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Saturday, November 24, 2007


I'm a firm believer in traveling as light as possible. For one thing I hate checking luggage. "One in every 138 checked bags was lost during the first nine months of this year, compared with one in 155 bags a year earlier." Now that statistic is for U.S. carriers, which are much worse than reputable international carriers, like British Air, which is what I'm flying on to India. Nevertheless, I don't want to bring anything extra or check anything. So the weather becomes a problem. In Delhi, my first stop, the temperature dips down into the 40s and it cane get colder. That means I need a jacket. In Yangon and Bangkok it never gets below the mid-70s and is as likely to be in the low-90s; no jacket needed. Maybe I can just bring one I hate and leave it in Delhi when I fly to Bangkok.

But what about the monkeys? Do I bring monkey food? Or pick it up when I get there? Are you supposed to feed the monkeys. The ones I've run into in Nepal in 1970 were pretty nasty and aggressive. When I returned 20 some odd years later they had replaced them with tame, friendly docile monkeys. I hear the ones infesting Delhi this year are neither tame, friendly nor docile. They're eating people's small pets, attacking people and trying to steal babies. Does it sound like a Hitchcock movie with simians instead of birds?

Troupes of monkeys are out of control in India's northeast, stealing mobile phones and breaking into homes to steal soft drinks from refrigerators, lawmakers in the region have complained.
"Monkeys are wreaking havoc in my constituency by taking away mobile phones, toothpastes, sipping coke after opening the refrigerators," Hiren Das told Assam state's assembly Saturday.

He said the primates were "even slapping women who try to chase them."

"It is a cause of serious concern in my area, with more than 1,000 such simians turning aggressive by the day," fumed Goneswar Das, another legislator representing Raha in eastern Assam.

And last month the deputy mayor of Delhi died when he fell off his balcony defending himself against a monkey attack. Another bunch broke into Sonia Gandhi's daughter's apartment and wrecked it, while others have been ransacking hospitals and attacking patients. They're out of control but devout Hindus believe they're the incarnation of Hanuman and can't be killed.

The problems stems from humans displacing monkeys from their natural habitat. Tens of thousands of them have moved into Delhi... where the livin' is easy. Gee, and I though all the danger on this trip was going to be in Myanmar.

Friday, November 23, 2007


One of the things Roland loves doing when we go to Bangkok, something that basically makes no sense to me at all, is to buy fake Rolex watches and other brand name tokens to the excesses of consumerism. I like buying jade Buddha heads and traditional art. Last night we were pouring over tour books and planning out our trip to Burma and Roland blurted out, "Oh, I bet they have some cheap Rolexes at the Bogyoke Aung San Market or at the Theingyi Zei" (which is even cheaper and offers another Roland specialty that goes right over my head: a snake section that features the fresh blood and organs of various snakes; some live ones are disemboweled on the spot for medicinal consumption). Let a psychiatrist deal with the snake thing. I want to talk about the fake Rolexes. Actually, what I really want to talk about is a story in today's NY Times by Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.

Ms Thomas deals with luxury items made in China and other places that are neither Italy nor France, but not the illegal counterfeits Roland craves, the super-expensive, authorized ones that have become a mainstay of the "democratized," newly middle class, luxury industry. "For more than a century, the luxury fashion business was made up of small family companies that produced beautiful items of the finest materials. It was a niche business for a niche clientele. But in the late 1980s, business tycoons began to buy up these companies and turn them into billion-dollar global brands producing millions of logo-covered items for the middle market. The executives labeled this rollout the 'democratization' of luxury, which is now a $157-billion-a-year industry."
Maybe this is where Bush gets his ideas about democratizing Iraq and the Middle east and any country he doesn't like. This is mostly bait-and-switch production, with the newly corporatized-- rather than democratized-- name brands outright lying, or just deceiving, about where and how their overpriced consumer garbage is made. Example: "To please customers looking for the 'Made in Italy' label, several luxury companies now have their goods made in Italy by illegal Chinese laborers. Today, the Tuscan town of Prato, just outside of Florence and long the center for leather-goods production for brands like Gucci and Prada, has the second-largest population of Chinese in Europe, after Paris. More than half of the 4,200 factories in Prato are owned by Chinese entrepreneurs, some of whom pay their Chinese workers as little as two Euros ($3) an hour."
Luxury brand executives who declare that their items can be made only in Western Europe because Western European artisans are the only people who know what true luxury is are being not only hypocritical but also xenophobic. They are not selling “dreams,” as they like to suggest; they are hawking low-cost, high-profit items wrapped in logos. Consumers should keep in mind that luxury brands are capable of producing real quality at a reasonable price. They know better, and so should we.

I avoid that stuff. Two days ago I noticed my Levys were precariously hanging together in a few sensitive areas by some threads so I braved Roland's scorn, drove over to a K-Mart and plunked down $15 for a new pair of Levys, which I intend to wear 'til they get drafty. And today, like I said earlier, is a Buy Nothing Day at my pad.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I left home when I was 13, but only temporarily. I hitchhiked from New York to Florida. I only got as far as New Jersey when I was arrested on the Turnpike. The police called my father and made him come pick me up. He was pissed but he gave me the bus fare to get to Miami Beach. It wasn't until later in my teenage years that I left home for real-- this time to go to Tonga, a small island between New Zealand and Hawaii. I hitchhiked all the way to California before being arrested this time-- having stowed away on a ship in San Pedro. After that I discovered airplanes. I had never been on one and they were incredibly convenient. I mean, compared to hitchhiking... they got you there so fast.

It wasn't long before I also discovered that you are better off not checking bags. My primary motivation was getting out of the airport fast and the baggage carousel was always a place I didn't like hanging around. And on top of that checked bags get lost-- a lot. It's easy for me; I travel light. After nearly 7 years living overseas I came back to America with 2 bags; no need to check anything.

Today's NY Times published a story on the worsening checked luggage situation in the U.S. (I never noticed it overseas and I usually feel far more confident checking luggage on foreign carriers. When I fly overseas I never use U.S. carriers, always British Air if I can or another foreign carrier if there's no B.A. flight. "One in every 138 checked bags was lost during the first nine months of this year, compared with one in 155 bags a year earlier."

Holiday travelers can expect to feel the effects of six years of airline downsizing in one way or another. About 27 million passengers are expected to fly during the 12 days surrounding Thanksgiving, 4 percent more than last year, the Air Transport Association said.

But there are fewer airline employees to look after them, and their bags. And to squeeze more flights out of the day, planes are sitting on the ground for shorter periods between flights. So predictably, more bags fail to join their owners, particularly on connecting flights.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for failure,” said Hans Hauck, manager of baggage operations at American’s headquarters in Fort Worth. Since Mr. Hauck started his job in September 2006, American has not met its bag-handling goal in any month. As of late last week, though, Mr. Hauck remained optimistic that he would make his November number. A look at American’s bag-handling operation, which is the biggest of all United States carriers, shows it is making lots of little improvements but still losing ground. American misplaced 7.44 bags for every thousand passengers through Sept. 30, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported, up from 6.04 for every thousand a year earlier. (All but a tiny fraction of misplaced bags are ultimately reunited with their owners.)

And American isn't the only U.S. carrier that can't do the job. Actually none of them can. Anecdotal evidence shows Delta being the airline most poorly run, although supposedly statistics show that the small regional airlines do even worse than Delta when it comes to lost bags and American Eagle was the worst of the worst.

Two of the biggest problems are downsizing, with fewer employees to do more work, and an inability for the system to read at least 10% of the bar codes on checked bags.

About 2 percent are misread and dropped onto the wrong pier. Then, it is up to a worker stacking the bags on carts to notice the mistake. “He better,” said Ms. Wilewski, the baggage manager.

American and other domestic airlines have resisted investing in radio frequency identification tags, which are used by big retailers to track inventory and are far more accurate. The tags cost about 20 cents each so it would cost $50,000 a day for American’s 250,000 bags, plus the cost of hardware to read them at each step in the process.

“We don’t lose enough bags to justify that investment,” said Mark Mitchell, American’s managing director of customer experience.