Dispatches from China on National Geographic’s Intelligent Traveler

Our friends over at National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel just told me about an interesting series of dispatches that Keith Bellows, the Traveler Editor in Chief is in the midst of. He and this year’s winner of The Next Great Travel Writer contest recently touched down in Beijing and will be making their way across China into Mongolia.

Along the way they’ll be sending dispatches about the experience including the Olympic games, central China and into the north, starting yesterday with their arrival into Beijing.

Bellows brings back vivid memories of my own time in China, navigating the busy streets and haggling with vendors, lost in a world of wonderful foreign people. I can still smell the streets of Shanghai and barely see through the smog of The Bund.

Apparently in light of the Olympic Games the Chinese have cleaned up Beijing quite a bit — Bellows speaks of clear blue skies, flower pots and merriment all over the city as citizens get geared up for the games. I wonder how long this will last after this summer.

Make sure you check out Intelligent Travel to follow along with Keith and his understudy as they traverse the far east — I’m already jealous after reading the first article.

Revisiting the Milagro Beanfield War

John Ur has just begun a series at Intelligent Travel to highlight the movies that capture the essence of the 50 states. In today’s post he presents films shot in New Mexico that capture a particular essence of its landscape and people. It’s a great list. Being that I’m a movie hound, I can second his recommendations. I was just talking with a friend tonight about 3:10 to Yuma and I think it’s the best movie this year.

Ur’s recommendation of the movie The Milagro Beanfield War reminded me of the book. Sure, the movie is wonderful, but the book is splendid. When I read the The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols I was living in a Gambian village having my Peace Corps experience. I laughed so hard when I read parts of it, I could hardly stand how much I laughed. Great big guffaws. Tears running. I’m serious.The experience of the VISTA volunteer from somewhere on the east coat trying to adapt to living in a small village in Northern New Mexico was so much like my Peace Corps experience I was thrilled. I did not feel quite so stupid and out of place.

The volunteer tried so hard to not be offensive and fit in to the village culture that people around him were perplexed about certain things he did. They assumed his behavior was normal so they didn’t interfere with his comings or goings or offer suggestions. There were many miscommunications. I vaguely remember a guitar as a central force in one instance. One if his friends borrowed his guitar but didn’t bring it back. The volunteer was afraid to ask for it for fear of being offensive, but would look over at the guitar with longing from the inside of his house. This went on for days, as I recall. The friend didn’t know the volunteer wanted the guitar back since he didn’t ask.

Nicols had such a way of capturing the issues of culture and miscommunication that for weeks afterwards I recommended it to friends. I would put this on your list of novels to read that have an important message, but do so in such a sly and funny way that you’ll have good time while learning about how people can interact when the parameters aren’t clear. The part of New Mexico Nichols describes has not changed much either.

By the way, in the movie the VISTA volunteer was changed to a social worker of some sort because it was felt the audience wouldn’t know about VISTA since the program had ended well before the movie was made. VISTA was the domestic version of Peace Corps. Volunteers were generally sent to urban areas, reservations or rural towns that were impoverished in the U.S. to help create solutions. VISTA on a large scale ended with Reagan, however its been resurrected over the years and is now AmeriCorps. VISTA is part of the official name. The emphasis is similar, but it has a different structure from what I understand.

Brain feeling blah? Exercise it.

On New Year’s Eve I spent an hour or so engaged in the board game Battle of the Sexes with friends. I think that was the name of it. We were on vacation at their house in Ottawa, Ohio. A few hours before the game, the female half of this couple took me on a drive through town to show me where the water line was when the town flooded this summer. Their basement family room was royally trashed by water.

Thanksgiving weekend, I spent an hour or so playing some other brain engaging activity with my husband’s family in Hinckley, Ohio (It’s where the buzzards come to roost each spring.) It was a short vacation; we didn’t stay overnight, but the trip involved 5 hours of driving, so I call that getting away. I can’t remember the name of Thanksgiving’s game, but I do remember it involved drawing, acting and trivia.

According to a post at Intelligent Traveler, this game playing is part of a travel trend. Wow! I would have done a better job and won if I knew I was cutting edge. Since playing games gives your brain a workout AND helps you relax, people in the hotel business are wooing guests by providing game playing and brain exercise options.

Some, like Hyatt Resorts are providing board games for guests to use. Seminars, workshops and classes on how to get your brain on fire with vim and vigor while you’re on break from the rest of your life are also in the mix. Westin Hotels have brain exercises they hand out to their guests.

When I stayed at the Westin in Taipei, I was so thrilled with the bedding and the bathtub since it was such a contrast to the funky, odd, kind of uncomfortable apartment we lived in Hsinchu with its hard as a rock mattress, tub that you really couldn’t sit in, and hot water that barely lasted through one shower , much less two, that brain food would have been a distraction from the luxury.

After reading about this game trend, it occurred to me that southeastern Kentucky is way ahead. One of the regular activities at the Buckhorn Lake State Park resort is playing Bingo. That’s a game I can win. The last time I stayed there, I left with a ceramic mug.

National Geographic Traveler World in Focus Contest winners

I just opened the link to the Intelligent Traveler from December 28 and was treated to this awesome photo that made Mark Unrau the first place winner of this year’s National Geographic Traveler’s World in Focus Contest. (Click on photo for larger view.)

Unrau is not a photographer by profession. According to the blurb about him at National Geographic Traveler’s Web site, he works in mining in Canada. But, heavens! The guy certainly knows how to capture a perfect image. The prize is a sweet deal. He gets to choose between an 11-day trip to Artic Norway or a 10-day trip to the Galápagos Islands. Personally, I’d head south.

Click here for the link to the other photos and for an explanation of how Unrau made the shot and where he took it. The other photographs are similarly explained. I like reading about the people and their traveling as much as I like looking at the photographs.

The next contest is being announced in May 2008. If you want to hone your photography skills, National Geographic Traveler has photo seminars that are being offered in various cities. There are several options over the next few months. Click here for information.

National Geographic photo contest winners revealed today

Today is the day when the finalists and the winner of the National Geographic Photography Contest will be announced. At the National Geographic headquarters, 80 finalists will gather to celebrate their awesome shot skills. If there are 80 finalists can you imagine just how many photographs were sifted through? There were 15,000 and then some last year. Man!

The top winner will have his or her photograph printed in the magazine. Other photos will be shown on the National Geographic Web site. I just looked to see them, but I don’t think they’re up yet. However, our good friend Marilyn Terrell over at Intelligent Traveler, who is in the know with National Geographic, gave us the heads up, so keep checking.

If you haven’t browsed the photo section of National Geographic lately, it’s pretty cool. Instead of just a slide show that moves through various photos, there is one link where you can spend hours working puzzles made from photographs. I found myself being sucked into the vortex so I had to quit since I have things to do and places to go, but I’ll be back on this one. Watching the photograph I chose being made into a puzzle was a pleasure in itself.

If you didn’t get yourself organized enough to enter the contest, or didn’t have a photo worth sending along yet, but now you do, you can submit photos to the National Geographic Web site and one might be chosen as a monthly pick. Readers help do the choosing. Here are the ones being considered for November’s best.