Monthly Archives: May 2014

What is the difference between a $15 massage and a $120 massage?

I am baffled by the price discrepency in pricing here. In Los Angeles County you can get a massage for as little as $15 and as high as $120? What are the differences here?

For one, to get the $15 massage you need a degree in Chinese language and literature, otherwise you won’t be able to communicate. Fortunately, I got my degree in the right subject. I have been trying out different places just to see the difference in quality. It has been very interesting! The reality of Chinese massage places in Los Angeles are that the practitioners are mostly people who can’t find a “real” job in their field. The quality of the massage ranges from okay to horrible.

My best experience was today. I had foot massage with a male masseur which is rare these days. He was a former bus driver in Tien-Jing. Very nice guy. I liked the place too. It was on Valley Blvd., in San Gabriel. It was a small place where there were ten very comfortable red beds with green towels on top all in one room. I thought the people were very friendly. Actually, they were the most friendly people I have ever met in the business. Thank God I studied Chinese otherwise I would never have met these people! The practitioner was decent at massage. I don’t like how every Chinese person I have ever met wears latex gloves while doing foot massage. They do this because they are afraid of micro-bacterial infections which are hard to get rid of on the feet.

In this business, Chinese will normally charge $15-$25 per hour. How they make a living, pay rent, and pay their employees on this wage, I have no idea. Thais typically charge $40-$70 per hour with $47 being about average according to my math. Thais will use their hands, knees and feet while doing foot or body massage. They do not use gloves, and typically will use some type of lotion. The quality of the lotion can really vary. Some people have good taste and use lotions that smell heavenly, while others use very synthetic smelling lubricants for massage (not tasteful.) In my experience, the Thais as a whole lot more graceful and skilled than the Chinese at massage. I guess I studied the wrong language at school.

But, who are the really expensive people, and where are they? For years I went to an elderly Korean woman. She had decades of experience and the best skills in town. I eventually stopped going, not because of the price, but because her hours of operation were too early for me. I’m available at night, not during the day, because I work for a living. She was $100 per hour and worth it. Those who work at fancy spas and large hotels often charge $100 or more. I’m not sure if they are worth it, but they will most likely be professionally trained and speak English which is a nice perk.

The bottom line is that you are really paying for language skills and the neighborhood as much as you are paying for service. I am not encouraging you to go to a bad neighborhood to find cheaper service, as it will probably not be as good in my experience. Just keep in mind, that paying more, isn’t always worth what you are paying. There are excellent places offering service for $45. To me, that is minimum wage for professional quality service. Those with service cheaper than that either have a poor facility, substandard practitioners, or are have something else wrong

Hotel reward programs. Which ones are best?

I love to travel. I’m not rich or anything, but nothing is better than exploring different environments and getting a break from the rat race. From long time back I have been a member of Choice Privileges. They advertise on television these days with very goofy commercials. Their reward program is one of the best I’ve tried and one of the most generous.

The Choice Network

There are many hotel chains that are part of the Choice network such as Comfort Inn/Suites, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Cambria Suites, Suburban, Roadway Inn, Econolodge, Clarion, a handful of boutique hotels and more!

Racking in the points is easy if…
The point accumulation for each stay changes based on when they are having promotions. Promotions are usually during the off seasons, but that is okay, because I travel throughout the year. Sometimes your point accumulation is based on a percentage of what you spent, and sometimes you get points per stay. It is easy to rack up tons of points if you jump from hotel to hotel every night.

My strategy
When I travel, I want to stay where I want to stay. I choose the general area, and want to stay at a hotel I like. Choice doesn’t always have a hotel, or a hotel that I like where I am going which is why I am a member of several other networks. I like to keep my options open. But, if you stay at one of Choice’s less expensive locations, with an AAA card, you can book a room for around $50-80 in many cases. Choice often offers 8000 points for every two stays. You can cash in your points to get hotel rooms from 10,000 to 16,000 points in most cases. Rates vary from hotel to hotel and from season to season so don’t quote me on that point offering. Basically, if you stay three times during a promotion, you can get a free room! There is no other hotel network that generous on a regular basis. Now, you know why Choice is generally my first choice!

Best Western
I am also a Best Western rewards member. Best Western is an eclectic chain of hotels that don’t belong under the same brand. There are hotels with urban themes, beach themes, gold country themes, desert themes, and more. The quality of the staff ranges from wonderful to horrible as well depending on where you stay. The rewards system is better than nothing. But, basically if you stay around twenty times, you can rack up enough points to get a free stay. If you are going to stay with them anyway on a regular basis, then it is worth it. But, if you really want to rack up points, Choice is the network for you if they have hotels where you are going to stay.

Hilton, Hyatt, and other programs
The other chains out there are not so generous with points. Sure you can get points, but you need to stay about 15-20 times in general to get a free night with these plans. You can use credit card points to get free stays too, but you need to really spend a lot of money to get anywhere. If you can use your business expenses to rack up points, that is a good strategy that I used for years.

Other strategies
If you are not particular when you stay at a particular place, you can wait for them to have a really inexpensive night. It is often easy to bargain with hotels when they are under-booked. There are also many websites where you can get bargain basement prices on hotels. I prefer to book direct because I don’t like fooling around with websites. I also ran into a hotel agent by sheer accident. She got me great rates at very classy places downtown which I enjoyed tremendously. But, you can do what works for you!

Boutique hotels, what are they all about?

Besides the cool name and concept, boutique hotels are a lot of fun. I have stayed at a handful of boutique hotels and will vouch for the experience. Not all boutique hotels are alike, and prices can really vary. There was one in Sacramento that was very reasonably priced around $100 per night while others can go as high as $400.

The design…
The concept of a boutique hotel is that they are very unique first of all. You will not feel like you are in a chain hotel by any means. The design is generally very thoughtful and you can tell that they spent a mint hiring an interior decorator. There are normally many little finishing touches. The note pad might be cutesy tootsy, and the design of the dresser might match the carpeting. But, there’s more.

The staff…
The staff at a boutique hotel are typically a lot more fun than regular hotel staff. Almost all hotels choose front desk folks who are pleasant to talk to. It is sort of a must in the industry, otherwise your clients will be repelled. But, boutique hotels typically have staff that are not only pleasant, but really interesting and cool as people. I tend to spend far too much time gossiping with the staff whenever I go to this type of place. Many of our local cafes have very cool staff too — maybe they should merge coffee houses and boutique hotels together since the type of people they attract are similar.

The extras..
A stay at a boutique hotel is not complete if you didn’t receive a few things that are above and beyond what typical hotels offer. One place in Napa offered mini chocolates upon my arrival. A maid actually came to my door in uniform and asked if I would like some chocolates. I informed her that I was a chocoholic and that I would take a few extra — thanks very much! Another hotel offered me a few glasses of free wine with a voucher. The lady in the wine area actually got my jokes (nobody else does, must be because they are in a University area.) One hotel had a concierge that gave me hiking advice, map printouts and more.

Customized breakfasts…
Several of the boutique hotels I went to had customized breakfasts. They let you check off a form, and they give you the breakfast you ordered — they bring it to your room. OMG!

The cost of a boutique hotel tends to be about 70% higher than an economy hotel. Is it worth it? My feeling is that my emotional health is so much better after staying in one of these places. It is just so pleasant having nice people to talk to, and getting little extras. It makes me want to go into the hotel business and do lots of little unique things that nobody else does as well.

Do you pick the pic first, or do you pick the blog title?

It’s funny. I normally don’t put pics in my blogs. I feel that it is not worth the money unless I have something spectacular. I’m not into photography. I could start taking pictures if my blog takes off, but I don’t feel it is worth it at this point.

But, I needed a pic for my meander411 icon. We just started our twitter account for meander411 a few days ago. I saw all types of great pics from Thailand, Cambodia, Morocco, Bali, Guatemala, and other exotic locations. When picking a pic for an icon, you need something that has clear colors, and will look good small. Most pics don’t meet that criteria. It also needs to grab attention and set the mood for the account.

We still haven’t narrowed our choice down yet. We have eight attractive pics mostly from Southeast Asia. I like the ones of the beach in Thailand with rock formations in the clear aqua waters. It is simple, attractive, and sets the mood for my blog as well.

But, when I saw other pics of exciting places in the world, the only thing I thought was — I should write blogs around these pics, and not source pics based on blogs. I saw several great pics of the Thai floating market. Imagine writing about that location. I’ve never been there, but I can read about other people’s experience there and put something fun together. The pictures are fabulous and not expensive either. Then, there were pictures from Anghor Watt. Another great location.

I like photos of places in Latin America and the Middle East, but those aren’t places that are as “universally” appreciated such as the culture of Thailand and Southeast Asia. I’ve never heard of anyone with Thai-aphobia even if they don’t like mass amounts of chili pepper.

If my fascination with pics gets any further, I’ll have to buy a great camera and take my own pics. The blogs that go viral on stumbleupon are often ones with amazing pictures of breathtaking places around the world!

He wrote a blog about appreciating life while facing death.

I was at Whole Foods market. I started a conversation with some interesting guys who were talking about who they were going to hire. They wrote for a blog about people with terminal diseases who were appreciating life more, now that it wasn’t something to be taken for granted. My mother died slowly of cancer, so I am familiar with how dying people think.

But, in my life, I have never faced death. However, I have had some scary situations which made me reconsider life and death. Being in a rick shaw in India is scary. They drive so erratically in and out of traffic, having dozens of near miss head on collisions on your way to your destination. If you get into such a vehicle in Mumbai, you will gain a new appreciation for life, and for God. Even athiests will start talking to Got in such a situation! But, there are other situations.

Learning that you will never be liked in a particular group sort of makes you feel like your life is over, or ruined. If you have ever been in that situation, you know how it feels. It is worse than dying. You’ll still be alive, but without having what means something to you. Breaking up with your the best girlfriend you ever had is similar and can make you feel hopeless.

My favorite example is more spiritual in nature. When you get on a plane to go to a faraway destination in another country across a wide ocean — that is the closest approximation to death that I can think of. You leave everything behind. If nobody comes to feed your cat, or pay your bills, it just won’t happen. You leave the culture you know behind you and you are going to a completely different realm where everything is different. It is sort of like earth, and going to an ethereal reality like heaven or hell. Mumbai is more like hell, until you try the pani-poori — then it is heaven — until you get dysentery from the pani-poori — then it is back to hell again! I always feel a sense of anxiety as the plane is taking off. What if we crash and I die. It would be a fast death, so that is okay. What if I forgot to turn the stove off. What if this, what if that. Then, I go into more of a submissive state, and have a glass of wine. I start to think about what I’m going to do in Singapore, India, Denmark, or wherever I’m going.

I will say one thing spiritual about travel. My housemate said this to me, and I feel the same way. Two days before I went to India, my mind was filled with all the appointments I needed to go to, the train connections, the things I needed to do. My consciousness was already in India. My housemate Maria said, “I feel like you are in India already!” She was right. Kabbalah has a lot to say about having your consciousness go to a certain place first, and then the reality follows!

Does your hotel room have mites? It might!

Do you travel a lot? I do. If you stay at high end places, you will have clean hotel rooms — guaranteed.
But, if you travel on a budget, you might be better off roughing it and sleeping in a tent.

Mites are a microscopic life form that live on laundry or bedding materials that haven’t been washed for a while. To get rid of them you can spray poison, but that will kill your plants and will make you feel depressed, or even sick as your body reacts to the toxicity. The easier solution is to wash your bedding.

Budget hotels don’t charge much, and by definition, don’t maintain their infrastructure in as thorough a way as the higher end guys do. Hotels have to wash their sheets every time a guest leaves, or with long term guests, every few days. But, how often do they wash the blankets or bedspreads? To me, the difference between a desirable hotel and a yucky one is how often they wash the bedding — ALL of the bedding. How quiet the hotel is, and how nice they are to you the next morning matter a lot too..

So, when I’m researching hotels for trips to places I’ve never been before, only two questions arise in my mind:
(1) How often do you wash the bedding, and
(2) Will you respect me in the morning (by observing the don’t disturb sign)

Are you safer hiking alone, or with a buddy?

I do most of my hiking alone, and without issue. Some people feel it is safer to hike with a friend. Honestly, there are various angles to the safety issue. If you go hiking, the most common bad things that can happen to you are:

(1) Exhaustion
(2) Dehydration
(3) Slipping or Tripping
(4) Being bitten by spiders, ticks, bees, etc.
(5) Getting lost after dark

It is very rare that humans are attacked by animals or other humans while hiking, so that is not an issue that I wish to consider. Hiking with a buddy will not help you be less exhausted or dehydrated. Hiking with a buddy will not make it any less likely that you will trip or fall. You can laugh loudly while your friend cracks a joke, opening your mouth wide enough for an insect to come inside as well. Lastly, this is a more serious issue — if you hike with a friend, you will be more likely to be adverturous, and get lost after dark.

Two of the most dangerous hiking trips happened with friends. We were having a good time exploring a new trail. When you are with a friend, you pay less attention to the twists in the trail and more attention to your friend which means you are more likely to get lost coming back. I was smart enough to bring multiple flashlights with functional batteries with me. My friend brought none. I brought plenty of liquids. My friend didn’t bring any. My friend wanted to meditate for 45 minutes as the sun was getting lower and lower. I didn’t want to be a party pooper and rush her, but seriously — this is dangerous. You don’t want to get stuck on a mountain in Sedona with the sun setting. The fact that the spirits I call “The guardian spirits” were upset with our/her presence made it much worse. The spirits there had a reputation for making sure people would lose their way, and it almost worked with us. They just don’t like certain people, and nobody knows why. They are protective of their sacred land and Sedona is sacred to the local tribes. In any case, we barely made it out alive. The sun had completely set by the time we made it to flat ground, and fortunately we knew what to do from then to get to the car.

My other dangerous experience was with another friend. It was in the Southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. We hiked in the desert. The trail unfortunately twists and turns and goes through long sections of washes. The problem is that you lose the trail when you are hiking on a sandy wash. Coming back at night, it is easy to lose track of where you are supposed to go. You could easily dehydrate and die out there with nobody to save you. Luckily, my friend remembered the way back. So, we didn’t die. But, I don’t want any more close calls.

You are safer hiking where you know the trail. If you are hiking in a new place, it might make sense to take notes as to where the trail twists. It might help, or might not help jog your memory.

I know you’re all wondering — what about the hiking expedition and the rattlesnake? I considered throwing rocks at it from a distance, but decided to go and take the longer trail back down. Why take chances with a rattlesnake taking a snooze on a sandy trail at Griffith Park?

The End.

Oh, by the way, before it slips my mind. You are much safer hiking with a group that knows the terrain. That eliminates the possibility of getting lost, and someone can go for help if you get injured. Groups don’t always provide a pleasant social atmosphere as hikers are notoriously unfriendly. Yes, it is the rock climbers who seem to “always” be friendly. I’m not sure why that anomaly of nature exists, but it seems to always be that way.

Assuming you like hiking more than rock climbing, but value the “quality” of your accompaniments:

Heaven = going hiking with rock climbers
Hell = going rock climbing with hikers