Remote Places

Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about getting on a boat and travelling to places like the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, or some other remote place to find respite. It’s all relative to one’s place in the universe, I suppose. You see, I feel alien in my own country. I live 70 km from the place where I was born. I’ve never lived more than 280 km from my birthplace. Yet, I studied many languages and cultures to prepare for life abroad. I use the metric system, and I have worked to promote its use and have the US recognize it officially. (It comes down to money, of course). I stand out among my neighbors. In another post, I talked about, a geography quiz I enjoy, and I am pretty good at, if you will forgive my conceit. I sometimes feel that I could fare well enough if I were dropped on the earth someplace like in that game. I like to imagine living – for a few months only – in places like Cinque Terre, or Como Lake are beautiful, and I certainly understand why they are so popular, and have been, since the time of the Etruscans. This means they are likely crowded with tourists, all trying to capture the beauty of these places using their iPhones. By the way, nothing irritates me more than everyone capturing stills and video by holding up their phones at concerts and other events. All this aside, I still think about becoming a resident, even for a short time. People live there, I say to myself.

It more than irritates me that I am stuck here. I shouldn’t really complain: I know that most people in the world are not able to travel. I mean, some of my friends who have travelled to the poorest places on earth have told me that in a place like Malawi, they struggle to send bicycles there for the locals so they can get to work and other places. They not only do not have cars or the money to buy fuel for them, but there are few paved roads in that country. It’s just not practical, since there are more pressing needs to keep people fed and to halt the spread of HIV. So, I am grateful to have travelled as much as I have. We’ve been to California many times, also Oklahoma, Arkansas, and places in the Deep South. I’ve been to Florida a couple times, and last year, we camped in the Great Smoky Mountains last year.

It’s pretty clear to me that travel is something very important to me, and it has been so all my life. I can remember road trips with my parents and my brother when I was a kid, and I loved every moment. I’m sure my mother would have a different recollection of these events. Maybe I did ask, “are we there yet?” Who knows? But I loved it, and I still do. I subscribe to the notion of being an ambassador for one’s country when abroad. “When in Rome,” and so forth. But often people can be welcoming of the stranger in their midst. I think I just paraphrased Jesus of Nazareth; I’m not sure. Anyway, when you go to another country, it might be polite if you try speaking the language and following some of the local customs.Smokies_76

Do I know any Italian? Not enough to converse. I think I could negotiate a café and a train station. But I daydream about going to Tokyo or Seoul. There might be signs with Roman lettering, but I’d probably be completely lost. And these are among the Western-friendly cities in Asia. Yes, Singapore and Shanghai see lots of American travellers, but what about Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia? Tbilisi looks interesting. I’ve never seen “Amazing Race,” but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. If the show entertains and somehow educates the viewers a little about the rest of the world they live in, that’s good. I don’t usually approve of so-called reality shows, but this one seems better than most. In any case, perhaps with better education my countrymen can dispense with the concept of the “ugly American” sooner rather than later.

If you want to go somewhere outside your comfort zone, here are a few suggestions from my travel wish list:

Île de la Possession

Catlins Conservation Park, NZ 

Cascada Tamul, México

Arctic Circle



You’re Called What, Now?

Most humans have a name. We give animals names. My cats respond to their names, of course thinking I might offer them treats. Some people go by a single name, like Madonna or Beyoncé. Brazilian footballers sometimes take a single nickname, like Pelé or Ronaldinho. And it is customary in parts of Indonesia for people to be mononymous. In some countries, people are known by multiple names, like Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, a retired basketball player from Republic of Congo.

When we are born, usually before, sometimes much later, our parents or someone in the family or someone in the community will give us a name. You and I usually have no choice in what people will call us for the rest of our lives. It will take a court order for you to legally change it. Customarily in the States, married women will take the last name (family name) of their husband. Contrary to public conception, this is not a requirement. Some couples hyphenate the last name of their partner, like Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting (star of “The Big Bang Theory” and wife of professional tennis player Ryan Sweeting.)

Many people legally change their name. It happens every day. Often it is for personal reasons, but mostly there is a professional reason. People in the entertainment industry will change their name to make themselves more appealing to their audience, it is thought. Judy Garland was born Frances Gumm. There are too many actors and musicians for a comprehensive list, but here are a few:

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – Lady Gaga

Marion Morrison – John Wayne

Onika Tanya Maraj – Nicki Minaj

Terry Gene Bollea – Hulk Hogan

Greta Lovisa Gustafsson – Greta Garbo

And of course we can’t forget Norma Jeane Mortenson (Marilyn Monroe).

Actually, my initial inspiration for this post was to complain about the names people choose for their children. As with some of my thoughts, this one took on a life of its own. But I want to say that after sleeping on it, I had a slightly different perspective on it. You see, like the people in the list above, some of us are not completely satisfied with the name our parents picked out for us. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of market oversaturation. Certain names tend to become very prominent every generation. About ten years ago, Stephenie Meyer released the first book in the Twilight series, and shortly afterward, many children named Bella and Edward were born. That’s not a new trend. Mary held the number 1 spot for decades on the list of most popular names for girls since the 1880 US Census. The name Judy doesn’t appear until the 1930’s where it made it to 112th. In the 1940’s it ascended to 15th. Mary would be the top girls name until the 1960’s, but still came in second by then.

I go by the name Plastic Jones because of two reasons: 1. I like the name Plastic Jones, and 2. there is a professional mixed martial arts fighter with my name, so, yeah.

I haven’t legally changed my name at this point. Maybe I will eventually if I go global. Maybe I’ll be mononymous and just simply be known as Plastic. Actually I have several names. My nieces have a special name for me, by mom calls me by a name she picked up from a movie. I post on Disqus under another name. I try to keep them all separate. I only have one face, and people recognize it. But in the Arab world, you could be known by a kunya, a nom de guerre, often derived from one’s children’s names. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is also known as Abu Mazen. It’s something we in the west don’t see. I mean, what if Teddy Roosevelt was also called Everett Dalrymple? Actually, that’s not the same thing, but you get the idea.

I think people should be able to be called by any name they are comfortable with. If you want to be known to the world as Buckethead, knock yourself out. (Actually, someone’s already got that name, and he probably won’t appreciate you taking it). If you want to spell your name Oscar but pronounce it “Oo-skeer” or “Floop”, go for it. Just try to be cool when every person mispronounces it. Of course, if they pronounce your name the “right” way in the South Sandwich Islands, please have pity on us.