The Search for a Better Place

All travel writing is based on the concept that some places are better or at least more interesting than others, and that there are a few certain places that are absolutely fabulous, and if you could only visit them you would never be unhappy again. At some level we all know that’s nonsense, but that doesn’t stop people from dreaming that such places exist.

Those of us who spend the greater portion of our disposable income on travel, find that photographs are notoriously unreliable when it comes to really capturing the essence of a place, and what it does and doesn’t have to offer either the casual visitor or the permanent resident. But a photograph, with its predictable boundary, does offer a tiny window into a greater world, a world fleshed out and filled in by the viewer’s imagination.

If we look back on our lives, golden moments we cherish haven’t depended so much on where we were as what we were doing and whom we were with at the time. But activity and people are harder to summon than an image. So, for the sake of expediency, we confuse adventure with its visual representation.

I value travel photography for the fact that it gives me something to do when I travel. Armed with my trusty camera, I face each day with an objective, to take an interesting picture. The more I practice, the better I get. So my camera is like a musical instrument, and what I take pictures of are like the musical scores I practice until I can play.

here is a link to some photos I shot one morning here in Dubai


Travel has never before been more affordable

Sure, airfares have climbed a little lately, but in general, travel to inexpensive parts of the world has never been more affordable for most people. When Mark Twain traveled abroad a hundred and thirty years ago, travel was only for the rich. When airfares were deregulated in the seventies, ticket prices started to drop all over the world, and to this day, if you averse to work and don’t mind living like a beatnik or hobo, you can find someplace in the world where people will be more than glad to help you do so. Dubai is not one of those places. But there are many perfectly delightful spots in Southeast Asia and Latin America where a modern-day Thoreau could wile away the hours, gazing at dust motes dancing a sun beam and watching the clouds float across the sky.

Walking to Work (yet again)

I’ve been walking to school for fifty-six years. I started the process in 1956, when I walked to kindergarten in Flossmoor, Illinois. Then I walked to school in Philadelphia, South Dakota, St. Louis, rode a bike to school in Columbia, Missouri and Iowa City, Iowa, took a break from school for ten years in San Francisco, but then the school addiction kicked in again, this time as a teacher, and I rode a motorcycle to San Francisco State, went back to Iowa for the longest stretch of all, then on to Thailand, and now Dubai. For somebody who keeps posting rants against education, I sure have spent a lot of time in school.

My latest walk to school is quite different than the others I’ve enjoyed. Here, on the edge of the city, it’s pure desert. Our apartment building is right across from the school. There’s nothing else out here. Most of the apartment buildings are empty, though some have been completed for years.




There’s a stray cat that lives in some refuse that’s settled along the outer wall of our building. It seems comfortably housed and I suppose it somehow gets enough to eat and drink. I said “hello” to it this morning and it meowed back.

My last week in International City

We’ve already rented an apartment across from the Academic  City. But they won’t turn the power on. We’ve paid everything, but it’s a Middle Eastern thing, a glitch that everyone warned me about, that nothing really works the way you think it should so just accept and do your best to relax. So we’re paying thirty dollars a day for an apartment we can’t occupy, but then we’re being housed for free in International City. This place is a Fellini set if ever there was one. Remember the housing projects outside of Rome where Giuletta Massina lived in The Nights of Cabiria? That opening scene where her “boyfriend” steals her purse and shoves her into the river to drown? That’s what this place is like. It’s full of lonely Indian men and a very few women and children. It’s not nice, it’s not horrible, it just is what it is. Since I haven’t figured out how to put multiple pictures in this blog, I’m just going to attach one last photo of this place which I think epitomizes the vibe, which, as I said, is surreal, melancholy, haunting, Fellini-esque.




Mentioning race is not off limits here.

This is a remarkably “can do” kind of place. In forty years Dubai has managed to house an international populace embracing over 200 nationalities, the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest golf course, and me. Yes, I’m Dubai’s latest attraction, having just spent the last year in Thailand.

In Thailand,  I was amazed to see want ads that read “Attractive, slim 25-year-old female sought for office manager position.” Routinely, university teaching positions were only open to people under the age of fifty-five. But Dubai has taken racism, sexism and ageism to new heights. Here you can’t even rent an apartment if you’re the wrong race, gender or religion.

Emirati’s, the Arabs who are actually from Dubai, run the place. Filipinos, Pakistanis and Indians do most of the service work for them. There is a tight-knit fraternity of Indian multi-millionaires who are important to the UAE economy, but the real power in this country is held by Emirati’s.

Recently, the government admitted that twenty percent of the young Emirati’s applying for marriage licenses were planning to marry their first cousins! As Sly and the Family Stone sang, “It’s a family affair.”
News articles omit actually naming the individuals concerned, but instead report their ethnicity.  Last week I read “Two Tunisian men were sentenced to three years in prison each for taunting an Emirati policeman who was taking a shower on the beach. They accused him of being gay and cursed God.”

Religion in Your Face (or Ears)



It’s five in the morning and I hear the call for prayer outside my window. I’ve gotten used to it, sort of, the way I got used to the Buddhist monks chanting over loudspeakers from the nearby temple in Thailand or Burma.  In Mexico I had to get used to church bells. It still amazes me that people in most parts of the world don’t think anyone has an aural right to privacy. And in most places, there is a state religion. It wouldn’t occur to them that it shouldn’t be so. Only in America do we assume that religion should be a matter of choice. We do, however, not tax religions, which, in effect, is a direct subsidy. I’m content to keep my opinions to myself on that one. I wish others would keep their religious chanting to themselves or at least stay away from microphones and loudspeakers when they do it.

My morning and afternoon commute to and from work.

OK, I know I’ve been crowing about the joys of being retired, but I got offered a job that seemed promising,

and so I’m back teaching at a University. This week we move into our new apartment, which is in a vast, mostly vacant apartment complex called University View Apartments. The Universities they view are all housed in a complex called “Academic City, which is directly across from our building. Just cross twenty acres of sand and there you are. Of course, if I were to stumble and fall, I might be  a bundle of bleached bones before anyone discovered me, as I’m the only person who walks to work in this area.

Dubai, the Polar Opposite of Thailand

In Thailand, women are everywhere. They’re more visible than men. I don’t know what the men are up to, maybe they’re home drinking or taking care of the kids, but women are highly visible. Here, men outnumber women ten to one. The metro train has a special car for women, and in that car, men are not allowed, though women can be in the men’s car. The bus has a special section for women. Quite often, women are veiled in public, and dressed in black from head to toe, with only a little window for the eyes. Sometimes that’s not even there, and they have to see through the fabric.

In Chiang Mai, I rode a motor scooter or bicycle to get around. Here, it’s like living in Texas. You have to drive or be driven everywhere. There is mass transit, but it only works for a small section of the city .Unfortunately, nothing in my life here corresponds to that section. So we’ll be buying a car as soon as we get a permanent residency visa.

Prices here are about the same as in the States for most things, which means they’re about three to five times higher than in Thailand.

So Thailand is a great place to live on social security retirement, and this might be a great place to live if you want to make money. I don’t know. Jury’s still out on that one.

Hello Dubai, So Long Chiang Mai

We’ve relocated for a year’s gig in Dubai. I am no longer retired. Weird. I, who had assumed and even vowed never to work again, may be back in the higher education business for a while longer. It doesn’t seem real yet because I haven’t show up for work yet. I’m sitting in the lobby of our hotel, surrounded by Russian tourists. It just got cold up north, and the prospect of bright sun and blistering heat appeals to our Slavic brothers and sisters. The sisters are often striking, tall, blond, and racily dressed.

Here, there are 11 expatriates to every 1 emerati. Last night we went to a fancy shopping mall and the emerati stood out, the men in their immaculate white robes.  Prices here are three times what they are in Thailand. Glad I’ll be employed in my time here.

The hardest part of all this is going to be the fact that I won’t be able to zip around on my scooter. There are no scooters here. It’s too hot to walk or ride a bike. I’m going to become taxi dependent. I hate taxis.

On the other hand, I probably won’t get injured in a traffic accident, and racing around Chiang Mai on my Cadillac of scooters, the Honda PCX150, it was only a matter of time before I would have ended up in the emergency room, conscious or not.

The interesting part about getting older is I have developed a faith in the inevitability of change. When I was younger, I was terrified of boredom. Now, I realize that from a larger perspective, nothing stays the same for long.  That can be something you either dread or eagerly await. I choose the latter emotion.


Thai Sex


Thailand has a reputation as a place where sex can be bought on any street corner. This reputation is largely deserved. Thai attitudes towards sex are refreshingly un-Puritanical. No one snickers about sex. It’s too important to the economy.

During the Viet-Nam war, the United States used Thailand as its regional rest and relaxation center. I don’t know if we seduced or converted them into providing this service, but from all accounts they were eager and willing to do so.

When polled, sixty-five percent of tourists list sex as their prime reason to visiting the Kingdom of Smiles.

Prostitution isn’t just confined to foreign men and Thai women. Ninety five percent of Thai men confess to using prostitutes. A similar confidential poll reveals that ninety-five percent of married Thai men admit to regularly being unfaithful, as to eight-five percent of Thai women. Sexual fidelity seems rare in the Kingdom.

Every Thai sex worker financially supports five other adults. That’s not counting the children that are being supported.

So even though there is no law in Thailand against prostitution, because it officially doesn’t exist (a very Thai way of looking at many problems) it would be insane for them to outlaw prostitution. To do so would simply encourage corruption by the police and plunge the economy into recession. There are official government efforts to discourage and reduce pedophilia. From what I read in the newspapers, most of that market has been taken up by Thailand’s poorer neighbor, Cambodia.

I’m not here to argue the pros and cons of prostitution, but just want to say that it’s refreshing to see how openly its practiced and how few people look down their noses at it or its practitioners. It’s a fact of life, and they seem to have accepted it with equanimity. The north-eastern province of Issan, which is highly agricultural and lacking in industry, is also densely populated.  Most of the girls who practice in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai, come from Issan. The money they send home provides for parents and relatives who care for the children of these working women.

If you want a guide to how to avail yourself of this industry, there are plenty of guidebooks available on Amazon.