Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~ Thornton Wilder

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Happy Thanksgiving from Guangzhou / Canton, China!

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


"A man who has a million dollars is as well off as if he were rich."
John J. Astor III

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

This post is a continuation of the trip I started discussing in Sun Dog's got Seoul.

FedEx puts us up in some very nice hotels - your Sheratons and your Hiltons and such. This is not so much because they love us and want us to have a nice time. It is more that they know that we are much more likely to get adequate rest and nutrition at the nicer places. This is especially true on the international trips I fly and is a direct reflection of an effort to 'protect the freight'. It is highly unlikely that they can replace me on a short notice basis since I may be the only pilot within 500 miles or so qualified to fly the jet to the next location. Protecting our 'Absolutely, Positively' reputation demands that we stay in establishments where we won't be woken by drunken brawls.

We landed, went through the customs rigmarole, loaded in the van and entered Seoul, South Korea's daunting traffic snarl for the hour or so ride to the Millenium Seoul Hilton. This Hilton is located in the center of Seoul, at the foot of historic Namsan Mountain, Home of the Seoul Tower. It is very near the Namdaemun Gate, a famous historical site. It is also a short bus ride from Itaewon street, a well known shopping, bar and restaurant district that butts up against the Yongsan US Army Post.

As, I say, we stay in a nice hotel, but normally we are on the lower floors where the lesser mortals breathe. I know, in general, that the upper floors of a hotel like the Hilton have some much nicer accommodations than I am used to - but I am pretty apathetic about it all. My requirements for a successful layover are a bed, a hot shower and a place to plug in the trusty ol' laptop.

When we checked in, the front desk staff had a surprise for us. We heard: "We are full today." Now, normally, these are words that strike fear, trepidation and hopelessness into the heart of your tired and oppressed professional aviator longing to sleep free.

Then we heard: "Except for a suite. You'll have your own room, but you'll share a common area. It's our nicest place! Will that be ok?"

Okeydoke, whatever. So, the bellman escorted us to our 'room'. First, we needed our plastic key to authorize the elevator to go the top floor. This piqued my interest. The second to the top floor in Millenium Seoul Hilton contains the "Business Lounge". The top floor holds the "Executive Lounge". The bellman then proceeded to escort us past the executive floor receptionist to the corner suite on the executive floor and open this door.

At this point, I must indulge in an aside to this story. Until very recently, I would have had to admit to not having your basic clue as to who or what a Swarovski is. I'm sure that I had seen more than one Swarovski crystal in my illicit past, but I remained apathetic - much like it took that stupid Devil wears Prada movie to penetrate my awareness that Prada was a brand name. I often get the strangest looks from my gorgeous wife and daughter when I admit to branding obtuseness such as this.

It is a fine example of synchronicity to experience exposure to the Swarovski brand name twice in such a small time frame.

Our suite as we walked into was purely and overwhelmingly "made with Swarovski elements." My first impression when entering this suite was to ask the bellman if there was a guest book somewhere. I wanted to know which heads of state and other such criminal elements had stood where I was standing. There were - I am not making this up - more square feet in this suite than in the house I am presently making mortgage payments on. Through the entry way, we turned right and climbed these stairs to see this 'Vista'.

At the bottom of the stairs are the small kitchen and the servant room areas for the hired help to doss their weary heads.

At the top of the stairs was this sitting area that I can think of no reasonable use for. It just connected my room which you can see straight ahead with my FO's room which is invisible behind this picture.

Standing in front of that couch, I looked over the rail to see this.

My room had Swarovski elements sewn everywhere.

There were two - count 'em - two bathrooms with Swarovski Crystal elements outlining the mirrors.

Finally, even the light fixtures had Swarovski Crystals spreading a cheery light throughout the room.

At this point, please go back and review my requirements for a good room. "A place to plug in my trusty laptop" brings a chuckle to my lips as I type this. For it was obvious that the sort of well-heeled VIP who normal stays in the executive bedroom of a suite of this opulence has no thought of laptop connectivity - he has people for that sort of thing. After looking for 10 minutes or so, I had to call Hotel services to come up and pull the cable out from behind the decorative desk and connect it to the hotel network. It was obvious that I was the first guest in many a moon who had asked for a laptop to be connected in that den of luxury.

As an aside, the sharp look of appraisal that the tech geek who performed this task gave me, said, very plainly, "What is a mug like you doing in this room?"

As a final observation, the potties serving this suite were the 'Cosmo Crappers' I have written of before.

With that observation, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Mystery, Continued

"We have not succeeded in answering all our questions. Indeed, we sometimes feel we have not completely answered any of them. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole new set of questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever. But we think we are confused on a higher level and about more important things." Anonymous

Gentle Readers and Love Ones,

Back in February, I posted this. It was about my quest to learn more about Marine Private First Class Gilbert H. Whisler. PFC Whisler's name appears on the marble wall of the Arizona Memorial honoring the Marines and Sailors killed on the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor Attack - A Day that will live in Infamy.

If you have not read that post, please click the link before you continue reading here.

First, I have an issue to set straight. I was completely out to lunch on the derivation and beginnings of the name 'Whisler'. Our family name traces its origins to Switzerland where it was spelled 'Wïssler' with the cute little double dots over the 'i'. The name made it's way to the US before we won our independence and the progress of the spelling change went thus: Wïssler -> Whisler -> Whistler....or so says the voluminous research my uncle did before he passed on. While my intriguing story of the grandfatherly argument and fallout is compelling, I have no proof that it is correct. I apologize for misleading you.

The next thing to tell is that after reading my post, an old friend and frequent esteemed reader sent me this link to a fine short history called "Battleship Arizona's Marines at War" by Dick Camp. I ordered the book from Barnes and Noble and found some interesting things.

PFC Whisler was a member of the ship's golf team.

In the back in the appendices is a copy of the "Muster Roll of Marine Detachment Arizona, December 1941." Footnote "C" applies to PFC Whisler and 15 other Marines to include Lt Simensen and says: "At about 8 a.m. killed in action on board USS Arizona while engaged in repulsing Japanese Air Attack at Pearl Harbor. Remains interred at Red Hill Cemetery, Oahu." Most of the names of the Marine dead on the muster show a notation of Footnote "B" which is "Missing in Action."

The book gives a fine account and confirmation of the story I related in the previous post of Lt. Simensen's attempt to rally the troops. I hope and assume that PFC Whisler was in this party and died on his feet fighting.

He was interred in Grave #519 where I assume he remained until he was moved to the Punchbowl in 1949. Red Hill is an area on the east side of Pearl Harbor.

This is a very interesting book and if you can get a copy I highly recommend it to you.

Continuing my research, I googled "Bloomfield, Iowa + Whisler" to discover that the American Legion Post 078 in Bloomfield is called the "Reed Whisler Post". This intrigued me highly and I got the post's phone number and called them. The phone was answered by a friendly lady working in the bar. I introduced myself and told her that I was curious about where the name of the post came from and why.

She told me that it was named for the first Bloomfieldians to die in combat in both WWI and WWII and that there is a Bronze Plaque memorializing them. I then asked her if there were any books or documents there in the post that might give me more information. She gave me the phone number of a Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who was a submariner in WWII. He was the local expert on WWII and the men who fought it from the Bloomfield area.

I called him, introducing myself again and what I was looking for. He was very helpful and owned a rare copy of a book called "WWII Gold Star Boys" that lists of all the men killed in that war from the state of Iowa. He photocopied the page that detailed PFC Whisler and sent a copy to me.

Please click the image to zoom in and read the text. You will see that PFC Whisler joined the Marines in September of 1940. He had been a Marine just a little over a year when he was killed in action.

I asked the CPO if he knew PFC Whisler. He answered that yes he did but not very well. That Gilbert was a delivery man for the local grocery and that was when he often saw him.

I also contacted the Bloomfield Democrat, the local paper. I talked to a nice but harried newspaper lady there who promised me a copy of PFC Whisler's obituary if she could find it. Since it has not arrived, I assume that a copy does not exist.

I hope that you find this as interesting as I found it. In any case, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, November 14, 2009


"How many things, both just and unjust, are sanctioned by custom!"

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I have occasionally started this blog with the words: "I don't want this blog to become a political one", and then proceeded to start some mildly political screed. That bit of misdirection will continue today. It is my fervent hope that I always tie in some kind of travelogue / Gadabout connection in these things in the hopes that you will see things in a different light.

In any case, I have spent a great deal of my lifespan in Asia and the vast majority of that in the Republic of Japan, specifically on the island of Okinawa in my first assignment in the Air Force. Further, on a whim, I chose to take Japanese / Nihongo as my language my freshman year at USAFA. So, while I would not hold myself as a great expert on Japan and the Japanese culture, I think I have more than average experience in the place.

Bowing or Ojigi in Japan is pretty much the accepted greeting. It's also - like two dogs first meeting - a way to establish who is higher in the social order. (Bad visual image there...sorry!) Generally speaking, the lower the bow and the more obsequious looking you make yourself, the lower you are in relation to the one you are bowing to. And vicey versey.....

I long ago opted out of the competitive nature of bowing. I do bow while in Japan, but it is a gaijin bow - a quick nod of my head, but lower than an American nod of affirmation. Say quickly lowering your head so that you almost touch your chin to your chest and just as quickly returning to an erect stature. It's important to maintain eye contact throughout while doing this. It's the kind of response that says: "Hey! How you? I ain't a total rube here. I know you guys bow in greeting and I know there is a social measurement aspect to it all. I'll greet you, but I ain't playing the social games."

Seems to work for me.

In general in Japan, people ignore one another. Osekkai is the custom. I wrote about that here. I find myself making eye contact in Japan more often than most gaijins do. I am 6 and half feet tall and somewhat large. This attracts attention in Japan. So I find myself doing the gaijin bow greeting fairly often.

With all that setup, I give you this link to www.powerlineblog.com - a truly political blog.

Personally, I think our President would have been much better served by the gaijin bow. I suppose one could argue that the lower bow shows the modesty and virtue that is supposed to be a hallmark of this administration's "Hope and Change". I personally don't want my Chief Executive to lower himself or raise himself over the other elected leaders of the world's democracies. (Don't ask me what I think of bowing to an unelected tyrant......)

But that's just me.

With that, I remain,

Dad / Geoff