The East River and the Brooklyn Bridge from the unusually serene Brooklyn Promenade. Beijing awaits with equal serenity?
I am going to China – for at least one year.
I am returning to my journalism roots. I have accepted an editing job with the English-language China Daily in Beijing. The gig is under a one-year renewable contract, which means that at the end of the year I could sign on for another year, if it pleases my Chinese employers and it’s what I want. That’s far in the future. For now, I will focus on the year ahead.
I expect China to amuse and trouble. It’s that sort of country. But of course it’s hard to predict how any given country will turn out for any given expat. There are always unexpected twists and turns, and surprises.
I’ve been to China once before. it was back in the mid 1990’s. So I have some sense of the country.
But visiting for a few weeks versus moving into an apartment and becoming a full-time resident are two different things. During my first visit, I stayed in a nice hotel that catered exclusively to foreigners, largely journalists. This time around I will be living in a neighborhood with Chinese people, not just foreigners.
My presence in the neighborhood and interaction with neighbors should be interesting, to say the least.
I am in New York City, just taking it easy after a long trek across Europe. Europe was quite a run. I learned so much. And I’m still not done.
Sometime after Asia and Australia I hope to return to Europe to fully experience Eastern Europe, most of which I am yet to see. So many places and so little time.
So stay tuned my friends, and hang on for this ride into cultural differences highly likely elevated to absurd levels by language barriers (I do not speak Chinese, but I am teaching myself survival phrases).
I have been to most of the 50 states that comprise the United States of America – 49 of them to be exact – with Alaska the only one I’m yet to visit. I missed dozens of chances to visit Alaska when I lived in the state of Oregon, from which there were several daily flights to Alaska. So now Alaska tops my list of places I must visit in the United States. I will get there in due course.
Because of my having been to 49 of the 50 states, I am often asked which is my favorite or which ones are worth a visit. My simple answer is all of them – every state has something unique to offer. Some states, of course, have more to see and do than others and even more important, some welcome tourists and outsiders with open arms. In other words, the people are super friendly and welcoming.
The second question I get asked most is which American cities are the best to visit. Again, every city is different. But I do have my own Top 10 list of favorite U.S. cities and I often suggest they are not to be missed. Since everybody from Lonely Planet to Conde Nast have been producing lists of places to visit, why not me? 🙂 So here’s my list, of Top 10 U.S. cities to visit, in order of which you should try to visit first. I have spent a great deal of time in all these cities, and so I know them from fairly to very well. (click on the links on the corresponding links for more about each city). So drum roll, the cities in the United States not to be missed are:
New York, New York: So nice, they named it twice
1. New York – New York City is the largest city in the United States – with 8 million people chasing after something. It is my hometown, so you might say I am biased in my assessment of New York being the greatest city on Earth. I have been to cities large and small on every continent (except Australia – getting there!) and I am yet to experience a city like New York. Paris may be the most visited city on Earth but it does not hold a candle to New York and what New York offers. New York is indeed a city that never sleeps. You can do anything you want in New York at any time of day or night: Feel like going to a party at 10 in the morning? There’s one just getting started. Feeling sick from all that alcohol you’ve consumed? There’s a 24-hour drug store. Had a fight with your girlfriend at 2 in the morning and want to buy her flowers at 3 a.m.? There’s the florist selling flowers at that hour. Feel like breakfast at any hour of the day? You got it. Want to see a show? No problem. On and on. The city brims with excitement. And there’s so much free stuff happening in the city, it’s amusing to me that people say New York is expensive. It is to tourists who don’t do their homework – or know a local connected and in-the-know. The excitement from people chasing after something in New York indeed never stops.
2. Washington, D.C. – The nation’s capital, it’s packed with things to see and do year-round. Washington boasts monuments that are a must-see; cool neighborhoods with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes; and like New York, people from all over the world. It is also the nerve center of politics. Your embassy is highly likely somewhere in Washington. As a teenager, I spent summers in Washington, staying with an uncle and other relatives who live there. And as an adult, there always seemed a reason to return to Washington, either for work or for pleasure, sometimes both.
The Lincoln Memorial
3. San Francisco – One of America’s most beautiful cities. Also one of its most progressive and easy-going. It’s home to the famed Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars that roll along its hilly streets.
Golden Gate Bridge
This city by the bay is definitely my favorite in terms of the cool, kick back, light ’em up vibe. Not far from the city you can see giant sequoia trees, trees so massive in size they boggle the mind. I always enjoy getting back to San Francisco, but mostly in summer as the city tends to be foggy and damp and cold come winter.
4. Chicago – I used to go to Chicago only for conferences or other job-related reasons. Then during one of those conventions, I decided to stick around and actually see the city. It was summer and so I rented a bicycle and off I went. That’s when I gained a real appreciation for Chicago. Lots of outdoor activities, the lakefront beaches, the thriving neighborhoods; a bustling center, great restaurants! Once, I even decided to spend a winter in Chicago for the sheer experience. The Windy City lived up to its reputation, with temperatures dropping to below freezing and lots of snow falling and I loved it. Bundle up in winter and you should be fine. There are enough cafes to keep you warm. Take a trip to the top of what until recently was the tallest building in the United States – the Willis Tower – for spectacular views.
My kind of town…Chicago!
5. Seattle – I will never forget this: I was driving from Vancouver, Canada, back to Portland, Oregon, and when I reached Seattle at a point on Interstate 5, my jaw dropped. Before me was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen: The City of Seattle. It was striking, with snow-blanketed volcanoes looming large, the harbor, the gleaming buildings, the city lights. I felt as if I needed to share this picturesque moment with someone, so I got on the phone and called my friend Teresa to describe what I was seeing. Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, is a great city with lots of indoor and outdoor activities. It’s just a few hours drive to Vancouver, Canada, and a pleasant ferry ride to Victoria, Canada. It’s home to many hi-tech companies, including the behemoth Microsoft. The people of Seattle, as Pacific Northwestern folk tend to be, are among the most friendly and helpful and polite in the United States. Bring your walking shoes and take a trip into the woods or up a mountain. Mount Rainier is mesmerizing – an active volcano so close to the city – is worth seeing.
6. Portland – Ah, Portland. No, not Portland, Maine, but Portland, Oregon. This city is the most civil I’ve ever lived in in the United States, though some complain it has changed somewhat with the influx of the not-so-civil Californians 🙂 Still, Portland is a well-run city, a mini version of Seattle. Portland is also neighborhoods with shops and cafes.
Coffee fuels this town (as it does Seattle). And microbreweries. The city has a thriving nightlife, and a healthy rotation of monthly happenings. During the Rose Festival the city is even more alive. Have a stroll along Waterfront Park, or take a drive to Multnomah Falls for a nice hike. The city blends urban and nature well, with the largest urban forest in the United States, Forrest Park. I love Portland. I spent nearly 10 years living there and will always consider it my second hometown. On clear days, stare at Mount Hood. Everyone does.
7. Miami – Oh Miami. First of all, let’s get one thing straight: There is Miami and there is Miami Beach. The two are different cities that tend to be lumped together, but they couldn’t be more different. One – Miami Beach – is on a barrier island where the famed South Beach is located. Miami – the larger – is on the mainland and home to Little Havana and Little Haiti. Together, they are one gigantic thriving metropolis focused on fun, fun, fun. People come here for the weather, the beaches, the parties, the nightlife. You come to Miami/Miami Beach to let the good times roll. Miami/Miami Beach is definitely a playground for grown ups, with exposed hot bods everywhere. Try to connect with a local to find the bargains or learn where the best places are to not overspend. Drinks here are outrageously expensive, if you don’t know where to look. Enjoy the sun! And bring your Spanish to this heavily Latin city. It helps.
8. New Orleans – Let’s not talk about New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Wow-wee! Suffice to say it’s an anything goes, alcohol-fueled, sexy party. The French Quarter is where it all happens. There’s great music here, including some of the best jazz you’ll ever hear. And the food is uniquely New Orleans. Gumbo, anyone? I love the architecture in the French Quarter. And the uninhibited nature of things. I think I’ve seen it all here. If The United States had an Amsterdam, New Orleans would be it. Or would that be San Francisco? 🙂
The madness of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter
9. San Diego – A quick dash to Tijuana on the Mexican border, San Diego is a nice city with nice weather and perhaps some of the nicest people in California. I’ve made several trips here and I always felt relaxed in the city. It doesn’t have that hustle and bustle that other U.S. cities have. Or at least I’ve never sensed it. Come enjoy its beaches, its restaurants and its chilled nightlife. One of the few places in the United States you can actually swim in the Pacific Ocean and not feel you will freeze to death.
10. Los Angeles – Okay, anybody who knows me knows that I have little love for Los Angeles. It’s my least favorite large cities in the United States. I’ve never been impressed with the city, with its congested highways and smoggy air. Take away Hollywood and L.A. is even less impressive. But one year I saw L.A. with locals and I was more in tune with the city that I had ever been. There were a few cool bars without the pretentiousness that permeates this city. And I actually felt a new appreciation for the city. But it remains low on my list but still worth a visit because, after all, how can you deny Venice Beach? Or Santa Monica? Or several other sites and sounds of the city worth experiencing. Just good luck getting there with the traffic.
We either don’t realize it, dismiss it without a second thought, or outright choose to disregard the fact that we’ve just learned something new.
Zigzagging across Switzerland,
I just learned something new.
Travel reveals, uncovers, informs.
Had I not been traveling in Switzerland, just walking about Zürich, its largest city, perhaps I never would have learned about Freitag.
Freitag – which means “Friday” in German – was established 20 years ago. It is a multimillion-dollar company. It is an environmentally friendly company. It makes money by recycling used truck tarp and turning them into stylish but functional handbags. Freitag’s bags are as ubiquitous as Swiss cheese and wristwatches. The company is pretty high-profile. And yet, I had never heard of it.
How was that even possible?
Great view from the top of Freitag store in Zürich
A high-profile, multimillion-dollar
company with global reach, and playing a big role to save the planet, more than two decades old, with its products everywhere, and I didn’t even know it existed? A blow to the self-worth of any journalist who prides himself on being in the know.
As we walked about the city together, a Swiss friend pointed to the store and we entered. It’s an interesting store to begin with, built from old metal shipping containers stacked on top of each other to form several floors of retail space and a watchtower. Visitors are encouraged to climb to the top for a spectacular view of Zürich. Many just come to go to the top of the tower, not to shop, and that’s okay, a store clerk said.
He bagged this one in Bern, Switzerland
On every floor, the walls are lined with the bags, of all shapes, sizes and colors. My friend tried to explain Freitag’s concept, but then the store clerk took over. Basically, dirty, used truck tarp that would likely end up in landfills find new life as handbags. Freitag – the brainchild of Markus and Daniel Freitag – also uses discarded seatbelts and bicycle inner tubes in its products.
Based in Zurich, the company employs more than 150 workers, produces more than 400,000 products each year, and has stores in Berlin, Cologne, Davos, Hamburg, New York, Tokyo, Vienna, Lausanne, and Zurich. It also has more than 450 retail partners worldwide and an online store based in Zürich. Freitag was established and is still headquartered in Zürich.
An old tarp is no old bag
This “new” Swiss sensation does a big part toward saving the planet by recycling 440 tons of truck tarps per year, (that’s equivalent to a 68-mile-long line queue of transport trucks); 35,000 bicycle inner tubes and 288,000 car seatbelts.
And yet, I had never heard of it?
Since learning of its history and its existence, not a single day has gone by without noticing the bags on the streets in Switzerland. They are unmistakable. And they are everywhere and evidently hugely popular – at least in Switzerland – where they are a source of hometown pride.
I don’t know everything, of course, even if I’d like to think I do. I keep up on current events and can give you a summary of world events. And while I have no real interest in brand names or keeping up with the latest fashions, I have two eyes and notice things. Sorry Freitag – for 20 years you went unnoticed. Was it you or was it me?
Coffeehouses and Freitag seem to go shoulder to shoulder. Photo courtesy of Yannis Claude.
But now I can’t take two steps just about anywhere in Switzerland – and perhaps the world, as the bags and assorted products have gone global – without bumping into someone with a Freitag bag. The bags are popular among people of all ages, but largely young and hip men and women who sling them over their shoulders.
Packing them in
I love environmentally conscious companies. I’m more likely to spend my money with them. Thanks to travel, every day I learn that I have so much more to learn. It could be about something that took me 20 years to learn or something that occurred today. But learning every day is a blessing, even if it’s something seemingly insignificant or unimportant as the existence of a bag made from tarp.