Monthly Archives: July 2014

Review of Mud Hen Tavern, Los Angeles, CA

I recently had to treat my housemate to a birthday dinner. We didn’t know where to go. It was either a jazz restaurant, Black Dog or Mud Hen. If there had been a restaurant called the Angry Pig, I’m sure that would have been on the list as well.

Mud Hen is an innovative restaurant with a very satisfying menu. I ordered a variety of dishes which we mostly shared. The lamb meatballs were excellent. The asparagus with sesame almond sauce was very satisfying as well. I also had a very unusual dish called a Scotch Egg. It was an egg, covered with sausage, and then breaded and deep fried, served with a watercress salad and aioli. Very satisfying and unusual.

The dish that was the most sophisticated was the pumpkin ravioli. It was served with wild mushrooms, kale, garlic, and we skipped the cheese since I don’t like cheese. It was a very delicate dish with softer flavors.

I decided to end the evening with a Whiskey BBQ Brisket. I got it with vegetables instead of the potatoes au gratin. Wow! This dish was oozing with flavor, and the apple puree sauce to the right and the white horshradish dip to the left blended perfectly with the rich and spicy flavor of the seasoned meat! Yum!

The service is great, and they got a few of my jokes. But, here is how I would have “done up” this ecclectic Los Angeles restaurant.

Hollywood version, not based on reality…

A cage for two…
Mud Hen Tavern is a great place to eat if you don’t mind feeling cooped up. The stalls are all surrounded by chicken wire. However, out of respect to their clientele, they offer “open-cage” dining in the patio! I ordered a light meal. After ten minutes, the waiter came back wearing a beak, feathers, and carrying a bird feeder that had the contents of my meal. This has been the most interesting meal I’ve had since I was hatched.

As I was perched in my chair, and had barely pecked at my food, I just felt like such a bird-brain for ordering more than I could eat. Food isn’t cheap in Los Angeles. Then, the waiter, the head waiter, and the head-head waiter arrived to ask me what my experience was at their restaurant. I said it was good, but that I didn’t understand the significance of their pecking order. How much seniority do you need to be a head-head waiter, or does it only depend on how “good” you are? They told me that their seniority was just for the entertainment purposes of their guests and that they were all equals there, or at least pretended to be that way.

Then, they asked me if I wanted to do wine tasting — they had a wine tasting flight of something from LAX vineyards. It was a blend of a Cab, Merlot, and a shuttle! The wine was fun, but I felt that my feathers had been ruffled when I got the bill for the party of twelve next to me. $300? A simple mistake!

After the meal I said, “The food was great, and thank you for not injecting me with hormones!” They said, “We don’t do that here. We prefer to have free-range hormone free clients!”

Then, I signed my credit card printout, but they couldn’t read the signature because it was written in chicken scratch! The Mastercard transaction was approved, and after that I drove back to my nest to see if I had any new followers on Twitter — how befitting!

(1) Welcome to Mud Hen Tavern. Yes, we’d like a cage for two please! Just don’t inject us with hormones!
(2) Mud Hen Tavern is a great place to dine if you don’t mind feeling cooped up. The stalls are all surrounded by chicken wire.

The Death of a Guru

I am a frequent guest of the Ananda Ashram (expanding light) in Nevada City.
I have been going there to meditate since 2010. I visit several times a year and meditate several hours per day for several days in a row in their small meditation shrine. I never met their guru Swami Kriyananda, but heard many wonderful things about him from his followers. People who knew him mentioned how kind he was. From looking at his picture, it radiates divine grace, and tells me everything I need to know about him. Pictures are actually deeply spiritual — perhaps that is why they were prohibited in Judaism and Islam?

The Woman who met the guru
My most meaningful experience at the Ashram was not from a personal spiritual experience, although I had many. It was from meeting an older lady who had meditated with Kriyananda. She had amazing spiritual visions and an amazing personal spiritual transformation after spending just a short amount of time with this American guru. America is a land of spiritual poverty, and it is wonderful to have a capable guru born into our country and into our culture!

My Experiences
I had many spiritual experiences myself. Once after hours of meditation, I was in a daze for hours. I had no desire to talk. I just sat and stared at the beautiful pine trees. It was a very deep experience. Other experiences were of spiritual cleaning and bhog (Hindi term relating to the effects of spiritual cleaning.) I experienced all types of unusual occurrences after meditating. Most of them were unpleasant, but that is not a bad thing spiritually as it implies that something bad from within me had been clean. One time I was tailgated by a guy with road rage. Another time I got locked out my hotel room, and then my car needed to be jump-started. Another time, I got violently ill and vomited all over a local hiking trail. There were many other unusual experiences, but the best experiences were the deep meditations.

What I didn’t realize
As a visitor to this mission that I was not a member of, I overlooked several things. I didn’t really know this mission from an insider’s view. As I visited more often, I realized that I met many wonderful people, but never saw them again. This was a retreat center that catered to strangers, and every time you come, it is a completely different crowd. The 800 residents keep out of site, so it is hard to meet them as a guest.

An ethereal blanket of angelic grace!
I also didn’t realize that the guru had cast an “Ethereal blanket of angelic grace” upon the group. The land still has a very powerful spiritual grace. I don’t know if it is innate to the land as some sacred lands are, or if it was purely due to the guru’s divine grace. Please keep in mind that there are many spirits who visit this blessed land as well such as the spirits of deceased gurus in the lineage of gurus that they follow at Ananda. The guru lived from May 19, 1926 to April 21, 2013. I didn’t realize he was so old. I heard about his death in an email. I had no idea how his death would impact the group, or my involvement as a visitor to their venue. People at the ashram have become more paranoid, less friendly, more pestilent, and less spiritual. The reality is quite sad actually.

A lovey dovey group turned sour
The people I met at The Expanding Light Ashram had always been happy-go-lucky. There was not a mean streak in the entire group. I didn’t know how spiritually evolved they were, but they had a quality of niceness to them that all other spiritual groups that I had visited lacked, and I’ve visited dozens of groups. Everyone had been very nice to me for years. But, just around the time of Swami-ji’s death, things turned around. The staff and members started bothering me for no reason. Everywhere I went, people asked, ‘Can I help you, can I help you?” I told them that I didn’t ask for help, and didn’t need help. They insisted that I looked like I needed help. The reality is that any new face that they haven’t seen seems like someone they should bug. I spend hours meditating to cultivate a pure state of mind, and people antagonizing me undermines my mental state. I think that these pestilent people don’t really want to help me, they are really treating me like an unwelcomed guest. They are really behaving like members of an elite private school and want to know, “What is someone like you doing here?” I have been donating to their group for years, and resent this insulting and annoying behavior. It is just plain rude and unnecessary.

A “Cause for concern”
I think this happened because of some karmic cleaning, but it is still no excuse. The manager of this group never took the time to get to know me even though I have been to their venue over 70 times in the last four years. I was told that I could come and meditate day or night and that there was no problem. Since the group had always been warm and friendly to me, I had no idea that I couldn’t stick my head into a class. I had visited more than a dozen classes before and enjoyed the content. How was I supposed to know I had stepped on a land mine? The yoga teacher brought up my intrusion at a staff meeting. Additionally, another person was bothered that I was walking around in the parking lot. I was going to get my coat. The fact that I wasn’t wearing an ID badge scared these people. When Swami-ji was alive, there was no paranoia or causes for concern — everyone was just happy and nice. Not anymore! Part of the problem was that the yoga students pay big bucks to Ananda mission for their lessons and management was afraid to jeopardize their revenue flow by having reclusive spiritual types being present!

The manager interrupted my meditation
The manager went out of his way to interrupt my meditation in the meditation hall to tell me that my after-dark presence there without a badge was a “cause for concern.” It is amazing how I am treated like a trouble-maker when I have been very nice to these people for years, and donated to them for years as well. I am even more amazed that the management doesn’t know me by now. I think that part of the problem is that they don’t cater to people who follow a spiritual path there. They cater to those who are part of “programs” taking classes, but do not care much about spirituality or meditation anymore.

Less focus on spirituality?
From my point of view, the group is a lot less spiritual than a year ago when Swami’ji was alive. Fewer people meditate in Lahiri Shrine. Group meditation is not regularly held in Lahiri Shrine either. The divine grace in the shrine is still good, but not as good as a year ago. What bothers me most is that the large meditation hall near the dining room has very little divine grace. It’s grace has been compromised because they allow it to be a multi-purpose room with yoga lessons, lectures, and other activities. It is also right next to the dining room which means they have too many people nearby which ruins the vibe permanently. For a meditation hall to be divine, it needs to be used only for meditation, and for nothing else. I told this to the manager and he said, “We’ll see what we can do” or some similar managerial type of answer. Someone committed to spirituality wouldn’t allow a meditation hall to be compromised. I coined the concept of being Dharmically Kosher, or Dharmically Correct. Additionally, the manager claimed that the gurus would recreate the spiritual grace in a meditation hall that had been compromised.

Gurus don’t just give you back what you willfully ruined.
My experience is that gurus don’t just give you back what you ruined. Gurus make you earn your grace, and if there are no sincere followers, no grace will be earned! If you ruin the spiritual grace of a meditation hall, it is permanent as I said before. My psychic said that the reason the Lahiri Shrine was so spiritually potent is because there had been a very devoted lady who maintained a low profile. She was very deeply spiritually evolved and meditated regularly. She attracted the favorable attention of the deceased gurus whose spirits watch over that meditation hall. It is partly because of devoted souls like her that the shrine gets its grace. Now that she is gone, if Ananda Mission compromises the shrine by having guitar lessons, healing classes, and other non-spiritual activities, there will be nobody to attract the blessings of the gods to replenish the grace that was lost.

Dharmic Violations at Ananda
(1) Any type of money making activity at a spiritual venue is unacceptable. Spiritual groups should be donation based only.
(2) Meditation halls must be used for meditation only and not for yoga, discussions, or other activities, otherwise they lose their divine grace which is exactly what happened at Ananda. It is permanent, and the grace can’t be gained back, unless the hall is purified and used only for meditation for many years.
(3) Interrupting someone’s meditation is unacceptable. The people at Ananda Mission haven’t been trained to understand this. Other spiritual groups are unfortunately usually equally ignorant and rude about this.
(4) Pestering people at Ashrams leads to upset feelings and is completely unnecessary. People who volunteer at spiritual groups tend to be busy-bodies and love to interfere with others. They need to understand the advice that Babu-ji Maharaj gave which is, “Don’t offer unwanted help.”
(5) Management at spiritual groups must obey spiritual dharma even if they don’t understand it. They can have a spiritually minded person determine policy for the spiritual buildings and practices of the group instead of blindly sabotaging the group with spiritually unorthodox practices that are detrimental.

Meditating in the big hall
As I mentioned before, the large meditation hall has very poor divine grace compared to the rest of the property due to multiple activities going on inside and proximity to the dining area. What bothers me most is that their satsangh (group meditations or sanghas) are not held in the small meditation shrine which has the monopoly on the divine grace. They are held at the big meditation hall. That is analogous to having a meal of genetically modified grains. Sure it looks like you are having real food, but the reality is that the food has been stripped of its nutrients, and you will not benefit nearly as much as if you ate organic non-GMO foods. Perhaps the group is only getting 40% of the potential benefits of the meditation simply because they do it in the wrong room! The spiritual ignorance just kills me. I started to wonder if I should be associated with these types of people. The sad reality is that every spiritual group I have seen has a majority who are very un-spiritual in their consciousness, so why should I expect any more from these people?

Summary and ratings for this group.
I used to recommend this group to others. Now, I feel that they are going downhill very quickly. They are less spiritual than before and a lot less considerate towards others. Their rating has gone from a B- to a C- in the last 12 months. No spiritual group that I know of gets an A which means Ananda’s 2012 grade with me was comparable to better spiritual groups. Unfortunately, my current rating for Ananda — although not as bad as many other groups, is no longer up to my standards to recommend to others as a spiritual group. Yes, they have good yoga and spiritual classes, but there is little if any spiritual value in that education without a solid basis of two hours a day of meditation under a capable guru.

My karma followed me around like a dog(ma)

My karma followed me wherever I went!

Pestering at a meditation venue
I got upset that people pestered me where I was meditating. I had just finished two meditation sessions of two hours each. I had developed a good inner condition and was feeling a calmness. The first thing that happened as I was in a blissful daze, is that an annoying girl went out of her way to pester me.

Annoying girl: “Can I help you?”
Me: “Did I ask for help?”
Annoying girl: “No, but you look like you need help.”
Me: “Why don’t you pester every single person who walks by and offer them help. It’s really annoying.”

Pestering while hiking
I thought that the problem was limited to spiritual venues. Busy-bodies seem to gravitate to the world of meditation and yoga. But, I remembered that a few days earlier I was hiking. I was tired after going up a steep hill. I sat down on the ground. The first thing that happened was that someone asked if I needed help. I told them that I didn’t need help, but asked them if they needed help. Then, they said, no, but that I looked like I needed help.

Pestering in the bathroom.
I went hiking at Yosemite. It was beautiful. I used the bathroom after my hike. As I got up from the toilet, I groaned. Someone in a neighboring stall asked if I needed help. I explained that I didn’t. Then, he said that I sounded like I needed help. I explained that I really didn’t need help.

So, it seems to be part of the karmic cleaning from my meditation this month that people will offer me help when I didn’t ask for it and don’t need it. How annoying! But, on a brighter note, karmic cleaning is good. That means that whatever bad things are within my soul are being cleaned permanently. All I have to do is endure a little (or a lot) of pestering or whatever other unpleasant “Bhog” (sanskrit word meaning the effects of spiritual cleaning) is necessary.

(1) People at ashrams and meditation centers seem to thrive on pestering others. Don’t they have anything better to do?
(2) I went to the bathroom in Yosemite. I groaned as I stood up. The guy in the next stall asked if he should call 911.

How to travel light: Unusual approaches!

I love Twitter, and I browse around and read tons of blog articles promoted there. I have a new travel twitter that is attracting new followers very quickly. A good twitter account will have a few viral tweets, but because mine is a travel twitter focusing on Asian travel, maybe mine will get SARS instead! But, I do have some bizarre suggestions about how to travel lightly. It’s really all about calculating what you can replace and how easily!

(1) Bring a hair dryer?
I have been to India many times. Every room is equipped with a bucket, so you can take your bucket bath. No showers folks unless you go to a 5-star venue. Every small store in India sells tide in 1-rupee packages. So combine your clothes, your tide, and your bucket, and voila! In a few minutes your dirty, sweaty clothes will be clean. If you are smart and bring hangers, you can drip dry your clothes and then finish them off with a hair dryer that uses local electrical currency. It’s better to buy it in the country you will use it in. My tip works better in dry parts of India. Chennai and Calcutta are notoriously damp, and clothes don’t dry that well there. If you wash your clothes every day or two, you need less changes of clothes.

(2) Sample size toiletries
We all tend to bring too many bathroom items while we travel. They take up space. Take what you need, but in smaller sizes. American supermarkets normally have sample or travel sizes. If you go to Asia, they have tons of smaller sized everything since people like small things there. American toothpaste tubes are huge, while in India, they look almost as small as the travel size. You can buy soap easily anywhere, so you don’t need to bring it in most cases.

(3) Flexible bags can help reduce your loads. They also might fit better in the overhead storage in the airplane. Heavy bags can take up a lot of room and weight a lot as well.

(4) Wear your large coats and boots. Wearing your most bulky items saves room in your bags! If your coat has large pockets, you can stuff the pockets with all types of other stuff as well.

(5) Bring less clothes and buy more in your location.
If you are a large American, you might not be able to find clothes that fit you if you go to a nation of small people. Bring what you need, but if you go to a place with nice clothing for sale, you might have more room in your bag for your return trip if you pack less when you leave home!

(6) Disposable items?
I once traveled with a few really thin shirts. They took up very little room and would be quick to dry. I could dispose of them if necessary. Disposable items are great. that way if you buy something you want to take home, you can get rid of the nominally expensive items in your suitcase.

(7) Buy what you “might” need at your destination!
Not all destinations sell what you might need. If you bring what you absolutely need, but don’t bring what you “might” need, this could be a good strategy assuming that you can easily purchase what you “might” need without losing half the day wandering around Mumbai looking for a sturdy raincoat that fits you. If you know how shopping works in your country of destination, know where to go, how much things will cost, and what fits or doesn’t, then you are in business. If you have no idea what you are doing, then you might find that this plan backfires.

(8) Bring less bulky items
If you are wondering what to take and what not to take, take fewer coats and jeans. They take up a lot of space. You need a sturdy pair of boots, shoes, and flip flops though. One pair of each is enough. Your shoes will get mangled stuffed in your suitcase, so perhaps bring your already worn out shoes.

(9) Maps can really take up space
I am a lover of map books. People in India don’t rely on maps. They are unaware of concepts like North or South. They just ask around until they know where they are going. I rely on maps, especially in places where nobody else does. Map books take up space, particularly when you are visiting ten cities and have a map book for each city. You need to decide which map books you really need, or what the most efficient format for a map should be. The foldable ones are a pain in the neck if you actually use them on the road in real life., although they take up less space in your bag.

(10) The rolling technique
Some people fold their clothes, while others roll or stuff them? You can stuff socks in a shoe or a boot. But, you can store your shirts and jeans efficiently by rolling them tight. Aging hippies understand this concept well.

(11) Books for the plane?
Books are unfortunately expensive, and take up a lot of space and weight in your bag. If you have a book that you have a duplicate of back home, then you can give it to some random person in your country of destination after you have finished reading it. Electronic reading devices are also very space efficient, but I don’t find them enjoyable! Another tip is to bring softcover books as they take up less space and weigh less.

What really goes in your bag?
Clothes: Shirts, pants, socks, shoes, jackets,
Other: books, maps, toiletries, hairdryers, gifts
How many of each of these do you need, and is there a way to get a smaller one? Most of us tend to bring more than we need when traveling overseas just to feel like we didn’t forget anything. But, we always manage to forget something, or have some unanticipated need. Can you be the expert at bringing just the right amount of stuff on your trip?

Travel makes me sad…

I am on Twitter a lot, perhaps too much. I always read about people who think that travel will make them happy or solve all of their problems. Then, there are people like my spiritual Master who discourages travel as it is a frivolity and encourages adding more children to this already overpopulated world.

What do you feel during travel?
My reality is that travel is not a happy experience. It is an interesting experience, sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes thought provoking, generally stressful, shocking, and sometimes even sad.

Overseas travel tends to be stressful. You are going to a new place where you probably don’t speak the language. The locals might be rude or have customs that perplex or offend you. People in India will nod their head back and forth instead of just saying, “Yes” like a normal person. Why can’t people just be normal? Because, that would defeat the point of traveling.

There are other times when you see breathtaking scenery, or learn about some fascinating cultural practice that you never knew about before. You might meet some fascinating people who could be locals, or other serial tourists who have been everywhere and have dozens of stories about each leg of each trip that they’ve ever taken.

Travel breaks the monotony of life. I recommend travel, because many people go crazy or become very boring if they stay put too long.

What about road trips?
I do a lot of road trips. I am ferociously busy with work most of the time. I escape the insanity of my daily routine by going on road trips around California, Arizona, and New Mexico on a regular basis. I generally try to finish what is on my plate before leaving so I don’t get behind on work.

What I learned about road trips is that my thought patterns change while I’m on the road. You really start thinking when you are on a long trip in your car. Your daily thoughts about frantically getting your huge piles of work done are now absent. Something else has to fill that brain of yours. I often get very sad on long trips. I start thinking of how lonely and sad my childhood was. I think about how my parents were so indifferent to my suffering. I think about social things that just bring me down. The next thing that happens on trips, is that I reconnect myself with friends who I haven’t talked to for a while. Being on the road affords me large quantities of uninterrupted time that I can use to connect with others. And finally, I tend to meditate several hours per day while I am on the road. My thoughts change when I meditate. Sometimes I become more calm. Although, I tend to have many submerged thoughts pop up during meditation that don’t always go away. Meditation is great if you do it regularly enough so that you enter a very deep state of consciousness. But, if you are troubled by thoughts during meditation, your meditation can make these thoughts worse.

Travel sometimes makes me sad, often makes me relaxed, but I do it as a matter of practice to refresh myself. Sometimes I think I should do more day trips, because shorter breaks refresh you, but are not long enough for you to get all emotional about stuff that happened 25 years ago.

Room service in India costs pennies, but in Vegas, it can run $70

I was reading a blog about what the average cost of room-service is in various cities in the United States. I don’t know what the figures mean since I don’t know what people ordered. Costs were around $68 in the more expensive cities for room service in the United States. But, I have lived in India before, and room service is not expensive there!

India is the land of headaches and noise pollution. Tasks that would be easy in America such as crossing the street, or buying a banana, can require aggressive behavior in India. Just to buy a bottle of Fanta, you might have to visit four different stores. The first will be out of Fanta, the second will have a clerk who is absent, the third will have Fanta, but will not have change, and the fourth will satisfy your craving.

Me: “Do you have orange soda?”
Clerk: “No!”
Me: “What is that over there?” (pointing to an orange soda)
Clerk: “Fanta!”
Me: “Fanta IS orange soda!”
Clerk: “No, it is Fanta!”
Me: “May I have a Fanta?”
Clerk: “20 rupees!”
Me: “Done!”
Clerk: “Sorry, your bill has a small rip in the corner”
Me: “Go to hell!”

But, in India, certain pleasures are very convenient and lightening fast. Indian culture is based around the concept of having servants — something alien to American culture in 2014. Having servants can work for you or against you depending on how inept or careless your servant is. But, if you have reliable help, you will be in good shape.

I enjoyed countless meals delivered to my hotel which cost me $2, not to mention sumptuous breakfasts including chai, Madras coffee, cornflakes (don’t let them bring you warmed up milk, insist on cold), toast with marmalade, and more. Chai is 10 rupees which is 25 cents, Madras coffee 25 cents, toast same, juice, about the same. The juice is freshly squeezed. If you had the same thing at Jamba Juice it would be US$4 for 12 ounces, but in India you get 6 ounces for 25 cents.

Breakfast: day 31
(ring ring)
Me: “Hi, I’d like to order breakfast?”
Clerk: “Omelette?”
Me: “No, for the last 30 days you keep offering me an omelette. Eggs have high cholesterol, and therefore I can’t have omelettes. Is there anything else you can recommend?”
Clerk: “Scrambled egg!”
Me: “I just got through telling… NEVER MIND. Please send up Chai, Toast, Pomegranate juice, and corn flakes with COLD milk.”
Clerk: “Anything else?”
Me: “No thanks!”
Clerk: “How about an — OMELETTE?”
Me: “For the last time… damn it… never mind. No, that will be all!”

Breakfast: day 32
(ring ring)
Me: “I would like to order breakfast!”
Clerk: “Omelette?”
Me: “Everything just went black. Did we just have a power outage?”
Clerk: “Power out… Omelette?”

Note to readers…
“Welcome to INDIA!!!!”

In India you can get great food for pennies, fresh juice and rich aromatic coffee for pennies too. Get your clothes washed by the village aunties for pennies, and if you are lucky they will actually bring it back at the appointed time without you having to harrass them. If you have a flight or bus to catch, don’t trust the locals with our laundry. It might be like pulling teeth to get it back on time! With the exchange rate for Rupees at 60 Rupees per dollar, India might even be cheaper now than it was when I was there. Sure, there are headaches, but you can live like a king for pennies.

Me: “Forget about Vegas — Start thinking Bangalore…”
Clerk: “Omelette?”

Table Manners Around the World

Dining manners around the world!

I haven’t quite traveled the entire world, but I will tell you a few things. Guide books that teach international table manners resort to stereotypes and generalizations about the culture. Cultures are in fact complicated. If a country has 200,000,000 people, they don’t all share identical sensibilities, so keep that in mind!


From my multiple visits to India, the fact that I learned is that they have no table manners, but they do have faux pas’. In India, upper class people might be likely to resort to a metal fork and knife. But, it is common to eat with your hands. Remember, that you eat with your right hand because you wipe with your left (supposedly) and then rinse your hands in a bathroom that has no toilet paper or disinfectant, but does have water.

Why people say Namaste
The reason people put their hands together and say, Namaste in India, is partly because they don’t want to touch your hands after an unwashed episode in the bathroom. Additionally, men are not supposed to shake hands with women in traditional families. Affluent families in India use high quality soap by the way, but public restrooms in India have neither toilet paper, nor soap.

Forbidden foods include pork!
Certain foods are typically avoided in India. Although the stereotype of India is a land with healthy cows strolling around while humans slowly die of starvation. The second stereotype is that beef is the forbidden food for Hindus. The truth is that for Brahmins, any type of meat, onion, mushroom, garlic is completely out of the question. For meat eating castes, that honor their traditions, beef AND pork are basically equally out of the question. Some people speculate that the origins of proto-Judaism are from India. You will never see a bunch of people as fanatically against eating pork than Hindus. Lamb and chicken are the main meats in Hindu India. Bengalis consider fish to be a vegetable (and you thought American schools were bad,) and Muslims eat most types of meat except for pork. Christians (numerous in the South) eat just about everything!

Eating with your hands
Although fancy people often use utensils, the soul of India revolves around using your hands to eat. Most Indians claim that the food actually tastes better if using your hands. I will admit that it is therapeutic to eat with your hands, but a bit messy if eating dahl and rice. I personally enjoy using my hands to grab food with a torn up naan bread, but messy stuff crosses my line! It is also common to put a banana leaf on a metal plate. The leaf has oils in it which if heated a bit on a pan can seep into the food, thus enhancing the flavor of the dish. This is popular in many other Asian countries as well, and in Latin America.


A nation of connoisseurs
Please understand that Chinese are the connoisseurs of the world. Some people eat to live, but Chinese live to eat. Each part of China or Taiwan has local specialty dishes which they are very proud of. It is also typical for Chinese people to have very long discussions going over each attribute of each restaurant and how good particular dishes were. No other nationality, not even the French have a passion for food like the Chinese. Taiwan is a culinary adventure. Their food is completely different from other parts of China. Street food consists of brown things floating in water in metal containers. Chicken feet, pigs ears, beef tendon soup, are all highly revered dishes, not to mention “chou dou-fu” which is a type of tofu that smells up the entire neighborhood (cooked outside)

Fighting over the bill
It takes foreigners a few months to get used to this. Taiwanese notoriously fight over the bill. It is a cultural dance they do that can last for a long time. They have all types of “the hand is swifter than the eye” manouvers too. Some of them pay the bill before you even noticed it arrived. Others just do it before you have a chance to argue. As a foreigner, you will lose every time. You can make a token fight for the bill if you like, but don’t expect to win, even if you are a millionaire, and the other guy is broke!

Chopsticks & double dipping
Some Taiwanese families share everything and that means what Westerners call “Double-dipping.” The chopstick that went into your mouth touches all, and I mean all of the food in the five or more serving dishes that are sitting in the middle of the table. This is an issue of contention in Taiwan. Some families like it this way while others prefer to use serving chopsticks. Sometimes the serving chopsticks are longer than regular ones. It is common to eat out of small bowls, and keep refilling the bowl endlessly. You will be force fed endless food in any Chinese, Indian, Arab or Jewish household, so get used to eating.

Once again, it is common at family meals to have serving dishes at the center of the table. People get some rice, and then share the contents of what is in those serving dishes. Typically there will be a few vegetable dishes and a few meat dishes. There might be some glass noodles too (stained glass noodles if they are a Christian convert.) Many families start with soup as well. Taiwanese will switch back and forth between Mandarin, Taiwanese, English, and Hakka in the middle of a sentence. If you are learning Mandarin as a second language, it is hard enough if they just stuck to mandarin and bothered to pronounce it properly which Taiwanese typically refuse to do!


France has some complicated culinary etiquette. I hardly know anything about it. There are different knives and forks for various types of dishes, salads, and desserts. People typically have two wine glasses at their place: one for red and one for white. Let’s not forget about the glasses for dessert wines either. The key point to dining with the French, however, is not the formalities. It is the joy of enjoying food. Even while eating at a diner in a gas station, I said, “Bon appetite” to the guy next to me. He appreciated that. That is their culture. The culture of slowly savoring good food. Of course the gas station food was not the best, but the philosophy of enjoying the food without being in a hurry still applied.

My cultural experience in France happened alone in fact. I had slept in my rental car at a closed gas station in the mountains of Italy near the French border. The minute I crossed the sleepy unattended border to France, I suddenly understood what French culture really was. There was a feeling of relaxation in the air. The way the sun hit the leaves on the trees was like no other country. The landscape looked like a painting. And the subtle intoxicating vibration of wine was in the air. France is about art, wine and going slowly. I bet it is hard to make a living there. Additionally, everything is more expensive there, yet incomes are much lower than in the USA!

(1) Most Indians claim that food tastes better if you eat it with your hands!
(2) A comparison of table manners in India, USA, France & Taiwan!
(3) In Taiwan it is customary to fight over the bill while in India people gasp if you eat pork!
(4) In France people like to slowly savor their food while in India they enjoy the therapeutic joy of eating w/their hands.

See ten countries in a day at this virtual reality theme park

See ten countries in a day at this virtual theme park

Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t exist yet in real life, but I bet I can convince some bored billionaire to invest in it. Why not? It is a fun idea and everyone will like it! In another article I wrote on this topic, I sent some tourists to virtual Thailand where they may or may not have experienced a virtual coup. That is up to the creators of the theme park. I only come up with the framework for the ideas. Our tourists took a virtual flight, saw Thailand from the air, landed, exchanged their money for Bahts, saw a few temples, museums, beaches, at some real Thai food, got a massage, and hopefully got a dose of culture shock.

But, instead of flying to one country, wouldn’t it be fun to see lots and lots of countries in a day? I think so, and you might think so too, especially if you get to pick which countries you go to. Enjoy France for breakfast, and enjoy the vineyards of Croatia during the afternoon with time for nightlife in Tokyo.

The main point of my virtual travel idea is that you need to feel like you are really in that country, so there would need to be signs in the language, loudspeaker announcements in the language, money, people, food, sounds, and smells from the country that you were pretending to be in.

Entering the park
You park your car in what looks like an airport parking lot. You would hear the sounds of airplanes in the distance. You would take a shuttle to the airport. In the Thailand adventure in my other entry, transportation started with a flight. But, at this multi-country travel theme park, trains, or other innovative forms of virtual transportation might be used. It might be fun to use a different type of transportation for each voyage just to keep it interesting! We’ll make the first leg of the journey in a virtual plane, then explore the other “avenues” of transportation. You get your boarding pass, go to a virtual gate, and look out the windows which are huge flat screen TV screens showing an L-1011 docked to the gate. You show your virtual passport and board a virtual reality plane. You plane has seats, and mini-screens where the windows are, but a huge curved screen in front of you so you can see amazing views. You hear the sounds of the plane, perhaps inhale a little plane exhaust, feel the pull of take off, and maybe get some peanuts and a root beer as well! Upon landing you enter the central transportation hub of the park.

The central transportation hub
Since this virtual theme park’s theme is to be able to visit as many countries as you want in a particular day, and be able to choose which countries you go to, and in which order, you need a hub for transportation. This hub would be designed so that you would not be aware that it was actually catering to a dozen or more countries. You would feel like you were in one country when you entered and feel like you were in a particular other country when you exited. There might be different forms of transportation connecting the various countries, but all transportation would happen at this centrally located hub.


A sample trip
Let’s start in the United States part of the hub and make our way to Bali. We could take a train to this first destination. The train would go through Alaska. It would get lost in the Arctic Sea, and then get its bearings straight in the Bering Strait (sorry for the pun.) It would go down Siberia, through China, or even Japan since this is fantasy, through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and across a nonexistent rail bridge to Denpasar in Bali. Imagine the great virtual scenery you would see on this train trip! You could use authentic train bathrooms and eat train food during this potentially long and very interesting journey.

Or, the train trip could be ultra fast, and you could make the jump into hyper space, and then cross the virtual rail bridge to a coastal village near Kuta in Bali. When you exit the train, the signs, loudspeakers, and people are mostly authentic Balinesians wearing whatever they wear there, and speaking their local language. You could visit temples, beaches and other attractions. You could enjoy delectable local cuisine, buy some tourist attractions, take a rick shaw ride, and then go to the transportation hub to go to your next country.

The circle to other realms
I can’t remember which TV science fiction show has this. There is a huge circle that is about ten feet in diameter with a stone perimeter. You walk up the stairs, and then walk through the circle. But, you are in a different planet when you get out on the other side. It is like a warp in space! I strongly feel that one of the modes of transportation from country to country should be interstellar dematerialization — or at least something that feels like it. On one side of the circle you are in Bali, hearing the sounds of the language, the smells of the food, rick shaws honking, etc. On the other side of the circle you might be on a spacecraft on the other side of the galaxy.

Another version of this is a dematerialization elevator. You get in the elevator. Then, there is a rattling, lights flashing, and a buzzing sound. That is the sound of you being dematerialized and rematerialized. You then get out of the elevator, and it looks like you are exactly in the same hallway or room where you started, but you are in the new country or perhaps a new galaxy. In any case, after you are done visiting with the Androids, you could have slow roasted pork belly in a virtual Tokyo, then take a virtual walk down a virtual walkway with amazing scenery on the flat screens that would make you feel like you were really in the places that you saw.

In any case, I think such a theme park would be fun. It would be expensive, but on the other hand, it would be possible to see the entire world for around $100 in a single day. When you think of what the real cost would be to see all of those places in such vivid color, $100 is amazingly cheap, and very convenient too. But, don’t forget your foreign language phrasebook, because you might need it in this place.