Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 - Back in Colorado

It's been over a year since we left Singapore, we are settled back into our Colorado lifestyle and loving it..... but we miss Singapore!  Despite the population density, the city "energy", the heat, the humidity, there are so many aspects of the town, and Southeast Asia that we really miss.  

So, as a way of reminding us of our former temporary home, we decided to export these blog pages into a book - hope you enjoyed it!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Our return to Colorado marked three events – the return from our “long way home” through September, a return from an exciting and rewarding two and a half years in Asia, and the end soon to this blog. Our long trip home and our time in Asia made the world smaller for us. We looked into the eyes of people living their lives in many different ways, yet the looking and the smiling brought us closer.  On our return to the USA from Asia, many people asked us about our “vacation of a lifetime” as we attempted to travel from Singapore to Colorado with as few air miles as possible. Ricky said many times that this was not a vacation, but a journey.  A journey both physical - as we rode the rails across two continents - and emotional – as we entered more than just a new life chapter, but a
Part 4, with many chapters left to be written. Air travel has opened up this world to so much accessible exploration.  And, we have taken full advantage of it while based in Singapore.  This past month, rolling through the spectacular mountains north of Beijing, running parallel to the portions of the Great Wall rarely seen, and waking to camels in the eastern Gobi grasslands pacing to the 

speed of our Mongolian train, created an awe in us as we became aware that this was to be a different experience from a regular holiday based on air travel.  We were best prepared for Mongolia where we knew what
we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it.  The Gobi surpassed all expectations yet Ulaanbaatar surprised us with the vibrancy of the Mongolian urbanites and the intimacy of Mongolian Buddhism.  We bumbled into our weeks in Russia with little preparation other than train tickets and an equal number of days off the train winging it.  Yet, we stumbled onto a vast pristine wilderness, hundreds of miles of golden aspens and birch, jaw-dropping palaces and churches, and wandered through a forest, practicing the time-honored Russian tradition of picking wild berries and mushrooms.  We also traveled across 8000 km of Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian rails, likely built and maintained by the enemies of the Soviets between 1919 and 1960 who were imprisoned in forced labor camps. Our faces were not buried in books as we expected but in the windows looking at a world we could not imagine.  We think we saw many of these gulags that had evolved into small towns along the route. And we
coasted out of Russia across the Baltic Sea through the striking archipelagos of Finland and Sweden on a Russian ferry where we were the only Americans on board. We certainly could have continued on the surface of the planet, but public transit options became sketchy and we wanted to begin the second chapter of Part 4.
We are thankful of new friends we made in Singapore who have enriched our life, and of old friends who have launched brand new dimensions within us. Singapooch is home to about 140 posts during our time in Asia and our return to the US. We have been astonished at the approximately 10,000 page views over the past three years. Thanks to all of you who have travelled along with us and enhanced our experiences with your comments.
In Tim Burton’s 1988 movie ‘Beetlejuice’, the Deetz family moved into the house of the suddenly deceased Maitlands.  The Deetz’s battled with the ghosts of the Maitlands’ for most of the movie only to reconcile at the end into a productive coexistence. We’ve changed from our
experiences – hopefully for the better- and in many ways we are both the Maitlands and the Deetzs – we are moving back into a house that was occupied by people who no longer who they were. We will work hard to take the best of the Daly’s who lived in this house until March, 2011 and the new Daly’s moving in from equatorial Asia.  There will be adjustments, but we are grateful to all our friends who make us feel like nothing has ever changed and have taken us as we are.

Why is Ricky Not Smiling?

No, toothy smile??

After never having to have any serious dental work performed because of her lifetime of excellent home care, Ricky needed a dental implant.  Maybe from a face plant on the ski hill years ago, maybe too much rough play with a special Labrador Retriever – the tooth could not be saved.  A few weeks before our long ride home, she got the treatment and was fitted with a temporary tooth that gave her a magnificent smile. Weeks later, on a stunning ridge at the northern edge of the Gobi in Mongolia, the temp tooth was more comfortable in a Mongolian vegetable dumpling rather than her jaw.  No pain, no risk
The Scene of the Crime
of infection, but Ricky wasn’t comfortable looking like a Russian hockey player.  We created cover stories (‘She lost it in a bar fight in Beijing” seemed to have the most traction), tried to call on a satellite phone to her dentist for advice, and the magnificent smiling stopped.  Well, at least slowed and mutated into a wide grin with lips firmly together.  Five days later, Ricky was in a chair with a Mongolian dentist who was very taken with the implant.  It is not certain how many implants have been enjoyed by the fine residents of the Mongolia capital – yet, she fitted Ricky’s tooth with surgical SuperGlue (really, the same as regular SuperGlue). $30.   Ricky asked her for some spare surgical glue, you know, just in case. A Premonition  “No, No, No!” the dentist said.  Ricky could smile again!  A week later, now in this beautiful place – and on
The Sun Rises for the last time on a full smile
our 17th wedding anniversary no less – all the work of that fine dentist in Ulan Bator was lost when the tooth again escaped into some hamachi sashimi. Back came the sheepish grin, and a speaking style best described as one sees when one is giving painful testimony before a congressional watchdog committee.  We pressed on to St. Petersburg where, five days later, we found an international dental clinic in the shadow of the Savior of the Spilled Blood Cathedral.  International, except that they only spoke Russian.  We searched for regular SuperGlue all over this city of 5 million but only found small bottles with cyrillic writing and a 
No, Ricky!  Don't make me do it!
poison tag. “No, No, No!” I said.  Ricky researched Russian for “tooth” (zoob), “glue” and “implant” – but found a less cooperative dentist here. “No gluing, but I’ll make you a full crown for a few hundred US” was the gist of what Ricky could understand.  The grimace and pained speech pattern continued, now coupled with a look of someone who just suffered a small TIA.  But the beauty of St. Petersburg, sailing the Baltic Sea, a day in Helsinki, the gorgeous archipelagos of Stockholm, and an upgraded flight to the US, occasionally brought the magnificent smile back from time to time. Without the temp tooth, but beautiful to me.  The grimace in all its glory returned upon landing in Newark – but for all the right reasons. I mean, Newark! Two days after our return, so did the tooth in its rightful position.
Oh, this is far from a Russian  Hockey player

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The гэр of the Mongolian grasslands

The Gers at Three Camel Lodge

The Mongolian гэр (ger) are all over Mongolia and we saw them frequently in the Buryat (autonomous) Republic in Russia north of current day Mongolia.  These are a construction and cultural marvel.   More commonly known to us as yurts, these are called “ гэр “, pronounced “ger”  in Mongolian, meaning “home”.  They really haven’t changed much in over eight hundred years and date back over three
the Basics - partitioned floors and lattice
thousand years -  as long as the nomadic life in Mongolia has been, and remains, the centerpiece of their culture. “I was born in a ger and I will die in a ger”, from an urban Mongolian we spoke with.   
They are the home of choice for the nomadic people of Mongolian who follow their herds of horses, cows, yak, sheep, goats, lamb and camels as they follow the grasses and grazing lands.  In a land like this with a harsh continental climate (90F in Summer, -30F in Winter), the grazing
No nails - all secured
 with cured tendons
herds need to keep moving to find enough feed. Why roam?  Take the USA as an example.  In the lush Mississippi basin, ranchers plan for two cows per acre in a managed pasture to sustain a healthy herd.  In drier Southeast Colorado, those same two cows need about 75 acres.  Go north to drier and higher climates with shorter growing seasons,
sections secured with
tendon ropes
maybe 150 acres of growing grass for those two cows. Mongolian nomads have no concept of this math.  They have the whole of the Gobi, the sea of grasses, with lands of no fences and no land ownership.  We were told that today over 800,000 Mongolians are nomadic herders that live in many of the same ways already well established by the time of the clans of
The structures is supported by
horse mane rope strengthening
the round walls
Genghis Khan in the 12th century.  Their gers up quickly, pack tightly, pulled by a yak cart (old school) or Toyota pickup (new school), are incredibly stable and quiet in the ferocious Gobi winds, and warm?  Well, maybe.  No windows to let in the cold air, but the ventilation stack at the top center of the ger is open to vent the stove that is the center of activity in the nomadic ger.
The center roof support
stove vent on the south
  We stayed in five as we drove over a thousand miles around Mongolia and visited two nomadic families (blogged in earlier posts). Our nights dipped into the 40’s F
85 roof beams come from the center cap
and we woke to gers with interior temps in the 50’s F.  Our stoves were tourist accessories – used for heating, if you asked, and not for cooking – and fueled with wood.  Wood never lasted through the night and the nomads use dried dung and coal – unfriendly oders perhaps to western visitors.  Those stoves last the night.   The construction without nails and, as is typical with the nomadic culture, uses as much from the animals they herd as
and radiate out to the top of
the lattice walls
possible; ropes from horse manes, ties for the lattice work  from cured tendons and muscle, and felt covering from the wool from goats and sheep. All that felt keeps em quiet in the wind!  One night I awoke thinking, “hmmm.  I don’t recall putting in ear plugs like I was wearing
Outside - wrap with felt, secure with
horse ropes, and load down
with rock weights
on the train…”.  I hadn’t.  We liked them enough to talk over whether we want one for some property we have in southern Colorado.  You can spend well over $10,000 for ones constructed in Montrose, about 2,000 euro for ones from Scandinavia, or we can return to Ulaanbaatar and buy a kit for $1,000 and ship it back!  I am not quite sure how our homeowners association may take to this…..
Inside - a quiet heaven

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Soundtrack of the Journey

The Fiddle with its master

In Mongolia, the most respected traditional instrument is the horse-head fiddle, or morin khuur.  With a sound much like the violin-cello family (they come in several sizes), they have 2 strings, tuned a perfect fourth apart, and are played with a bow and an intricate style of fingering along the fretless neck, which has a hand-carved horse’s head at the top.  It’s a beautiful sound and a treat to hear one played by an expert.  Through our associates in Mongolia, we had the honor of listening to a young, yet highly-trained fiddle player.  We were driven to a back
the master in performance
door of the main symphonic hall in Ulan Batoor, and led up about four floors using a back staircase to a small room.  A young man, impeccably-dressed, came into the room carrying a magnificent cello-sized horse-head fiddle.  He sat down and effortlessly demonstrated the range of the instrument and his ability, his fingers flying up and down the neck.  Much of the music intentionally imitated horses running, enhanced by an amazing and unusual fingering technique on the
a Fiddle Orchestra
instrument’s neck.  We were mesmerized by the playing, when suddenly we heard an eerie sound accompanying his playing.  He began singing, using the Mongolian technique of khoomei, or throat singing, where two tones are emitted at the same time.  We were lucky enough to enjoy throat
A fiddler and throat singer
singing accompanied by the horse-head fiddle a couple more times, in a ger on the steppe later that week, and again while wandering around a Buddhist temple the day before we left Mongolia.  A very unique and beautiful tradition.
In Yekaterinaburg, music quite familiar to us unexpectedly enhanced our experience at the Church of the Spilt Blood.  This is a beautiful Russian orthodox church built to honor the family of Czar 
Outside the Cathedral of Spilt Bood
Nicholas II, who were slain by the Bolsheviks in 1917 where the church is located.  Recently, the entire family was canonized, and inside this church they were portrayed as saints, with renaissance-style haloes painted around their heads.  While we wandered in the rooms displaying relics related to the family’s deaths, a haunting rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria floated into our consciousness.  Next door, there was an informal concert in progress, with vocal solos and readings performed, all out of respect for the royal family.  The Romanovs are still much loved by a sizable portion of the Russian population, and this experience accentuated that for us.
Outside the Grotto
Tsarskoye Selo, the summer palace, was the home of Russia’s royalty since Alexander I in the 1700’s.  The focal point of this large property, about a half-hour drive from St. Petersburg, is the Catherine Palace, with a 365-meter-long façade and miles of gold filigree, mirrors, marble and amber, including the Amber Room, with amber-covered walls.  We visited the Palace and then strolled around the expansive grounds.  We entered “The Grotto”, a round, stucco building facing one of the property’s lakes.  This building is known for its incredible acoustics, due to the interior’s shape and materials used, I suppose.  We entered the building and our associate, Maria, spoke briefly to a few men milling around inside the building.  I thought they were caretakers, or something.  Then they lined up, five abreast, facing us, and started singing an old Russian tune, cappella.  I was stunned – the pure, perfectly-blended sound flowed through me, my eyes welling up. The sound, the surroundings was overwhelming.  It was magic.
Gathering for the concert in Stockholm
announcing the chorale
Once more, yesterday afternoon in Stockholm, we were walking around the old part of the city when we heard a choir coming from a Stockholm Cathedral.  They were rehearsing for a concert two hours hence.  We had no plans, so we attended, and it was wonderful.  We don’t make a habit of going to choral concerts, but in this case, the choirs were exceptional, and the acoustics, once again were astounding, as  the voices, singing a range of music from contemporary to Brahms resonated off the cavernous walls of the cathedral.  It was a full house.

Across the Baltic Sea

A big ferry

We left Saint Petersburg to board a ferry to Sweden.  Now, this could have gone one of many ways.  I (Chris) had planned for an austere, bare bones, but comfortable trip for two nights across the Baltic on a Russian ferry.  What was emerging was a new approach to a ferry system; the Baltic had been without a ferry service serving Saint Petersburg for 15 years until this new one began in 2010 – the Saint Peter’s Line.  A western, “market based” approach with Vegas-style burlesque shows, casinos, and huge capacity – serving Russians.   Late September meant fewer choices yet smaller crowds so we ended up
a quiet moment staring ahead
with the best of both worlds -   a ship with all the comforts of a big scale ship with crowds at about half capacity - and all in Russian.  Bonus: Travelling on the weekend meant the European Russians were as occupied with televised football (soccer) as Yanks are with the NFL and college games on weekends. We had the ship to ourselves anywhere out of range of an onboard satellite television.  We found no other English-speaking passengers – and while the ship staff did speak English far better than we spoke Russian, it was clear (and only right) that they catered to their Russian clientele.  No Issues.  Except when
Helsinki's farmers market
we began seeing lots of references to Finland and we were convinced that we had gotten on the wrong ship. Glasses of champagne only heightened our confusion and concern.  Sure, Saint Petersburg to Stockholm was less than 400 miles, so two nights and 38 hours of steaming probably didn’t add up – but we really don’t do much math while using public transportation internationally.  We asked the staff in simple English if we were stopping in Helsinki – and we got looks
Knitting and Selling in Helsinki
deserved of the idiotic question we asked – well, yes!  Steaming across the Baltic was beautiful. “Archipelago” hadn’t had much meaning for us growing up on in the Mid-Atlantic states and living for 30 years in Colorado – here we sailed through the definition of the word – the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland are studded with thousands of islands.  We found a quiet lounge that looked forward from the bow and, like on the trains, we were pasted to the window – watching the narrow navigation channels between small islands and rock outcroppings, the
Steaming through the Swedish Archipelago
approaching Stockholm at dawn
dim lights on the larger islands, the sailboats making the last trips of the waning summer, and the commercial traffic that keeps the Baltic an active and vibrant sea-faring region.  Six hours in Helsinki was a huge bonus!  A beautiful city by the sea, rich in 14th century architecture, hosting a
Dueling Ferries
wonderful farmers and local crafts market on a clear and crisp Saturday morning. 
Blankets are standard issue at
Stockholm's Gamla Stan
outdoor cafe's
We found restaurants focusing on varieties of fresh pickled fish that were filled with families and friends in their “Sunday best” enjoying multigenerational meals overflowing with warmth and laughter. 
We re-boarded the ferry for twelve hours to Stockholm and found ourselves in another archipelago city – with ten times more islands guarding the city than Helsinki.  Stockholm is larger and for the first time in a while, we felt like we
Gamla Stan - Stockholm's
13th century old town
were in a well-established western democratic city.    We enjoyed a larger historic center and a concert in a cathedral with a history dating to the 13th century.  A well-established and seemingly well-respected arts community thrives in
a cool sunset
Stockholm side by side with a strong tourism sector that sells the Swedish equivalent of the American rubber tomahawks.  
We began this journey together on an equatorial island surrounded by the South China Sea.  We crossed the Eurasian  continent as we transversed Mongolia and Siberia.  And, we returned to sea and the far north archipelago in the Baltic Sea.  Later this week, we return to the top of the American continental shield just below Hoosier Pass.  A good end.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

St. Petersburg is a hellava thing

Tsarskoye Selo - the Summer Palace
Visitors to St. Petersburg follow a well-worn path through the city and it’s environs: the Winter Palace and the Hermitage, arguably the biggest and grandest museum in the world, Petrodvorets, a “Versailles by the Sea” with jaw-dropping fountains and water cascades everywhere, Tsarskoye Selo, the Summer Palace and home to the Amber Room; and the city sights: St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Cathedral of the Spilt Blood, and so on.  Indeed a stunning “well-traveled path” and it was hard to not say to each other often, about everything on this path, “that’s a helluva thing”.
Hidden Corner at
the Hermitage
We avoided the tourist buses.  Even this time of year, the shoulder season, they were filled with people with twenty years even on us!  We went on our own, frequently alone, but often in the company of a St. Petersburg native with passion for their city and a uniquely Russian perspective.
We’ve read the tour guides, researched Trip Advisor, educated ourselves on the Imperial history. We’ve heard the criticism, largely western, on the opulence in St. Petersburg as a way to explain the many revolutions. What we didn’t know was the perspective of a cross-section of Russians about this city, through the October 1917 revolution, the
at the Hermitage
deaths of the last tsar, his family and most faithful servants, through the early revolutionary days and the Stalinist 1930’s, horrible WWII that took a massive toll on St. Petersburg (Leningrad, at the time), the Cold War, Glasnost and Perestroika, the collapse of the Communist Party in the early 1990’s, and the emergence of a market economy. The 20th Century was really the century of challenge and change for St. Petersburg.   This “well-worn path” of spectacular architecture survived through it all. Thrived, some say, during a period of otherwise incredible hardship throughout Russia.
Lyudmila led us through the maze of rooms, collections, and large tourist groups in the Hermitage and the Winter Palace museum. This place has arguably the most impressive art collection in assuredly the most impressive museum building in the world. This was the palace envisioned By Peter the Great and expanded by Catherine the Great in the early 18th century.  It seems like all revolutions begin in the square outside its gates and one was close during our visit.  Chris was scolded in Russian by a tour guide, her umbrella and flag held high so her throng of garlic and Ben Gay smelling 80-somethings could see her diminutive presence.  Apparently, Chris was lingering too long in front of a Monet and “he’s
just any old room at Tsarskoye Selo
too big for standing there so long!”, as she barged in with her gallery.  “I don’t even know how to respond to that” – Lyudmila.  Lyudmila likes the quiet passages of St. Petersburg – the back alleys, the buildings that you can walk through to get a momentary sanctuary from the rains and wind and cold, and even the quiet places within the “well-worn path” in the Hermitage.  Sure, the summer is too short, the winter gets longer just when you think it’s over, but she loves her city and can’t imagine being anywhere else.  
Maria joined us for the Summer Palace, Tsarskoye Selo.  Also a vintage of the early 18th
Just any old Fountain at Peterhof
Century.  Tsarskoye Selo was in Nazi-occupied St. Petersburg (the main city was held by the Russians but blockaded and under siege for 900 days).  Tsarskoye Selo was looted by the Germans.  Gold leaf frescos, the Amber Room, century old paintings by the masters – all left as piles of bricks.  There is a suspicion that the palaces at Tsarskoye Selo were bombarded by the Russians to prevent the Nazis from using this consecrated place as a military HQ.
Following World War II the restoration of these glorious buildings picked up speed from the work that began after the 1917 revolution.  Many Russians believe that the opulence of the Imperial period demonstrated the strength, superiority and
dominance of Russia. Whether it’s the gold and amber-lined walls of a sitting room in Tsarskoye Selo or a bare-chested Prime Minister riding a horse bare-back, most Russians like their leaders strong, their heritage rich and displayed loudly.  Stalin and his advisors saw this as a rallying cry for a badly wounded post-war Russia and took on an impressive restoration that equals (maybe exceeds) the original construction (hey, who doesn’t hate a “re-mo”).    It kept up through the Cold War despite Russian leaders requiring everyone to grow food in collectives – “just in case, you know”. It continued
In the Dome at St. Isaac's
through the waning days of the socialist republic but stalled out during Perestroika – the time of incredible economic hardship for the Russian economy.  Gorbachev – largely admired in the west for his policies of openness and rebuilding - left a poor legacy among some Russians as weakening that strong sense of national pride in a strong and rich heritage and future. 
The restoration continues today giving the illusion of Imperial elegance with cheaper contemporary material that gives the original perhaps even more brilliance. “It’s a good and well-respected profession” fueled by demand from the nouveaux riche in this new market economy who want the Imperial Elegance within their own homes. 

St. Petersburg is a hellava thing