Photo of the Day: Delph Locks

It’s a balmy 91° in Northern Virginia today, and humidity has it feeling near-triple digits outside. Needless to say, water of any sort is a welcome sight — including this photo of the Delph Locks in West Midlands, England.

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SkyMall Monday: Handy Cooler

This week’s edition of SkyMall Monday comes to you from Bali, Indonesia. I’m on the tropical island attending a wedding and, while doing so, am also sweating on a professional level. It’s not that Bali is all that hot (it’s been in the high 80s since we arrived) but, SkyMall Almighty, it’s humid. As cliches go, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” is one of the more accurate turns of phrase. I’m constantly wiping sweat out of my eyes and seeking out water (or another ice cold Bintang). After a long day of exploring, I’m a damp, lethargic mess. When we finally arrive back at our house, I scurry into our air conditioned bedroom to get my core temperature back down to something that allows my internal organs to function properly. What I wouldn’t give to take that cold, climate-controlled air with me everywhere we go. Paper fans just move hot air around and asking people to gently blow on me gets lost in translation. Thankfully, SkyMall has come to the rescue. Now, when things get hot we can all stay cool thanks to the Handy Cooler.Strapping a commercial air conditioning unit onto your back is simply impractical. That’s why you need to think small when it comes to staying cool. Being able to carry around a personal cooling system is the key to comfort whether you’re in Bali, at a barbecue or eating kung pao chicken.

Think that a little heat shouldn’t slow anybody down? Believe that staying hydrated is all it takes to push through a heat wave? Well, while you pass out from heat stroke, we’ll be reading the product description:

Trying to stay cool is not always easy. Misting fans will get you too wet. Cheap personal fans only move around the air that is already hot. Now, your problems are solved with Handy Cooler, the first ever battery operated, handheld evaporative air cooler that uses a water-soaked cooling filter to provide a continuous flow of cool air. Stay refreshed at the gym, office, home, anywhere you go. Compatible with your favorite aroma oils to double as a diffuser.

It’s about time that evaporative air coolers – like microchips, cell phones and my chances of dating Shakira – got smaller. Surely no one at the office will mind you cooling yourself during the weekly budget meeting. And your fellow passengers on the bus will love it when you pop in some aroma oils.

If you’re still unsure of whether you should strap the Handy Cooler to your palm before heading out into Hades, take a look at this informative video:

I sure wish I had known about the Handy Cooler before I flew halfway around the world just to sweat like a whore in church. Learn from my mistake and pick up the Handy Cooler today.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Product review – Air-O-Swiss ultrasonic travel humidfier

No amount of luxury at a hotel can help prevent me from waking up with a dry throat in the middle of the night – for some reason, the climate control at most hotels seems to keep the room a very unpleasant 30% humidity, and for some reason, I am very sensitive to dry air.

Last year I mentioned the Air-O-Swiss “AOS 7146” ultrasonic travel humidifier. I finally ordered one and am happy to report that it really does work as advertised. The humidifier itself is small at just 4.5″x2.5″x3″ and at tad over 0.7lbs it will barely take up any room in your bag.

Included in the box is the humidifier itself, a bottle adapter, a carrying pouch and a power supply with a set of international prongs.

To use the humidifier, you simply grab a water bottle (no larger than half a liter), insert the adapter in the bottle, and place the bottle in the humidifier. On the back of the unit is a knob to adjust the humidity level. On the bottom of the unit are 2 folding stands, which should prevent a heavy bottle from tipping the humidifier over.

The unit produces a very fine mist of cool water, which is easily absorbed into the air. The unit does lack a hygrometer, so you’ll either need to keep it on “high” all day, or adjust it when you feel things are getting too humid.

For my test, I brought along a pocket digital hygrometer. When I entered the hotel room, the meter read 34%, which is usually too dry for me. After about an hour with the travel humidifier the humidity level had reached a comfortable 46%.

The Air-O-Swiss AOS 7146 ultrasonic travel humidifier retails for $59.99, but can be found for at your local Bed Bath and Beyond store, which means you can pick one up with one of their easily obtainable 20% off coupons. I ended up paying a little over $48 for mine, which is quite a good bargain.

Dry and uncomfortable in your hotel room? Bring a humidfier!

While strolling through the aisles of the local Bed Bath and Beyond yesterday (which is a bad idea this time of year), I came across this fantastic little ultrasonic humidifier.

The Air-O-Swiss “AOS 7146 TRAVEL” is a tiny box, with a water bottle screw thread on top. Instead of relying on a gallon sized water container, you simply attach a regular water bottle to the top of the unit, plug in the power adapter, and it instantly starts blowing out nice humid mist.

The humidity (or lack of) in most hotel rooms has always bothered me, and I’d often wake up in the middle of the night with a dry throat, so this device just went on my Christmas list.

The AOS 7146 costs $59.99, but most people will probably have a large stack of 20% off coupons for Bed Bath and Beyond lying around, bringing the price down to a very reasonable level.

The unit comes complete with an international power adapter with foreign plugs as well as a travel bag. At just 0.7lbs, it is small and light enough to accompany you on your next trip, and hopefully make things a little more comfortable. If you don’t have a store in your area, you can order it on the Bed Bath and Beyond web site,

A Canadian in Beijing: Smooth Summer Night

As I walked back from the subway tonight in the clinging heat, I felt like I was floating. No, perhaps “coasting” is a better word. My legs were like rudders guiding my upper body smoothly and wordlessly through a thick, heavy sea of humidity. I watched the late evening Beijing sights like I was leaning over the railing on a slow moving cruise ship and being carried along.

It was dreamlike.

I’m tired tonight. I had a long day visiting friends which came on the heels of a long night of partying the night before with the university crowd. It was a celebration because our exams are over and the courses have come to a close. They’re all out again tonight, but this student (i.e. the one who is about an average of ten years older than everyone else here!) cannot keep this pace. I chose to head back to an air-conditioned dorm room to cool off and be languid.

And tonight is truly a night for the word “languid.”

Besides, I was in jeans and sneakers all day in the intense heat and I feel like a human stew. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t smell inviting. I really outta be alone tonight!

As I was walking home, though, conscious of this being my last week here, I was taking it all in like scenes from a movie. Sometimes I see my life here a bit like that, as though I’m writing my life over again and I’m the protagonist in the script who can choose what happens next – a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” film, perhaps. And, “shuo shi hua” (to tell you the truth), it’s almost like that for me here. I ride the tide of contacts and activity often not knowing what will come next; it’s a beautiful reality. I feel so far removed from my home in a Canada – a world of pre-scheduled tours and travels, some of which are pre-booked a whole year in advance. This spontaneity, or option for spontaneity, has been so incredibly liberating.

I’m going to miss it.

Tonight’s dreamy feeling started when I walked into the mouth of the subway at Chaoyang, downtown. I was washed with the sounds of cheesy pop music coming from the CD vendor’s small stereo at the bottom of the stairs. Often the subway entrances have vendors selling a variety of things and pirated CDs and DVDs are among the popular items. I have seen this vendor before, a young guy who is often strumming a guitar along with the songs, and his music is always playing. Or, shall I say it is always crackling out the speakers that are too small to handle his penchant for loud volume. This time, the song was a soundtrack-style song with fully orchestrated keyboard strings and wind chimes and soaring vocals. As I walked down the passageway under the street, the sounds of this twinkling music fading behind me felt like the score to a movie that was just beginning. It set my thoughtful tone for the whole forty-five minute trip back to Wudaokou.

I got out at the Wudaokou stop along with the many other young people pouring onto the platform. I took up my place in the spilling students going down the steps of line 13, an aboveground train, and eventually found myself on the sidewalk and being carried eastward towards my campus in the same crowd.

I first crossed the train tracks that are right beside the subway exit and I took in the track keeper’s residence. I’m not sure what his official title is, but each side of these tracks consists of a small residence space and the people who live and work on each side are responsible for the railway crossing, i.e. the announcements, the lowering and rising of the traffic arms, the security, etc.

(Well, I was told that they don’t actually live there, but it sure looks like a home to me…)

This south side looks more elaborately lived-in than the north side with laundry hanging outside the small square living quarters, a veggie garden planted on one side of the tracks in the empty plot of land (I love that there’s a garden right here in this busy urban railroad crossing!), and potted flowers in the mini courtyard. This worker has truly tried to make it a home in such a public place.

Then, just moments later, I am gliding past the outdoor restaurant and markets where vendors sell food on skewers (chuars) and steamed corn and beer. In fact, you can get just about anything here, including vegetarian fare, as long as you’re not picky about where it’s cooked. There are piles of seafood and meat and then lots of vegetables to choose from.

It is crowded on a non-rainy weekend night with tables and chatter everywhere. During the day, this open lot is deserted, but at night everything comes alive. The smells of cooking and smoke and clatter of glass bottles all hit me at once. The angle of the smells and sounds reminded me of a sudden laugh track in an old sitcom at a moment in the script that isn’t that funny. I’m not part of the merriment, but it is alive in another dimension, piped into my state of mind anachronistically.

My cruise continues, bound for its only destination: home.

(Or at least, the closest thing I have to home here, which is my dorm room.)

Crossing the street and rounding left down the pathway to the west-gate of my campus, the energy on the street has calmed. The heat is keeping the edges duller here. I slip in through the west gate past the childlike guard who is dutifully holding his rigid position and I swerve around the basketball courts to my dorm building. When the door finally closes behind me, my pants and sneakers find the floor and I sit around in my underwear enjoying the air conditioning and letting the day frame itself around my thoughts.

It is only nine o’clock at night and the credits are going to start rolling any moment. This short film of my evening is coming to a close, free of dialogue but full of sights, sounds, smells and feeling.

All we need now is a repeat of that cheesy pop music and it would be a full-circle Beijing night. Oh well, I’ll just have to replay it in my mind, fuzzy speakers and all.

Cue the wind chimes.