were adroitly practicing weapons of all varieties with amazing precision.

Spear Practice

Spear Practice

The Shaolin Monastery Wushu Institute at Tagou’s website is www.shaolinkungfu.edu.cn. Henan Province is known as the “Cradle of Chinese Martial Arts” and it is easy to see why this academy is one of the most famous.

The Temple also has a large indoor theater, which regularly has orchestrated Gong Fu performance done in front of a Shaolin Temple backdrop. The demonstration is fast paced with a broad display of open-hand and weapon combat. It is a must see.

Gong Fu Performance 1

Gong Fu Performance 1

Gong Fu Performance 2

Gong Fu Performance 2

There are also many outdoor demonstrations, which take place at the main front gate where spectators can enjoy amazing displays of Gong Fu and Qi Gong.

In addition to the martial arts, the temple grounds have many famous attractions. First and the most famous of them all is known as the Gateway and is the chief entrance for the Permanent Residence Compound. It is made up of the front gate and two side gates; this Gateway is the building used as the backdrop for Gong-Fu movies and is the most recognizable structure when one pictures the Shaolin Temple. It is the red building that bears the inscription of the three Chinese characters for the “Shao Lin Temple” in gold characters on a black background. The carved dragons on the glazed tile roof embellish the spirit within. Seeing and entering this structure alone made my whole trip worthwhile. Entering the gateway was like a trip into the past, feeling the energy and essence of those who trained there, died, and were buried in the nearby Pagoda Forest Cemetery.  In front of the Gateway is an immense yard with two inscribed stone archways.

The Pagoda Forest is actually a cemetery and is located on a hill, just a short distance from the Permanent Residence Compound. It consists of unique stone pagodas of various heights and styles, and they are silhouetted against the tall trees in the forest hence the name Pagoda Forest. The bodies of many famous monks are buried here and the feeling one gets while walking there is indescribable. It is spectacular, serene and breathtaking.

The Pagoda Forest

The Pagoda Forest

Bodhidharma’s (Damo) Cave is located about 4000-meter hike from the Pagoda Forest. Legend has it that, Bodhidharma sat meditating so long that his shadow is embedded on the wall of the cave.

In addition to these attractions there are other interesting buildings, halls and Chapels too numerous to mention in this article. The Shaolin Temple is an amazing attraction for tourists as well as for those who make religious pilgrimages.  When your adventure comes to an end simply reverse your commute to return to Beijing as I did or continue on to another destination in China. You will be returning home with an unforgettable adventure under your belt! As a martial artist you will perhaps feel as I did: that you actually are now a part of a rich and compelling history and that you have experienced firsthand life at the Shaolin Temple! Good luck and as the Chinese say, Yi Lu Ping An….. Have a safe trip!

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Speaking Chinese in China is not required, but good to know some basic words and phrases.
  • When traveling by train in a sleeper car, purchase the bottom bunk(s) as they have more room.
  • Bring toilet paper and be prepared for Chinese toilets (only a hole in the floor).
  • When visiting the ShaolinTemple, stay in Dengfeng which is only 15 minutes away by taxi or bus.
  • Use the Lonely Planet Tour guidebook because at has English as well as the Chinese characters which you can then point out to people for destinations and items.
  • The Shaolin Monastery Wushu Institute at Tagou is the most famous and prestigious of the Gong Fu academies in the area.

For the full article and more on the Shaolin Temple, please Click Here.

Author:                  Pete Chema
Date:                      10/23/2013

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How To Eat Pipikaula Ribs At Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Helena's Hawaiian Food

Helena’s Hawaiian Food

In the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean lies the most remote archipelago on the planet . . . Hawaii, the quintessential tropical paradise.  When traveling there, you will experience the most amazing beaches, tropical rain forests, cultural activities and restaurants.  But what is Hawaiian food and where do you get it?

That is a difficult question as Hawaii is a melting pot of many cultures.  Most people’s first experience with the Hawaiian cuisine is at a commercial luau.  (TIP: To find one while in Hawaii, check out: This Week Hawaii (http://thisweekhawaii.com/) or Spotlight Hawaii Publishing (http://www.spotlighthawaii.com/).  These are the free magazines with coupons that you can pick up at the airport or tourist locations.)  But commercial luaus are just that, the food is made for the large crowds that attend.  So where does one find authentic Hawaiian food?

One could say that the Hawaiian plate lunch is Hawaiian food and they would be correct to an extent.  You can find plate lunches at many restaurants and roadside food trucks.  Plate lunch is two scoops of white rice, one scoop of macaroni salad and some super flavorful Hawaiian delight such as Kalua Pork (pig cooked in an Imu pit…amazing), Loco Moco (beef patty with egg on top), garlic shrimp, etc.  Plate lunches derived from immigrants sharing lunches while working on the sugar plantations.  It has become a staple of daily life in Hawaii.  While it is Hawaiian cuisine, it is not traditional fare.

One of the best places to find traditional Hawaiian food, in a non-luau setting, is at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (http://helenashawaiianfood.com), 1240 North School St. in downtown Honolulu.  This is a no nonsense, local and foodie restaurant.  The only way to get this kind of authenticity is if you are eating at your Hawaiian auntie’s house.  If you go there during peak hours, you should expect to wait for a table.  Be patient, it is beyond worth the wait.

The menu is a compilation of unbelievable traditional Hawaiian fare.  They have the famous Kalua Pig, Laulau (pork and/or fish wrapped in taro leaves), amazing stews, Luau squid or chicken (cooked in coconut milk), Lomi Lomi, unbelievable seafood and much more.  But, when you go to Helena’s, you absolutely cannot miss their world renowned Short Ribs Pipikaula Style.  This dish is so good, it has been featured on two TV cooking and travel shows and is a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award.

The Short Ribs Pipikaula Style are strips of beef short ribs which are hung and dry aged.  They are then cut up to bite sized pieces and cooked to order.  While the Pipikaula Short Ribs are not to be missed, there is a proper way to eat them to enhance their succulent flavor.  Sure, you could pick them up and devour them as is and would not be the slightest bit disappointed.  But there are extras that come with this dish that should not be ignored.  When you order these wondrous morsels they are served with a small bowl of sliced Maui onions and another small bowl of Hawaiian sea salt.  Each piece of meat still has the bone in, but it is a small cross section of the longer rib bone.  It is just the right size for picking up and eating around the bone.

The meat is meant to be eaten with a small piece of the Maui onion and a little sprinkling of the Hawaiian sea salt.  The way you do this is entirely up to you.  Personally, I dip the onion piece into the salt catching a few granules and then putting in onto the meat I am about to bite.  I have seen people lick the meat, dip it into the salt and then pop a slice of onion in their mouths before they bit the meat.  Again, you can add your own flare to this.

Pipikaula Ribs

Pipikaula Ribs

The meat has a very rich flavor that is enhanced by the Hawaiian sea salt.  The Maui onion provides a sweet and pungent contrast to the beef.  The combination of these flavors makes the beef flavor explode in your mouth.  You are left salivating waiting for your next bite.

I have to make a comment about an underappreciated menu item, Poi.  When newbies first encounter it, usually at their first luau, they think it is a Hawaiian joke to get mainlanders to eat it.  But, I assure you it is not, they just do not know how to eat it.  Poi was and is the starch staple on the islands.  When eaten straight up it has no immediate appeal and is an acquired taste.  But, that is not how Hawaiians generally eat it.  Many Hawaiian dishes are highly flavored or extremely rich in flavor.  When you take these powerful proteins and dip them into the poi it tames the flavors down a bit.  Let’s say you are not a fish eater but are over a friend’s house and that is what they are serving.  If you dip the fish in the poi, it reduces the fishy flavor and makes it more palatable.  That is the trick with eating poi, dip something else in it and it magically becomes wonderful.

You can tell the great pride owner Craig Katsuyoshi takes in his dry aged beef.  Before we took a picture together, he joked about my height saying I might hit my head on his hanging beef strips.  We had discussed the variety of Hawaiian specialties he serves.  He was surprised how deep a mainlander went in trying items from his menu.  I told him that I am a long standing Kama’aina to the Hawaiian Islands.  He nodded understandingly knowing that I was just coming home for dinner.

Rob and Craig Katsuyoshi

Rob and Craig Katsuyoshi

Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.

Date:                      8/3/2013

Categories: Eatin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Top Ten Hindi Phrases

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Whether you are traveling to India or interacting with people, here is a list of extremely useful basic Hindi phrases.  Whenever I travel or my coworkers/friends travel I prepare this very same list for them.  I have found that these are the top phrases that can handle 90% of any native conversation you would need to have.  Even with a travel phrase book, this list printed out can be a quick life saver.

In India, there are many different ways to say the same thing.  This is due to regional, dialectal, situational and personal preferences.  Even the pronunciations vary for the same words.  The best advice I have from whenever I go to India is to relax and make an attempt.  If you are far off base or use something incorrectly, the people are very helpful and will help you say it correctly.  Two of my friends once had a 20 minute discussion on how I should say a simple phrase (no conclusion was ever made).  The bonus is that, in the cities, most people speak at least basic English and truly appreciate you trying to speak their native language.  To that point, I have compiled this list with the simplest and most widely used phrases to get you in good with the locals.

Rob & Freinds In India

Rob & Freinds In India

1)         Hi / Bye
            Namaste  (nah-Mah-stay) or Namaskar (nah-Mahs-Kahr) / Alvida  (Al-vee-dah)

2)         Yes / No
            Haan  (Hahn) / Nahin  (Nuh-heen)

3)         Please / Thank you
            Krpaya  (Krip-ay-Yah) / Shukriyaa (shook-Ree-ya-ah)

4)         Excuse me.
            Kshama keejeeae  (Kuh-shah-ma kee-jee-ay)

5)         Where is . . .?  (…the bathroom)      …kaha hay?  (kah-Ha Hay)
           Toilet kaha hai?                     (Toy-let kah-Ha Hay)
           The train station                    Steśan              (stay-Sahn)
            The bus station                      Bas ka aḍḍa    (Bahs Kah Ahd-dah)
            The police station                  Pulisa Steśan   (Puh-lees-ah stay-Sahn)
            The embassy                          Dūtāvāsa         (Doo-tuh-vahs)
            The hospital                           Aspatāla          (Ah-spuh-tahl)

6)         Take me to …
            … Jaanaa hay.  (Jah-ah-nah Hay)

7)         Do you speak English? / I don’t speak Hindi.
            Apko angrézee atee hay?      (Ahp-koh ahn-Gray-zee Ay-tee Hay)
            Mujhe hindī nahīn ātee hay.            (Mooj-hah Hin-di nah-Hin Ay-tee Hay)

8)         How much is this?
            Yae kitna hay?  (Yay Kit-nah Hay)

9)         My name is… / What is your name?
            Meraa naam …hay.  (Mee-rah Nahm … Hay)
            Aapka naam kyaa hay?  (Ahp-kah Nahm Kee-yah Hay)

10)       I need a doctor!
            Mujhey Doctor kee zaroorat hay!  (Mooj-hay Doctor Kee zah-roo-Rat Hay)

(TIP: For a larger Hindi phrasebook, check out: http://wikitravel.org/en/Hindi_phrasebook )

Now that you have the basics . . . get out there and meet some people!

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Hi / Bye                                   Namaskar / Alvida
  • Yes / No                                  Haan  / Nahin
  • Please / Thank you                  Kṛpaya  / Shukriyaa
  • Excuse me                               Kshama keejeeae
  • Where is…?                            …kaha hay?
  • Take me to…please.                … Jaanaa hay.
  • Do you speak English?           Apko angrézee atee hay?
  • I don’t speak Hindi.                Mujhe hindī nahīn ātee hay.
  • How much is this?                  Yae kitna hay?
  • My name is…                          Meraa naam …hay.
  • What is your name?                Aapka naam kyaa hay?
  • I need a doctor!                      Mujhey Doctor kee zaroorat hay!

 Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      10/2/2013

Categories: Meetin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Walk In Germany

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

We all know how to walk, right?  WRONG!  If you travel to Germany, you will be stunned by the impeccably clean streets, gorgeous classic and modern architecture and the politeness and warmth of the people.  As with almost everything in Germany, there are rules!!!  These rules keep the peace and order within and make it the wondrous place that it is to visit.

Before my first trip to Cologne (Köln) a friend of mine warned me about different colored sidewalks and something about him getting a ticket from a police officer for not following signals.  After slowing him down and asking to clarify, I realized he was trying to inform me about the rules walking there.

Sidewalk in Cologne, Germany

Sidewalk in Cologne, Germany

It turns out that Germany, ingeniously, has paved the bike paths a different color to differentiate which space pedestrians and cyclists should utilize.  Normally, pedestrians have the right-of-way, but not in Germany.  A cyclist will run you down if you are sauntering in their lane.  While this is true, most will jingle their bike bell to warn you of their approach.  The oddest thing to see is that people politely get out of the bike lane right away.

That’s the thing . . . Germans understand and follow these rules.  Even more, they expect everyone else to.  This was evidenced when I was in a taxi.  The taxi driver was not from Germany and began to make a turn into a crosswalk that had a “Walk” signal for the pedestrians.  While the pedestrians were not in a group nor knew each other, they, in unison, started screaming at the taxi for daring to violate the crosswalk rules.

German Crossing Signal

German Crossing Signal

On that note, crossing signals should strictly be adhered to.  Both for the regular street ones and the ones for the train track crossing.  This is where my poor friend acquired a ticket from a police officer.  Apparently, seeing that no train or traffic was coming, decided to make his way across the street in the crosswalk.  BAMN!!!  A cop descended on him like a bat out of hell and issued him a summons along with a stern lecture.

German cities are the most amazing walking cities in the world.  The streets are so clean, the people are friendly, and signs clearly mark where destinations are.  But, I cannot stress enough how strict Germans are with their rules.  If you follow them, you will have a wonderful time and truly enjoy your time there.  If you disobey the rules . . . you will feel like everyone around you has turned against you.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • When walking, stay off of the colored paved bike lanes.
  • Stay in the crosswalks when crossing a street.
  • Pay strict attention to the “Walk” and “Do Not Walk” signals.
  • Pay strict attention to the “Walk” and “Do Not Walk” signals when crossing the train tracks as well.
  • Do get out there and explore Germany’s extraordinary walking cities.

Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      9/30/2013

Categories: Behavin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Chinese (Mandarin) Phrases

Chinese Pagoda

Chinese Pagoda

Whether you are traveling to China or interacting with people, here is a list of extremely useful basic Mandarin Chinese phrases.  Whenever I travel or my coworkers/friends travel I prepare this very same list for them.  I have found that these are the top phrases that can handle 90% of any native conversation you would need to have.  Even with a travel phrase book, this list printed out can be a quick life saver.

1)         Hi / Bye
            Nǐ hǎo (Nee How) / Zàijiàn (Tsy-jee-En)

2)         Yes / No
            Shi (Shur) / Méiyǒu (May-Yoh)

3)         Please / Thank you
            Qǐng (Ching) / Xièxiè (shyay-Shyay)

4)         Excuse me
            Duìbùqǐ (doy-Boo-chee)

5)         Where is . . .?  (Where is the bathroom?)
            …zài nǎlǐ? (Zī nah-Lee)  (TIP: …zai nar? (Zī nahr) in Beijing)
            Cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ? (Say-swoh Zī nah-Lee)
            Train station              Huǒchē zhàn              (ho-Cha Jahn)
            Bus station                 Qìchē zhàn                 (chee-Cha Jahn)
            Police station              Jǐng shǔ                      (Jing Shoo)
            Embassy                     Shǐguǎn                      (Shur-Gwan)
            Hospital                      Yīyuàn                        (ee-Yoo-ahn)

6)         Take me to …
            Dài wǒ qù … (Die Woh Choo)

For this one, I have found it most helpful to have a business card (especially from your hotel), or a written name of the location you wish to go to, and point to it as you say “” (Choo).  It gives the driver/person a chance to study the location without asking you to repeat anything or to get into a lengthy conversation.

7)         Do you speak English? / I don’t speak Mandarin.
            Nǐ huì shuō yīngwén ma? (Nee Hway Shwoh Yeeng-wen Mah)
            Wǒ bù huì shuō pǔtōnghuà. (Woh Boo Hway Shwoh Poo-tohng-Hwah)

8)         How much is this?
            Duōshǎo qián? (Dwah-shaow Chee-an)

9)         My name is… / What is your name?
            Wo jiao… (Woh jeeYow)
            Ni jiao shenme mingzi?  (Nee jeeYow shan-Muh ming-Zuh)

10)       I need a doctor!
            Wǒ xūyào yīgè yīshēng! (Who Shoo-yaow ee-Guh yee-Shung)

Now that you have the basics . . . get out there and meet some people!

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China


The Cheat Sheet
:

  • Hi / Bye                                   Nǐ hǎo / Zàijiàn
  • Yes / No                                  Shi / Méiyǒu
  • Please / Thank you                  Qǐng / Xièxiè
  • Excuse me                               Duìbùqǐ
  • Where is…?                            …zài nǎlǐ?
  • Take me to…                          Dài wǒ qù …
  • Do you speak English?           Nǐ huì shuō yīngwén ma?
  • I don’t speak Mandarin.         Wǒ bù huì shuō pǔtōnghuà.
  • How much is this?                  Duōshǎo qián?
  • My name is…                          Wo jiao…
  • What is your name?                Ni jiao shenme mingzi?
  • I need a doctor!                      Wǒ xūyào yīgè yīshēng!

 
Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      9/12/2013

Categories: Meetin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Hail A NYC Taxi

NYC Taxis

New York City Taxi Cabs

Welcome to Noo Yawk Siddy!!!  New York City is home to too many things to begin mentioning (TIP: See resources below).  Most people think of NYC as just the borough of Manhattan, but there are phenomenal things going on in the other boroughs as well (Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island).  Just think, you can’t go to a Yankee (Bronx) or Mets (Queens) game without leaving Manhattan.  As with many modern metropolises, you have a plethora of transportation options; walking, buses, trains, etc. . . . oh and now even convenient rental bikes (https://citibikenyc.com/).  But sometimes you just want the luxury of your own personal driver who knows the city to take you where the other mass transit vehicles cannot.  Then, my friend, you need a cab.

One can call a cab company and order a taxi, if you have a specific time you are leaving.  Or, you can use one of the SmartPhone apps like Hail-0 (https://hailocab.com/nyc) or Way2Ride (http://www.way2ride.com) (TIP: They can be found on the Apple Store or Google Play).  But, if you are on the run, you are going to need to hail a cab . . . and there are some rules.

First, if there is a taxi stand nearby, go and wait for a cab there.  These stands are located at the airports, Penn Station, Grand Central, along the West Side Highway and other locations.  There is no logical reason why some areas have stands and others do not, so look around first.  (TIP: If you want more information on or locations of taxi stands, check out this article:  http://www.examiner.com/article/a-guide-to-using-taxi-stands-manhattan)  Around those locations it is illegal for a taxi to pick you up other than at a stand.

Regarding locations, it is best not to hail a cab in the middle of a block.  The only exceptions are if you have called for/ordered a cab and are waiting for it or if you have gear or baggage that you need to put into the trunk.

Other than that, it is best to hail a cab at a corner.  This can work to your advantage.  If you know the direction you are heading, go to the nearest corner which traffic is heading the way you need to go.  Also, you may need/want to go to a different corner if taxi traffic is not abundant enough on that street corner.  (TIP: Taxi drivers like to cruise around in higher volume areas.)

Hailing A Cab

Hailing A Cab

Now to hail a cab . . . stand on the street corner and face the oncoming traffic.  Raise your hand definitively in the air and look down the block for the next available taxi.  If you raise your hand timidly, the driver may assume you are either not ready for a taxi or do not know where you want to go and will most likely pass you by.  Try to see into the cab to see if it has any occupants (NYC taxis are not allowed to pick up multiple fares.).  Another item to take note of is the identifying light on top of the cab.  There are three states it can be in (See image).  If the taxi’s identifying numbers are lit up alone, it is available for hire.  If all the lights are off on it, it is occupied or on its way to pick up a fare.  If the “Off Duty” lights are lit, the driver is at the end of his/her shift and heading back to the garage.  (Tip: You can attempt to hail an “Off Duty” cab.  If you are heading in the same direction of the garage, they may stop to pick you up or stop to ask where you are heading.  If it’s convenient for them, they just may take you.)  If the taxi appears to be available, make eye contact with the driver to show your intent on needing a cab.  Watch to see if he/she shakes their head negatively.  This could be due to them being off duty and heading back to the garage or heading to a prearranged fare.

Taxi Availability

Taxi Availability

While attempting to hail a cab, make sure to be aware that no one else is hailing one as well as it is rude behavior to cut in and take a taxi someone else is waiting for.  If there is another person ahead of you, you can ask them if they want to share the cab with you.  Surprisingly this works on occasion.

There are some rules that NYC taxi drivers must adhere to.  If their “available light” is lit, they are not allowed to refuse a fare.  All NYC cabs are equipped with credit card machines and they must accept either credit card or cash.  For a full list of NYC taxi rules, please visit: http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/rules/rules.shtml.

When the taxi pulls over for you, enter from the sidewalk side of the cab.  Let them know right away if you need to put anything into the trunk.  Once safely inside, tell the driver the cross streets of your destination, such as “23rd & Madison” (meaning 23rd Street and Madison Avenue).  You can also give an exact address, but the driver still may ask you the cross streets.  Another option, if you are unsure of a destination, is to ask the driver.  (TIP: It is always best to state a cross street location emphatically so the driver assumes that you are a local and not someone he/she can take on a longer, more expensive route.)

Along the way, if you are not from New York City, please do not be alarmed by the aggressiveness of the drivers.  There are certain unwritten driving rules which the cabbies adhere to while driving on NYC streets, but those are in another article. (TIP: For more information see the Understandin’ article “How To Drive In NYC”.)  The best thing to do is sit back and look out the window as if you are watching a TV show or an action movie.  On a similar note, taxis now have in-car infotainment centers.  You will find this either entertaining/informative or annoying.  If the incessant ads or noise bothers you, you can turn the volume down and/or the screen off.  (TIP: In the cab you have control of both the climate controls and the infotainment center.)

Once you reach your destination, make sure to check the meter (as you should also do along the way), located on the front dashboard, to see what the fare is.  Unless the driver got into an accident or drove in a life threatening manner, you should ALWAYS give a tip (15 – 25%).  While the fare may seem expensive, these drivers have a lot of overhead to pay for (i.e., rental of the taxi, gas, maintenance, etc.), most of which never reaches their pockets.  So, a tip is where they make most of their take home pay.  (TIP: Tips should be based on a percentage of the actual fare NOT a flat amount that you think is reasonable.)  NYC taxis have the ability to accept credit cards so you can pay either cash or credit.  Once done, leave the taxi promptly, on the sidewalk side of the vehicle, to allow them to pick up their next fare.

Now that you know how to hail a NYC taxi cab, get out there and explore all that the five boroughs have to offer!


New York City
Events Resources:
http://www.nyc.com/events/
http://www.timeout.com/newyork
http://www.nycgo.com/events/
http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/


The Cheat Sheet
:

  • Use taxi stands where available
  • Go to the nearest/optimal street corner
  • Raise hand with intent
  • Make eye contact with driver and watch for them to nod yes/no to you
  • Enter/exit cab from the sidewalk side of the taxi
  • Check meter for actual fare
  • Always provide a percentage based tip
  • Leave taxi promptly after paying

Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      4/10/2013

Categories: Doin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Spanish Phrases

Seville Flamenco Dancers

Seville Flamenco Dancers

Whether you are traveling to Spain, Mexico, South/Central America or interacting with people, here is a list of extremely useful basic Spanish phrases.  Whenever I travel or my coworkers/friends travel I prepare this very same list for them.  I have found that these are the top phrases that can handle 90% of any native conversation you would need to have.  Even with a travel phrase book, this list printed out can be a quick life saver.

1)         Hi / Bye
            Hola (Oh-lah) / Adios (Ah-dee-ohs)           

2)         Yes / No
            Si (See) / No (Noh)

    3)         Please / Thank you
            Por favor (Por fah-Vor) / Gracias (Grah-see-ahs)

 4)         Excuse me
            Perdón (pair-Dohn)

5)         Where is . . .?  (…the bathroom)
            ¿Dónde está . . .?  (dohn-Day ess-Tah)  (…el baño) (El Bahn-nyoh)
            The train station        La estación de tren    (Lah eh-stay-see-Ohn Day Trayn)
            The bus station     La estación de autobuses (Lah eh-stay-see-Ohn Day Ow-tow-Boos-ehz)
            The police station     La estación de policía            (Lah eh-stay-see-Ohn Day Po-lee-see-Ah)
            The embassy              La embajada              (Lah Em-bah-hah-Dah)
            The hospital               El hospital                  (Ehl Os-pih-Tahl)

6)         Take me to …
            Llévame a… (Jev-ah-may Ah)
TIP:  For this one, I have found it most helpful to have a business card (especially from your hotel), or a written name of the location you wish to go to, and point to it as you say “aquí” (ah-Kee).  It gives the driver/person a chance to study the location without asking you to repeat anything or to get into a lengthy conversation.

 7)         Do you speak English? / I don’t speak Spanish.
            ¿Hablas Inglés? (ah-Blas Eng-lays) / Yo no hablo Español. (Yoh Noh Ah-bloh ess-Pan-nyohl)

 8)         How much is this?
            ¿Cuánto cuesta esto?  (Qwan-toh Qway-stah Ess-toh)
TIP:  A nice shortcut for this is to just say “¿Cuánto cuesta?”  Most Spanish speaking people will understand what you mean and, in fact, use this abbreviated phrase themselves.

 9)         My name is… / What is your name?
            Mi nombre es … (Mee Nohm-bray Ess) / ¿Cuál es su nombre? (Qwahl Ess Soo Nohm-bray)

 10)       I need a doctor!
            ¡Necesito un medico! (ness-seh-see-Toh Oon Mehd-ihk-oh)

Now that you have the basics . . . get out there and meet some people!

Running With The Bulls

Running With The Bulls

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Hi / Bye                                   Hola / Adios
  • Yes / No                                  Si / No
  • Please / Thank you                  Por favor / Gracias
  • Excuse me                               Perdón
  • Where is…?                            ¿Dónde está . . .?
  • Take me to…                          Llévame a…
  • Do you speak English?           ¿Hablas Inglés?
  • I don’t speak Spanish.             Yo no hablo Español.
  • How much is this?                  ¿Cuánto cuesta esto?
  • My name is…                          Mi nombre es …
  • What is your name?                ¿Cuál es su nombre?
  • I need a doctor!                      ¡Necesito un medico!

 Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      9/12/2013

Categories: Meetin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Be Like A Local In Hawaii

Napali Coastline

Napali Coastline

Imagine a tropical paradise isolated from everywhere in the middle of a vast ocean.  A place of magnificent beauty that remains at a constant 80° F (27° C) all year long.  A distant land where the briny smell of the ocean blends with the sweet aroma of tropical flowers and all carried on the trade winds.  This place is not a dream . . . it is Hawaii!

About 8 million people visit the Hawaiian Islands every year bringing their tourist dollars and acting as if they never left home.  (TIP:  For more on Hawaiian tourism, see: http://westhawaiitoday.com/sections/news/local-news/record-number-tourists-visit-hawaii.html – more detailed information: http://dbedt.hawaii.gov/visitor/)  Hawaii may be part of the United States of America, but it previously was a sovereign nation and still holds fast to many local customs and traditions.  Once you step out of the tourist areas you will stand out as an outsider.  So, how does one act like a Kama’aina (pronounced ka-ma-EYE-na) or a non-native local?  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kama’aina)

“Why should I act like a Kama’aina?” you may ask.  Because the Hawaiian Islands are so isolated from any other landmass, people living there tend to rely on each other on a daily basis.  Outsiders generally are indifferent to the locals and only bring tourist dollars or want something.  Once you step outside of that cycle, a whole new world opens up to you.  You get to see and do things that the average tourist only dreams about.

Hawaiian Fruit Stand

Hawaiian Fruit Stand

Let’s start out with how to dress like a local.  Both men and women dress pretty much the same . . . board shorts, T-shirt and flip-flop sandals.  While anything is generally accepted, you should steer away from your local shirts such as sport teams, schools, etc.  This is because you open yourself up to negative preconceptions before you even say hello.

OK, now that you look like a local, get out there and meet some people!  Start with “Aloha”.  To outsiders this may seem cheesy or cliché, but it is used everyday by Hawaiians to say “hello”, “good bye” or “I love you” (based on context).  If the person you are saying Aloha to says it back and seems interested in talking to you, ask them something that is relevant to the situation you are presently in together.  For example, if you are at a roadside food truck, ask what they recommend there.  Or, if you are at a beach, ask when the best time of day is to catch awesome waves.  Basically, asking them for their local expertise shows that you respect their opinion and culture and is sure to lead to some good conversations.

Hawaiians, by nature, are very curious about life outside of the islands and like to “talk story” with people.  So, if you get the opportunity, share your experiences or listen to theirs with them.  On one occasion, I was talking with a local about a state park that had closed.  I had asked him about the reasons for the closing and he had shared something deeply personal with me about it.  It is a story I will treasure the rest of my life and also the bond and trust that was formed.  On another occasion, I was talking with a person and he discovered that I liked hiking.  He offered to take me on a hike on private property that he and his family had access to.  These are experiences I would have never had if I had not taken the time to get to know and share with a new acquaintance.

When talking to a Hawaiian local, it is acceptable to use Hawaiian words like Aloha and Mahalo (thank you) peppered in with your normal conversation.  (TIP:  More on basic Hawaiian phrases: http://hawaiian-words.com/basics/common/)  But do not try to speak the local pidgin as you will appear foolish or condescending.  It is a common bond between locals that should only be entered into if you have a long standing relationship with someone from the islands.

If you are invited over to a local’s home, make sure to remove your shoes before entering.  This is a tradition that arrived with the Japanese immigrant population and has become part of everyday Hawaiian life.  It is rude to enter a Hawaiian home with your dirty shoes or sandals on.

The “Shaka Sign” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaka_sign) is used frequently on the Hawaiian Islands.  It means, “hi”, “how are you” and “thank you”.  It also denotes the Hawaiian spirit so you will see a lot of people, local and visitors alike, using it when taking a photo.  You may also see it being used by drivers.

Ray's Kiawe Broiled Chicken

Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken

Driving in the islands is much different from the mainland.  The pace of life is slower and gentler.  Aggressive driving is not acceptable behavior, so please leave that at home (this includes the use of the horn).  It is the norm for people to drive at the actual posted speed limits or slower . . . and that is OK.  If you have to be somewhere at a specific time, make sure to leave extra early to account for this slower pace or unexpected traffic.  Another anomaly on the Hawaiian Islands is courtesy.  People actually will stop to let pedestrians cross the roadway or another car enter into the line of cars.  As a matter of fact, this is the expected behavior.  The driver you let into traffic will often give you the Shaka Sign to say thank you . . . make sure to Shaka back.

If you have noticed throughout this article, I have referred to the Hawaiian people as locals NOT “natives”.  They are citizens of the United States of America and are proud to be both American and Hawaiian.  If you live in the USA, then refer to it as “the mainland” and NOT “back in the USA”.  If you remember this distinction, you are well on your way to being accepted.

Now that you know the basics, get out there and meet some people!!!

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Dress Locally: board shorts, T-shirt & sandals
  • Use basic Hawaiian words: aloha, mahalo, A hui hou (until we meet again)
  •  “Talk story” with the locals
  • Remove shoes/sandals before entering a home
  • Use the Shaka Sign often
  • Drive slower and more courteous
  • Hawaiians are “locals”, people from the lower 48 states are “mainlanders”, Alaskans are “Alaskans” or “mainlanders” too

 Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      7/25/2013

Categories: Behavin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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