I feel old…

We are frantically running errands so that we can be out of the house by Friday. We made reservations in the local Super 8 Motel for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. Our renter is in a time bind, too. He actually has been “homeless” waiting for us to move out. He roomed with one sister for awhile, spent a couple of weeks with another sister in California, and just got back from two days staying with a friend in Pittsburgh. Last week, his brother brought his belongings from his previous residence in South Carolina. Rather than making him rent a storage unit, we allowed him to store his belongings in our storage unit. To cut down on his motel bills, he will be sleeping in our bedroom starting on Wednesday night. So now the focus of our packing efforts shifts to our clothing, so we can clear the closets to allow him to move in.

I discovered that “General Delivery” still exists. We received word on Friday that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Immigration and Emigration had forwarded their recommendation that the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, DC issue our entry visas. (Yeah!) I called the Sri Lankan Embassy this morning to answer a few questions about the visa application form and to confirm that they had received the recommendation. They were very  helpful about the application form, but told me that they had not yet received the recommendation from Colombo and told me to check back on Wednesday. This pretty much shoots down the possibility that we can get the entry visas back in our hands before we leave Mount Vernon. That means, I needed to figure out where to tell the SL Embassy where to send our passports once they attached the visas. We could have them send it to one of our friends or relations in California, but I did not really want to wait quite that long since we still have to get our Chinese and Vietnamese visas. So the tentative plan is to send in our visas by Express Mail (or FedEx) with a prepaid Express Mail envelope addressed to General Delivery at some post office along our route. It took me quite awhile on the USPS web site and then finally a call to their customer service number to confirm that the concept of General Delivery was still in existence, though not at every post office. One must check and confirm that the post office you have in mind accepts items for General Delivery. (Fed Ex calls the equivalent service “Hold at Location”. This service, too, is not available at every FedEx office.)

I said I feel old because I just deposited our wills and durable power of attorney for health care into our safe deposit box. We have had a safe deposit box for many years, but mostly because it came free with our checking account. Other than for a brief time during my first sabbatical ten years ago did we actually store anything of value in the box. Kris has (rightly) pushed to “get our affairs in order” before we leave Mount Vernon for the year. So we actually hired a local attorney and created actual wills. We also signed living wills, durable power of attorneys for health care, and power of attorney designations. I just came back from placing these papers in our safe deposit box. As I did so, turning the key to lock the box back into its cold, but snug resting place, I felt a wave of decrepitude sweeping over me. Surely only old people have wills safely tucked away in safe deposit boxes! Oh, yeah. That’s me, old.

Tim

Pulled the trigger on the China tour!

Now that the airline tickets are reserved, I went ahead and purchased the tour of China that we worked out with Sunny at www.chinahighlights.com. Total cost for the two of us $5565.

Here is the itinerary that Sunny put together for us:

Day & Date

Place & Transport

Accommodation

Today’s  Activities

Meals

01.
Mon 01-Sep-08

Arrive in Beijing, Flight No. TBA (Your arrangements)

Sunworld Hotel Beijing ****

Airport to Hotel Transfer (Beijing)

\

02.
Tue 02-Sep-08

Beijing

Sunworld Hotel Beijing ****

Free day to recover from the jet lag.

B

03.
Wed 03-Sep-08

Beijing

Sunworld Hotel Beijing ****

Summer Palace with boat Cruise & The Garden of Virtue and Harmony, The Tian’anmen Square, The Forbidden City

B,L

04.
Thu 04-Sep-08

Beijing

Sunworld Hotel Beijing ****

Changling tomb, Sacred Way, Mutianyu Great Wall(with roundway cable car), Cloisonne Factory

B,L,D

05.
Fri 05-Sep-08

Beijing

Sunworld Hotel Beijing ****

Temple of Heaven, Hutong Tours in Rickshaw (learning to cook Chinese food in local family), Lama Temple

B,L

06.
Sat 06-Sep-08

Beijing to Xian, Hainan Airlines HU7237 Dep 10:40AM – Arr 12:30PM

Meihua-Goldentang International Hotel ****

Hotel to airport Transfer (Beijing), Airport to Hotel Transfer (Xian), Xian City Wall, Shaanxi Historical Museum, Gao’s Courtyard(includes Shadow Play). Dumpling is served as lunch.

B,L

07.
Sun 07-Sep-08

Xian

Meihua-Goldentang International Hotel ****

Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Terracotta Warriors, Banpo Museum

B,L

08.
Mon 08-Sep-08

Xian

Meihua-Goldentang International Hotel ****

Free Day

B

09.
Tue 09-Sep-08

Xian to Chongqing to Yangtze, China Eastern Airline MU2261 Dep 8:35AM – Arr 9:55AM

President 1

Hotel to airport Transfer (Xian), Airport to Cruise pier Transfer (Chongqing), Goose Neck Park, Panda Room in Chongqing Zoo, Ciqikou Old Town, Board the ship from 5:00pm to 8:00pm and departs Chongqing at 10:00pm. (Dinner is not included)

B,L

10.
Wed 10-Sep-08

Yangtze

President 1

Shore excursion to Fengdu Ghost City

B,L,D

11.
Thu 11-Sep-08

Yangtze

President 1

Shore excursion to Shennong Stream

B,L,D

12.
Fri 12-Sep-08

Yangtze to Yichang to Shanghai, China Eastern Airline MU2511 Dep 5:10PM – Arr 7:55PM

The Bund Hotel ****

Shore excursion to The Three Gorges Dam Site.Arrive in Yichang at 1:00pm.Cruise pier to Airport Transfer (Yichang), Airport to Hotel Transfer (Shanghai)

B,L

13.
Sat 13-Sep-08

Shanghai to Suzhou

Bamboo Grove Hotel Suzhou ****

Shanghai to Suzhou Transfer. Tongli Water Town, Humble Administrator’s Garden

B,L

14.
Sun 14-Sep-08

Suzhou

Bamboo Grove Hotel Suzhou ****

The Grand Canal, Panmen Gate, The No.1 Silk Factory, Lingering Garden

B,L

15.
Mon 15-Sep-08

Suzhou to Shanghai to Departure City, Flight No. TBA (Your arrangements)

Suzhou hotel to Shanghai airport transfer (Suzhou)

B

We are committed now!

Well, we purchased our airline tickets for the outbound trip to Sri Lanka, so we have now made a substantial financial commitment to actually leaving the country. As noted before, we were waiting to make sure we will get our Sri Lankan entry visas before we leave the US. Since then, the State Department has given us our medical clearances, I have received my official grant documents, and the US – Sri Lankan Fulbright Commission has initiated the process of getting the government of Sri Lanka to begin the visa issuance process. With the wheels thus set in motion, we decided to go ahead and purchase the tickets before the prices skyrocketed.

So, our outbound itinerary is:

August 31 2:40PM Northwest Airlines Seattle -> Beijing via Tokyo, arrive September 1 at 9:35PM

September 15 4:45PM China Southern Airlines Shanghai -> Hanoi via Guangzhou, arrive 10:00PM.

September 30 12:15PM Silkair Phnom Penh -> Singapore, arrive 3:15PM

October 10 9:10AM Sri Lankan Airlines Singapore -> Colombo, arrive 10:20AM

All of this was booked through AirTreks.com with the kind help of Deborah Morales. Total cost for the two of us was $5372. We also added travel insurance at a cost of $402.

Our level of nervousness has gone up considerably. Yesterday morning, Kris said I should lay off the coffee as I was too wired as it was.

Oh. And we got word yesterday that the Orientation in Sri Lanka has been moved back a week, to October 16-17.

Tim

Pre-Departure Orientation

Last week we traveled to Washington, DC for the mandatory Pre-Departure Orientation. The meeting was held entirely at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC. The activities started in earnest at 3:30PM on Wednesday, July 9th and formally ended at 1:00 PM on Friday, July 11th. Thus we were able to fly to DC on Wednesday morning and return to Columbus by Friday night. The Fulbright program promises to pay us a lump sum based on how far we have traveled to attend the meeting, but they haven’t told us how much it will be yet.

There were several highlights of the meeting. First, the Executive Director of the US-Sri Lankan Fulbright Commission, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, and the Accountant for the US-Sri Lankan Fulbright Commission, Ms. Chitra Marambe traveled all the way from Sri Lanka for the orientation. We were amazed that they would go to such effort on our behalf. Recall from a previous post that Tissa, as he asked us to call him, was the editor of the very useful book that collected stories from US travelers to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan travelers to the US that I rated as the book that did the most to help prepare us for our travels. We, of course, were bundles of nerves as we contemplated this uprooting of our lives and Tissa was very gracious about answering question after question and generally convincing us that it will all come together. Chitra was also very kind and helpful answering questions about finances and other practical issues.

The meeting also included two, recently returned, Sri Lankan Fulbright alums: Dr. Katherine Hoffman and Dr. Murali Nair. Dr. Hoffman is a professor in, and chair of, the English Department at Roanoke College. Professor Nair holds many titles, perhaps the most interesting of which is co-director of the Center for Healing Across Cultures at Cleveland State University. Both have connections to Ohio. Dr. Nair’s is obvious from his title, but Dr. Hoffman’s father was a professor at Denison University, so she grew up in Granville. Both were wildly enthusiastic about their experiences in Sri Lanka. Kris and Katherine met privately for an hour or more to talk about the nitty and the gritty. Murali showed a video that was created from video footage and photographs that he took while visiting with one hundred, mostly rural, families during his stay in Sri Lanka. The video gave us a visual sense of the landscape and also introduced us to some of the Sinhalese rites of passage.

Several things were made unambiguous. We need to take a year’s supply of mosquito repellent containing more than 30% DEET. Though the medical insurance covers mail order prescriptions, we can not count on the medicine making it through customs. So, yes, we do need to take with us an entire year’s supply of all of our medications. The “excess baggage allowance” can be used to send a shipment separate from our air travel. We can not leave the US until we have our Sri Lankan entry visa in hand.

Dr. Richard Nicholas, MD, Chief of the Exam Clinic, Office of Medical Services, US Department of State, gave a great talk about protecting oneself from disease during our trip. He had a repeating theme: Wash your hands! He had to show us the required photos of gross tropical diseases. The one that had the most effect on me was the photo of the forearm of a person with an 1/8″ wide, meandering trail left by a worm that lives just beneath your skin and moves around under it. He said it itched like hell, and I can certainly believe it. Fortunately this particular parasite is not endemic in Sri Lanka. All in all, we already pretty much knew all the health precautions that applied to Sri Lanka, but the talk was very entertaining and there were surely people there who needed to hear the message.

One of the best talks, surprisingly, was by Michael Goodman, Tax Consultant, who discussed the income tax issues that apply to Fulbright grantees. He clarified it well: Everything we get from the program is taxable, but everything the scholar spends on necessities and business expenses is deductible, and, no, the “foreign earnings exclusion” does not apply to us. This is in contrast to the student Fulbrighters where everything is taxed and nothing is deductible, since they are not considered “employed in their profession”.  It turns out the speaker wrote many of the relevant regulations, trained the current crop of IRS specialists in the area of foreign income tax law, and recently retired. For a life-long bureaucrat (sorry Shannon), he gave a talk that was both informative and so funny that it could have been part of a stand up comedy routine.

Jay Goodrich, Senior Training Liaison Officer, Diplomatic Security Training Center, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, US Department of State gave us a no-nonsense talk about personal security. Much of what he had to say was almost common sense (“travel in groups,” “don’t wear expensive jewelry or watches when traveling in dark alleys,” “if traveling in a country hostile to the US, don’t wear clothing with your college logo as that identifies you as American”); some was too late (“take martial arts classes”); and some perhaps more useful (“know where safe havens are to be found in your neighborhood, e.g., police stations, fire stations, popular restaurants and night clubs,” “agree on a codeword with your family that signals that it is time to get out of Dodge”). He also told us that attackers pick a place to attack that is to their advantage. Maybe it is their turf somehow, or a dark place, or away from police, or whatever. So, one of your first reactions should be to “get off the X,” that is, try to leave the spot the attacker picked. This sounds remarkably similar to the Monty Python-esque “Run away! Run away!” but you are not just fleeing, but are also reducing the advantage of the attacker. An interesting concept that I hope not to have to test out in practice. I am trusting the skills I learned in avoiding attack in Chicago will serve me well should the need arise.

This was also our opportunity to hear from highly placed, career civil service diplomats who specialized in the regions we were going to. They were: Larry Schwartz, Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs, Embassy of the United States, India and Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, US Department of State. We were assured that we were not expected to defend the policies of the current administration and some sympathy was elicited for the career diplomats who must. As one might expect of career diplomats, they were well spoken and answered questions with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the region. As in the health talk, I don’t know that I learned much that I did not already know, but the experience felt like we were being given a private, confidential, briefing by insiders. The speakers also did a good job of convincing us that the Fulbright program really made a positive difference in the world by putting a human face on the US and helping to dispel some of the absolutely crazy ideas about the US that exist in the world.

We did get in two bits of sightseeing. The Renaissance Hotel was two blocks from the National Portrait Gallery. Kris headed for a special exhibit of the work of political cartoonist Herblock. I spent my time in the section of portraits of American presidents. The National Portrait Gallery’s presidential collection is certainly the definitive collection in the country. I was amazed that almost all the images we see of the Founding Fathers come from just a few images and most of these are housed in the National Portrait Gallery. Even some of the iconic images of the modern presidents are housed here. Kris and I had visited the Gallery about tweleve years ago, but we got there just at closing time and raced to see just the most famous of the portraits. This time, I went leisurely through all the presidents. The portraits are of extremely high quality, no doubt because of the tradition of every president having an official portrait done. Some of the modern presidents are done in a more contemporary style. President Reagan’s portrait is luminous, for example, and portrays “the Gipper” at his best. Those of you who know me, know that it was during the Reagan administration that I came to realize that the greatest gift given to the country by George Washington was the tradition, now added to the Constitution, of a president only serving two terms. But this portrait depicted a man who I would have loved to have a beer with.

We also visited the Smithsonian’s Sackler Museum of Asian Art. Our choice to pick this Smithsonian museum of the many available again goes back to our trip about twelve years ago when we just kind of stumbled into it. The Sackler was a wonderful surprise to us then and it lived up to our memories now. They had a special exhibit of pottery from Southeast Asia that was quite remarkable. We were especially attracted to the celadon bowls from the Mekong River area. The Sackler also has a wonderful collection of artifacts from the full range of Chinese dynasties, from the Qin to the Qing.

Tim

“Nevermind…”

Somehow I can still hear in my mind the voice of Gilda Radnor’s Emily Vitella, a character on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update from the old days, as she is informed by anchorperson Chevy Chase or Jane Curtain that the basis of one of her rants is not true. From her initial angry, strident, demeanor, Emily adopts a sheepish look and says “Nevermind…” in that distinctive, annoying, highly nasal, voice.

Well, in my case this is what I have to say in regard to my previous post. It turns out that I was unaware of certain limitations of airline tickets. In our case the most restrictive one is that no airline will write a ticket for travel more than 300 days from the date of purchase of the ticket. So, a round-the-world ticket can not be purchased if the travel ends more than 300 days from the date of purchase. So I will never know if the RTW travel planner applet gave a good estimate for the ticket prices for the itinerary selected. However, Deborah at AirTreks.com still was able to quote a price for the outgoing leg of our journey that was considerably less than what I imagine I would have gotten from Expedia, et al., entering the various legs of the journey one at a time. So, Seattle -> Beijing, overland to Shanghai, Shanghai -> Hanoi via Bangkok, overland to Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City -> Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh -> Singapore, SIngapore -> Colombo was priced around $2800 per person. That is somewhat over the budget figured using the RTW applet price, but we were ready to go ahead. Then we went to the mandatory Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation in Washington, DC (which deserves, and will get, a separate posting)…

And it turns out we have a visa problem. Apparently, only the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington, DC can give us a visa that will enable us to spend nine months in that country. They will not do so until they receive instructions from the Immigration and Emigration Ministry in Colombo. They will not do so until they get a request from the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in Colombo. They will not do that until they receive an official document detailing my Fulbright grant award from the US State Department in Washington, DC. This will not be issued until another branch of the State Department certifies that I am healthy enough to withstand the rigors of life in Sri Lanka based on a medical examination form recently submitted by my family doctor. (I must day that I am somewhat grateful for this form. It requests the results of a very “old school” physical exam. So this was the first time in the three or so years I have been seeing this doctor that he actually palpitated my organs, checked my reflexes, and, uncomfortably enough, did a digital exam of my prostate, for example. I guess I grew up when physical exams were, well, more physical and the more modern practice of doing virtually everything with blood tests leaves me vaguely unsatified. BTW, all of my organs were in their proper places and within acceptable size ranges.)

As we had planned to leave the country in six weeks and there are several bureaucratic hurdles that no one has ventured to guess the time required to cross, it seems unclear that we will be able to leave the country as planned. And since low cost airline tickets are non-refundable, that means we would be taking a huge financial risk if we went ahead and purchased them. And if we wait until the situation is more clear, the ticket costs could rise considerably. And do not ask me why we could not get our visa at a Sri Lankan embassy in, say, Singapore, but apparently it is impossible.

So we are reconsidering our options. We hope to know more by mid next week.

Tim

Trip planning in progress

Kris has been finishing up final sewing projects. I have been trying to layout our travel plans.

We decided to get a so-called “round the world” airline ticket. This is the least expensive way to get airline tickets if you want to stop over at multiple destinations. The “catch” is that you really do have to go around the world, making one cross Atlantic flight and one cross Pacific flight in the process. It is not a “catch” in our case as we like this idea. The downside is that one has to pretty much sketch out all of our travel for the year. Shannon and I independently found a San Francisco-based company on the web that specializes in such tickets called “AirTreks.com”. They have a well-designed web application that allows you to specify all the cities you want to stop in and then it gives you a price range for the tickets. One then has to speak to a representative to complete the booking.

We have pretty much completed the planning for a 15 day stay in China. We are using a Chinese company called “China Highlights.” They have been extremely responsive to our requests. More once it is booked.

Kris and I stopped by our local AAA office and looked at their travel brochures and collected the road maps we would need for our US travel. We found a brochure for a company that advertises tours in Vietnam. I was frustrated to learn when I called them for some help that they only deal with travel agents, not the public. Our pick for a travel agent at AAA is on vacation herself and will not be back until next Monday.

This is not as inconvenient as it might have been since Kris and I are traveling tomorrow to Washington, DC for the Fulbright orientation program. The program will be presented at the Renaissance Hotel through Friday. We are hopeful that we will be provided with much more detailed information that will help us finalize our plans.

Tim

We’ve rented the house and are preparing to be homeless!

Well, we have succeeded in renting our house.

I was not sure we would be able to find a renter. We advertised at Kenyon, MVNU, Ariel, and Rolls Royce with no takers. After giving those organizations a week to respond, we put in an ad for two weeks in the Mount Vernon News. In response, we had about five groups of visitors come to tour the house. All of the five seemed promising, but of the five groups only two filled out an application form. I wonder if that is the normal return rate or whether we violated some local norm in requesting an application form. I downloaded it free from the web and it was quite detailed.

I called former landlords. I went online to www.1-background-checks.com and paid for a credit check and criminal records check. It turns out that one of applicants (with a relatively common name) had the same name as two registered sex offenders. The report gives a physical description of the offenders and the description did not even come close to matching the applicant, so we ignored that. One applicant had an excellent credit rating and the other had a bad credit rating. We liked both applicants and would probably have taken a chance with the one who had a bad credit rating given the positive things said about them by previous landlords, but taken together with all the other factors, we went with the applicant with the excellent credit rating.

Then came several hours of research on leases. I did not want to just download something free from the web for this, though there are reasonable looking leases out there. I went to Staples and purchased a CD called Every Landlord’s Legal Guide by a company called Adams. Basically, it contained a PDF file of legal information about being a landlord and a collection of forms in MS Word format to copy, modify as appropriate, and print out for various situations. I learned, for example, that federal law requires that I give the tenant a statement regarding lead paint in the house and a EPA pamphlet that educates the tenant about avoiding exposure to lead paint. Who knew?

I liked the tone of the advice in the PDF file. For example, many standard leases contain provisions that have long been known to be legally unenforceable. I remember how much I hated signing a document with these kinds of clauses when I was a renter myself. The Legal Guide takes the sensible approach of recommending not to include these provisions and also creating an easy to read lease, not cluttered with archaic language.

The guide also saved me from making what might have been a big mistake. The applicant is going to live here with their two children, but the children are over 18. We had originally intended to just have the parent as the tenant, but the Legal Guide made it clear that if we allowed anyone over 18 to live here, they became de facto tenants and if they were not co-signers on the lease, they were tenants not covered by the terms of the lease. So, to avoid unlikely but potentially sticky situations, all three are co-tenants on the lease. Spending $30 buying this Guide was a good investment, I think.

So the tenants have signed the lease and put down the security deposit. That means we will be homeless on August 1! This locks us in to spending August and September traveling before we arrive in Sri Lanka around October 1. Our current thoughts are to spend August in the US and September in Asia. More on that later.

Tim