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Barbers Three

As a boy, one of life’s rituals included the trip to John the Barber in Corte Madera, California. Like many young lads, I was never a fan of the haircut but my mother certainly was. For the record, my mom is beautiful – a fashion runway model that also made TV commercials and dresses impeccably well – she was justified in her obsession with my hair! Around that time, school sent us to our first opera called the Barber of Seville; isn’t that sweet vengeance for a sports obsessed boy?!?! Back to the story, mom would consult, critique, and have John correct any blemish on my scalp. John, meanwhile, raved about my thick hair and how wonderful it was to cut; something I still don’t understand to this day other than that thickness has nothing to do with hair loss – apologies to my sweet pea daughter and any future grandchildren! 

Flash forward to the present and my hair loss has multiplied abundantly. I’m blessed with a receding hairline and common balding on top. Super califreakadocious I say but I don’t have to look at it and thus, I don’t fret. Leticia has become my new John except that she uses one of those big razors to shave it off every 4-6 weeks; easy peasy and quite cost effective.

We brought a razor on this trip around the world specifically so I can continue my free cuts on the road. Well, it literally burned up  and nearly scalped me in Christ Church, New Zealand thanks to the wattage that razors don’t comply to! In Australia we started anew buying a cheap unreliable one that worked for our two month stay and then self-combusted in Indonesia. Finally, I consulted with my barber (Leticia) and we concluded that we might as well return to the traditional shop for my future cuts in Southeast Asia and that, my friends, is where the fun began.

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Rico suave!

I’ve tried cuts in nearly every country since. It usually starts with me walking around the town that we are residing searching for something close to barber status. Upon discovery, I enter with caution, evaluating the place to decide whether it really is a barber or a front for drug smugglers; I have this slight fear about barbers ever since I saw a gangster movie (I forget which one) where the barber slices the aorta of his mobster client and blood spurts all over the place. Anyway, I have yet to turn tail and run but some of the places have been questionable in nature.

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Sri Lankan goatee with fans in the background!

One of the early adventures was in Bangkok. Sebastian needed a cut too and we searched for a cheap spot which was tough since there are so many fashionistas prancing around that you can hardly tell the men from the women. We finally found one near our budget ($5 a head). The women took one look at us and you could tell they were excited to cut some western doo! We walk down this dark empty corridor, get separated into two rooms, and I cross my fingers that it’s all cool. It felt like we were in a western movie waiting for the evil Jesse James to come blasting in. My Bangkok lady – and no, this is not going where you may be thinking – starts cutting in this room with mirrors on all sides and a huge antique barber chair. Speaking no English, I worked on my pantomime to show her where and how much to cut which worked…and neither of us were kidnapped which is another bonus! The best cut was in Vientiane, Laos by a gay guy in a fashion stylist store; one of the benefits of Laos is that it is cheap and that guy gave the best head massage (no pun intended).

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And then I remember the two not so good but memorable cuts. The dump in Bali, Indonesia was packed with men sitting around their barber and smoking. Too tempting for me not to inquire, I immediately found myself in the chair ahead of everyone else as the center piece for the next 10 minutes. I fell victim to my first dry straight edge cut. Let’s just say that I got the cut but my skin felt a wee bit roughed up! Last and certainly not least is Kerala, India which was the worst and best if that makes sense. I scouted out this guy and told him I’d return with my son. Another complete dump shop but the price was right at $3 for both Sebastian and myself; note, this is where my mother cringes while reading back home in California! Anyway, me being the brave soul that I am, I have Sebastian go first – ha ha! No, really, and I do my best to act like my mom by critiquing as our barber, Saneesh, chats and cuts. Sebastian gets his cut, a nice head massage, and he looks ok to me. I jump into the semi-broken chair and am the recipient of not just a cut, but also a hair massage, chiropractic back straightening, and shave with full blown shaving cream and straight edge! Ok, so the cuts themselves were far from the best and our barber’s entertaining buddy asked me for a tip (for simply sitting there) but the perks of everything else was more than worth the $5 total. Thankfully, Leticia performed some manual corrections on both of us and we were happy campers in India.

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All clean in London

Let me close with the multi-national joke of the trip. Have you ever traveled with a near-expired passport? Mine is set to go next year and it shows me of prior life (10 years ago) with full hair. It caught me by surprise the first time in New Zealand but every country since then, I get the double-take stare, followed by a knowing smile and laughter (I like to entertain passport control dudes) at the photo comparison on my passport and balding reality today which is more of the wimpy skinhead look! Never ceases to ease my entry and put a smile on a boring job’s face! Now, time for me to go get my next cut…Cheers!

BRAZINDIA

combo flagYou are what you experience. Those experiences shape the way you think about everything from food and places to people and culture. It also creates bias, which I am when discussing Brazil and India, two beautiful countries with beautiful people.

handshake flagMy first visit to Brazil (1996 – wow, 19 years ago) left an indelible mark on my life. I had a productive professional time meeting with various companies and an even better time as a tourist of Rio de Janeiro and the Carioca culture. I have always joked that the one deal I did close was meeting my wife, Leticia! Ever since, I’ve loved getting to know more of the people, the music, food, and culture. We’ve traveled far and wide in Brazil and I’ve had a long-standing desire to live there someday for full immersion. Yes, the country has its problems with crime, drugs, and corruption but the beauty of Brazil is that the people are truly happy.

I then had the opportunity to travel to India (2000 – 15 years ago) on business. It was a short 2-week jaunt to a developing city, Ahmedbad (now major industrial city) between Mumbai and Delhi. I had a wonderful time working with a group of enthusiastic and positive Indians that are friends to this day. I remember flying home thinking how similar the Indians were to my Brazilian friends in terms of culture and demeanor. Ever since I have preached the commonality of these two cultures and here’s why:

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Demographics:

  • Population: India #2 (1.3 billion) + Brazil #5 (200 million)
  • Size: Brazil #5 (8.5 million km2) + India #7 (3.3 million km2)
  • Traffic + city crowds – controlled chaos!
  • Wildlife: Amazon jungle and tiger reserve parks
  • Long coastlines – Brazil’s beaches get the crowds while India’s don’t; one has tiny bikinis and the other has full pants!

Religion:

  • Largest Hindu + Catholic countries in the world. India is also the largest country for Sikh, Jains, Bahai, #3 for Muslims, and top 10 for Buddhists!
  • Weddings: Big, colorful, and expensive events!
  • Carnival in Brazil and Holi festival in India

People:

  • Super friendly and live life in the present.
  • Social butterflies: Watch the social interaction of each and hands wave, arms move, bodies gyrate to complement the words spoken.
  • Cool cats: The men act cool everywhere!
  • Spontaneous and loud: Don’t be surprised to see kids jump into a museum fountain or ladies screaming to be heard.
  • Gorgeous self-confident women! My personal bias speaketh.
  • Indian slums + Brazilian favelas: Slumdog Millionaire / City of God
Two of the Top 5 @ Miss World

Two of the Top 5 @ Miss World

History:

  • Colonial to independence.
  • Portuguese – Brazil + Goa/Kerala states in India.
  • Government democratic chaos known for corruption.
  • Both have had female leaders. Go Girls!!

Economics:

  • BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
  • The great divide: Billionaires along side masses of poverty.
  • Agriculture: #1+#2 in world sugar production – sweet!
  • Both countries are always on the cusp of breaking through but…

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Entertainment:

  • Wonders of the World: Taj Mahal & Corcovado.
  • In the arts, both are growing at a fast pace to world acclaim.
  • Brazil has its bossa nova music and India has Bollywood.
  • Cricket is to India as futebol (soccer) is to Brazil.

 This certainly does not do justice and you simply have to open your eyes to see the amazing people of both cultures. Once you do, you will find that we are all quite similar despite our different backgrounds and that it is better to compare positively to the masses than react negatively on the actions of a few. Thank you to all my Brazilian and Indian friends and family!

Namaste & Beijos

Winding through Hill Stations in Sri Lanka

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A tale of two towns is how to look at Kandy & Ella. Kandy, the central highlands capital, hosts chaotic traffic and crowds that loop a peaceful lake. It is also a sacred city for Buddhists thanks to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. We trained up the mountains from Colombo to arrive in Kandy with no plan, no hotel, and a big appetite! Relying on the tips of our Tuk Tuk driver (a big no-no for travelers!), we were promptly taken to Kevin’s Inn, which did sit on the lake (sounds pretty but isn’t) and provided us with a big room at a reasonable price. What we didn’t know until late in the evening was the paper thin walls; every scream from our loving neighbors stirred us into giggles of laughter!

We went for an all day tour north to Sigiriya, the 8th wonder of the world. It’s amazing and known widely as Lion’s Rock because of its shape. We hiked, sweated, and hiked to the top; the views are amazing and the climb can definitely be scary as you are on a tiny stairwell on the side of the rock.

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Standing at 200 meters high, the rock became the home for King Kasyapa 1500 years ago as protection from nearly everyone after he overthrew his father (and murdered him). He also usurped his brother to steal the throne. This evil guy eventually died in battle after his brother returned with a larger army to take back the throne.

As you climb the rock, you see paintings on the walls depicting daily life of the time; amazing that these are preserved. You can see stairs carved into parts of the rock that were once used to get to the top. On top, there is the former palace along with large areas for water and storage of supplies. This is one of 8 World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka and quite impressive indeed.

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paint sigiriya

Back in Kandy after a long day that included an expensive stop at a Spice Market thanks to the ladies, we ate a delicious local food that is basically chopped up noodles with veggies and some of the best juice drinks we’ve had. This weekend was Lord Buddha’s birth celebration; as you can imagine, Temple of the Tooth was packed with locals and tourists. Another World Heritage site, the Temple houses the relic tooth of Buddha after he died in 543 BC. Legend has it that Sri Lanka was chosen to be the home of the tooth relic because Buddha declared that his religion would be safe for 5,000 years there.

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Hopping the train to escape the crowds, we took a beautiful ride along the mountains to the small town of Ella. The train ride itself was worth it as we passed through lush jungle to tea plantations and mountain top views. Fortunately, we planned this stay and are thankful for that. Our accommodation at Mt. Zion gave us glorious mountain and valley views as well as a great starting point for day hikes. One day we hiked through tea plantations to the top of Little Adam’s Peak – a holy site and then ate a delicious lunch at 98 Acres resort before hiking some more. The next day, Leticia and I abandoned the kids to hike the biggest mountain with our guide sporting local flip-flops; a great workout and fun day together.

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We hike to this mountain top!

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View from our place of waterfalls + train

 

 

nap time!

nap time!

We enjoyed 3 of the best days of our trip in Sri Lanka with Ella. The weather pattern was amazing too as we would wake to sunshine and enjoy that until the late afternoon fog rolled in with a little rain; soon enough the sky would clear for the star gazing above. The food at our hotel, Mt. Zion, was so good that we never even ventured out for dinner; every night, they served a veggie spread of local dishes. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our friends at Zion and take a short (5 hour) bus ride down to the beaches of Arugam Bay, one of the top 10 surf spots in the world.

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Goodbye Ella!!!

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Zion’s guard dog