Panda travel adventures

[Lots of photos in this one, so it'll be a while if you're on dialup]

7 cities.  3 hemispheres.  58 hours travel time (that’s 2 1/2 days) 4 trains.  8 planes.  2
buses.  countless taxis, cars and seemingly eternal hoofing.  Several thousand dollars US.  Unimagineable jet-lag.  All
in 10 days, which for perspective, is little over a week, and just barely so when you consider that nearly 30% of that time
was spent in transit.

travel adventure panda<br />
Early morning sun through the airport departure gate…

When all was said and done, Panda accomplished what he set out to do, dealt with what he had to deal with, and faced the
sobering coldness of the reality lurking just outside of our warm, safely hazy island floating comfortingly in the western
end of the Pacific Ocean.

Piles and piles of work was awaiting me when I returned - not 9 hours after I had
finally settled back into the comfy piles of blankets of my own bed, I had to rouse myself to stand in front of a classroom on a cold and
dreary overcast Saturday morning and give a “demonstration lesson” to a group of visiting teachers and faceless,
nameless, same-suit wearing “dignitaries” who seemed even less interested in being there than I did in being anywhere besides my bed. 
The rough and tumble life of a high school english teacher in Japan, I suppose.

travel adventure panda<br />
Flying over Canada can be a beautiful experience, though this picture doesn’t exactly capture it to the fullest.

Stepping off the plane in Kansai, I was startled (after spending 12 hours politely wrangling with the unusually close “attentions”
of a mapley Air Canada steward whilst trapped in an exit row seat next to the flight attendants galley) (note the lack of the suffix “~ess”)
to find a curteous young woman dressed in the conservative-but-cute blue garb of ANA airlines holding a rather large
sign that clearly read “Mr. Michael Panda”. 

“Uh-oh” I intoned to myself – “this cannot be good…”  

travel adventure panda<br />
The entrance to the Chicago Blue Line.  Enter at your own risk.

I guess I based my conclusion on 1 part natural-born panda intuition and 1 part the fact that no one really knew I had even
left the country (we do it ninja-style here in the House of Panda), let alone when I was returning, which most likely meant that the crisply
scribed black sharpie strokes on white paper was not an open invitation to a champaign reception and limo ride back to
the house.  Thus, fearing the worse, I cleared my throat to cycle the stale bone dry plane air out of my lungs, and
stepped forward towards the young lady.

“I -” I announced, “am Michael Panda”.  Then, realizing my proclamation sounded
rather bold, in the sort of vein of Julius Caesar standing over the smoldering ashes of a defeated barbarian army, or
Washington crossing the Delaware, what have you, I awkwardly gestured to the left  “… uhh, like it says on the

travel adventure panda<br />
I like the way this picture turned out.  Took it with my phone, no less!

“Oh!  Mr. Panda!” she chirped “I’m afraid I have some bad news…  Your luggage is … chotto… not here…” 

(chotto: “slightly/a little/barely”.  used as a “softner” to indicate hesitation when the Japanese are about to tell
you something that’s going to totally fuck up your entire day.  You know you’re in for a splitting headache whenever a seemingly
simple query (usually to a government official/person in charge of some utterly mundane but inexplicably important task/stamp/official paper you
need) is answered by a deep sucking of breath, tilting of the head to the side and the dreaded fucking sound of sore wa
… being moistly forced out between clenched teeth)

alt="travel adventure panda pictar" border="0" />

Purrtty fluffy white clouds over Canadia.

*sigh*  I had made it halfway around the world, been through customs something like 10 times, had my bags opened, searched, scanned
and x-rayed at least twice that many times, and of all places they have to lose it here – IN THE VERY LAST

I clench my teeth to avoid chewing a hole threw my lips. 

“So, then, where,
praytell, might it chotto be…?”

travel adventure panda<br />
I saw a lot of airports at ungodly hours of the night and did a lot of sleeping in what must seemingly be the most
uncomfortable chairs in the world.  The dude on the right kept running back and forth from somewhere to somewhere in a hurry, which is
rather unusual for a fellow wearing a bullet proof vest in O’Hare at 5 am, and I must admit, caused me a bit of concern.

She bobs her head apologetically.  “Well, we’re not sure, exactly, but we think somewhere between Canada and Japan.”  She looks
past me after she finishes this sentence and randomly bows at people exiting the plane, steadfastly avoiding my gaze.
/>“Somewhere between Canada and Japan….?”  I have switched to Japanese at this point to make sure there wasn’t a miscommunication in
English.  “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there A FUCKING OCEAN BETWEEN CANADA AND JAPAN…!?

travel adventure panda<br />
Central in Panama city.

“hee hee hee!” Nervous laughter and she covers her mouth with her hand.  “Of course!  But I mean to say, we don’t know
exactly if it’s in Canada or in Japan or maybe it is on some other plane in between.  Anyway, you should go downstairs to
customs and talk with them about it.”

At the mere mention of the word “customs” I let out an involuntary groan.  My mind starts
racing a million miles an hour.  What horribly banned substance could I have possibly had inside my luggage to raise the ire of
understaffed, overworked border agents with guns, mean dogs and a massive ax to grind against any who accidentally transgress on
their stomping ground of prohibited items (which at this point includes virtually everything in your bathroom, bedroom, kitchen
and garage)?  Was it my vial of anthrax?  No, left that at home.  Violently anti-maple-anti-canadian propoganda?  No,
distributed all of those in Panama.  Uncensored porn tapes outlawed by Japanese law?  No, close up macro shots of human genitalia make
me naseaus.  2 kg sphere of fissionable nuclear material clandestinely smuggled out of top secret midwestern nuclear missle silos?  No,
if I had that, I sure as hell wouldn’t be returning to a job which routinely entails me ducking flying staplers and telling 17 year old children
that you cook in a “frying pan” as opposed to a “flying pan” and that no matter what experiences you think you may have had in your study abroad,
you most definitely did not eat a “penis buttel and jerry sando” but rather a “peanut butter and jelly sandwich”.

travel adventure panda<br />
Having lived in Japan for a while, it’s shocking to realize just how accustomed to the safety, cleanliness and convenience
that characterizes Japanese public transportating.  Riding the Chicago blue line at 4 am in the morning was a terrifying experience that
brought me back to reality quickly.  What you can’t see in this seemingly innocous picture are the two drunken bums passed out with a bottle
of wild turky and urinating on themselves in front of the divider in front of me, and the extremely dodgy looking fellow who tried to sell me
some “gold chains”, a fucking gold tooth and what seemed to be crack cocaine.  *sigh*  For all it’s bad points, there
really is nowhere else in the world as safe as Japan and I love that.

So with these thoughts in mind (and trying desperately to gauge the likelihood that one of my so called “friends” may have thought it funny to
try and slip some manner of vibrating sexual aid into my luggage whilst I was passed out) I nervously tip toed my way through immigrations (ahhh,
it’s so nice having a visa – just looking at the 2 hour line of unfortunate souls waiting in the winding queues in front of the
“foreigners/visitors” entrance made me appreciate all that I had to go through to get it) and down to customs, where the first three customs
agents I talked to look at me with a bewildered gaze when I started rambling on about my missing, and presumably drowning-at-this-very-moment-in
-the-pacific-ocean luggage until the fourth finally redirected me not to customs, but rather to a rather besieged Air Canada/ANA desk in the
middle of the vast luggage pick up area with a sign reading “Lost Luggage” above it.

travel adventure panda<br />
A random street performer near the old district in Panama City.

Walking up to the desk, I plop my ticket on the counter.

“Hello.  One of your gate agents told me my luggage was missing.”
/>She types my name into the computer.

alt="travel adventure panda pictar" border="0" />
MQ, it seems, has something of a hot foot.  This video was taken after we had sideswiped/escaped most of the heavy traffic dotting the
more upscale northern bit of Michigan Avenue.  GTA3, eat your heart out.

“Oh yes, Mr. Panda.  Yes, it seems your luggage has been misplaced somewhere between Canada and Japan”. 

“errm, yes.  And
will you please stop referring to it as being somewhere ‘between Canada and Japan’?” (okay, so I thought that last part silently, but still, the
very real possibility of a watery grave for my precious panda-sized clothing that I had bought in a tremendous shopping binge in America brought
tears to my eyes)

travel adventure panda<br />
You don’t know fear until you try driving in Panama.  This is a typical traffic “jam” (I use the term lightly as it
really doesn’t do this justice) at
10:30 in the afternoon

“Yes.  Okay, then, so what does your luggage look like?”

“What does it look like…?  You’re the ones who
told me it was missing!  Don’t you know what it looks like?”

*awkward silence”

travel adventure panda<br />
Referred to as “Diablos Rojos” or “Red Devils”, the so called “buses” (privately owned) that criss cross Panama city in a
seemingly endless array of creatively designed and flamboyantly themed varieties are infamous for running over their prospective riders with a
rather disturbing regularity.

Sucking in a deep breath, I bite the bullet and try to describe it.

“Well, it’s bright red, looks like a big duffel bag, has two wheels,
a shoulder strap, but no extendable handle.”

“Oh, okay, so a pullman?” she chirps.

travel adventure panda<br />
Neatly lined villas along a quiet street.  The barbed wire on the roofs and fences are not visible in this

“errm, no.  It looks like a duffel bag with a shoulder strap, but no extendable handle”

“No, I mean to say like this, sorry, I
don’t know how to say in english…” and she promptly draws an impossibly neat (and weirdly cute….) pullman on the margin of the official lost
luggage form.

“eerrm, well, no, I know what a pullman is, but what I mean, is, my bag is not a pullman.  It’s like a
big duffelbag with wheels.  It has big pockets on the side, and a shoulder strap.”

travel adventure panda<br />
Taking off from the tropical surroundings of Tocumen International.

She adds pockets and a shoulder strap to the pullman drawing.

At this point, just as I was beginning to feel what can only
have been either hot molten volcanic magma or unrelenting rage and fury welling up deep in my (quite empty, I realized at that moment) tummah, a
second clerk stepped in a saved the day, producing from under the counter, a handy chart with virtually every luggage configuration known to man
or panda drawn on it.  I pointed to my luggage and we were off.

travel adventure panda<br />
Nothing like dim sum in China town… mmm…..

Long story short, I eventually got my luggage a few days later, I’m still jet lagged, I have a cold, and there is a mountain of back logged
work towering of my head at this very second.  *sigh*  World weary traveling panda.

  travel<br />
adventure panda pictar
Panda, cousin #1 and girlfriend in Hard Rock Cafe Panama.  Note major jet lag.

height="270" src="" width="360" alt="travel adventure panda pictar" /> />Amber looking very much the blushing midwestern bride.

travel adventure panda<br />
Panda and cousins #2 and #3 mugging for the camera.

travel adventure panda<br />
It was nice that I got a chance to see my
, captured here grinning evilly as we start plotting a terrible scheme to unleash upon the world.

travel adventure panda<br />
Just like old times.  Panda considers the proposed course of action, calculates the amount of firecrackers we’ll need,
and discusses the possibilities for maximized mayhem and destruction with his younger sibling.

travel adventure panda<br />
It reads “FAA regulations require restricted recline of your seat back to keep from blocking emergency exit behind
you”.  What this shit means is that for 4.5 hours I was stuck in a damn chair with a seat back straight enough to reduce a marine
to tears.  I couldn’t feel my spine for two days after this…

travel adventure panda<br />
Megan has had quite enough to drink at this point.  Which was unfortunate, as she was the only one in the group who knew
where the hell in Chicago we were at the moment, and more importantly, how to get home.

travel adventure panda<br />
The idea is simple, though now removed from the comforting haze of alcohol, not quite as sensical as I seem to recall
it.  Package tamons and chocolate together in one easy to puchase and store pack for women who might be on their period and want to attend
to their femine needs whilst substituting for the inevitable lack of sexual activity during this sensitive period.  The tampons Megan
procured at wal-green in downtown Chicago at 3 am, by the way, redefine the word “
Ghetto” and take it to (presumably) painful new

travel adventure panda<br />
Patacones (plantains) and filet mignon.  A match made in heaven.  I estimate I must have eaten close to 14 whole
plantains during 7 days or so. Man, I love plantains.  If ANYONE knows how/where I can get some in Japan… my first born to you!

travel adventure panda<br />
A crazy taxi driver who insisted on bumping the latest beats and going on about Jesus instead of driving.  On the plus
side, a taxi ride in Panama city only costs $1~$2 US anywhere in the city.

travel adventure panda<br />
Getting lost in Chicago…

travel adventure panda<br />
MQ is freezing cold and telling me she most definitely needs a cup of coffee at this point.

travel adventure panda<br />
Somethings never change.  In the middle of Panama city – a haven for panda lovers the world over. 

Anyway, so that’s about it. 

Now to switch gears for a moment, I will throw some requisite liberal links your way before I

It’s sad when News of the Weird touches on critical story that doesn’t even appear on the radar of major news

The Los Angeles County child-support agency, on the losing side of a June California Court of Appeal paternity decision, asked the state
Supreme Court to officially not tell anyone about the decision, so as to discourage additional paternity challenges. (Normally in America, if a
man acquiesces that he is the father of a child, he is permanently responsible for child support, until adulthood, even if a DNA test later
proves he is not the father. Going against the grain, the appeals court overturned Manual Navarro’s paternity order based on a DNA test, and the
agency petitioned the high court in August to “de-publish” that decision, fearing that other “fathers” might get negative DNA tests and thus stop
paying support.) (Update: The state enacted a statute in October permitting such paternity challenges.)

What is most disturbing
about this excerpt is the fact that the state actually asked the state Supreme Court not to tell anyone about a decision
that might possibly result in correcting a grievous injustice suffered silently by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of men every

Why would the state want to perpetuate the unspoken crime of paternity fraud?

The answer is simple – it is not in the state’s financial interest to do anything about paternity fraud, because if they did, they would end
up footing the bill for thousands of children in single parent households.  Thus they wink and turn a blind eye to mothers who often
knowingly name an innocent man as the purported “father” of children they know not to be theirs, and the state willingly shakes down the
unfortunate victims, as they would rather hose an innocent man than have to shoulder the burden themselves (as is the job of the state and the

Recent studies (linked when I get a chance, give me some time here, I’m swamped) have indicated that in some states as many as 45% of the
men paying court ordered child support are doing so for children that the state and the mothers know are
not theirs
yet refuses to share this information for the reasons indicated above.  A 2000 study by the American
Association of Blood Banks showed that nationwide, more than 30% of men being tested for paternity were not the biological athers of the children
in question.

Disturbing, for certain, and a clear example of why a strong “men’s rights” lobby is needed in America to fight the rising
tide of gender-specific bias and injustice we are all experiencing.

The news of the weird not doing it for you?  It was just an example of how deaf we are as a society to atrocious miscarriages of justice
when the victim happens to be the wrong gender – there was no mention of this decision, nor discussion of its implications in any of the major

It did, however, make the rounds on a variety of other more progressive and non-gender biased sources, however:

Canadian Children’s
rights council discussion of the Navarro case

reason magazine on “Injustice by default”
“What Pierce
didn’t realize, and what nearly 10 million American men have discovered to their chagrin since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, is that
when the government accuses you of fathering a child, no matter how flimsy the evidence, you are one month away from having your life
. Federal law gives a man just 30 days to file a written challenge; if he doesn’t, he is presumed guilty. And
once that steamroller of justice starts rolling, dozens of statutory lubricants help make it extremely difficult, and prohibitively expensive, to
stop — even, in most cases, if there’s conclusive DNA proof that the man is not the child’s father.”, an excellent site, for a balanced approach to gender issues, has several editorials on the subject:
href="" target="_new">Michigan reform on paternity fraud
Paternity Justice act of 2002 (an interesting
examination of the issues involved with suddenly switching the burden to unsuspecting biological fathers
Why hosing so-called “deadbeat dads” won’t fix a
fundamentally flawed system

And so on.  If you’re willing to set aside preconceptions for a minute and are ready to be exposed to
the staggering scope of the injustice, try googling “paternity fraud” or “duped dads” and be prepared to be outraged.

While someday I’d like to devote a full couple of posts to this very important subject, for now, let me throw four more links of immediate

Time Magazine Europe:
In the name of the Fathers

“Superheros fight for access to see their

Fathers for Justice stage a protest at Buckingham

The Fathers for Justice website (F4J).

And one more, unrelated to the preceding, indicating the mind boggling depths that our dictator, ahem, sorry, our so called
“president” will stoop to in his quest to establish a totalitarian regime in what was formerly the land of the free, this time in an elementary
school in my near and dear Wisconsin:

Students in a Richland County,
WI high school were told they could not wear any pro-Kerry clothing or buttons or protest in any manner, during a brief stop by George Bush at
the school, at the risk of expulsion.

Guess that’s free speech, Bush style.

Now listening to: Rage Against the Machine – “Wake up”

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