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Archive for the Taiwan category

March 31st, 2011

Getting Out of the Airport

Posted in Personal, Taiwan, Travel by MB

Evening Landing at HKG (EWR-HKG flight)

Patrick Smith is – along with Glenn Greenwald – pretty much the only reason I visit Salon.com these days. And it’s for columns like this:

In a way, choosing a favorite airport is akin to choosing a favorite hospital: Conveniences and accouterments aside, nobody really wants to be there in the first place, and the easier and faster you can get the hell out, the better. Which brings us to HKG’s most impressive and appealing feature: its rail connection to the city. The sleek, high-speed Airport Express train is literally only steps from the arrival and departure halls.

Now, let’s put aside for a moment that I don’t agree with that at all. The first part, I mean. But the second, man, it just boggles me that Dulles is still years away from getting a rail link to Washington.*  And I am *completely* onboard with his BOS disdain:

Compare the best of Asia with, for example, my hometown airport, Boston-Logan. My commute to the airport by public transportation takes almost an hour and requires two changes, including a ride on the Silver Line bus, which, in addition to being at the mercy of automobile traffic, requires, at one point, that the driver step out and manually switch power sources to the bus.

Seriously, I spent at least 20 minutes looking for the entrance to the Silver Line at Logan, once.  The signs said it was right in front of me, but there were just a bunch of (@#@#)( buses there.  Christ.  But to keep on the hatin’ theme:

Or how about JFK, where for hundreds of millions of dollars they finally got the AirTrain completed — an inter-terminal rail loop that can’t take you beyond the Queens subway. Heck, it can take 45 minutes, up and down a byzantine array of escalators, elevators and passageways, just to get from one terminal to another, let alone all the way to Manhattan.

I’ve done the the JFK-LGA transfer I don’t know how many times.  And every time, in a $50-70 taxi ride.  And not infrequently seeing the people that I’d been standing at the curb with at JFK alighting with me at LGA.  Train line, anyone?  Never mind getting to Manhattan (I understand helicopters aren’t entirely unreasonable).  But here, too, Patrick has a comparison:

The distance from Shanghai airport to the city is about 20 miles — roughly the mileage from JFK to midtown. Shanghai’s bullet train covers this distance in seven minutes.

This is why the Chinese are beating the US!  Well, okay, not really.  And I even had to take a cab from the end of the line to my hotel in Shanghai.  But that seemed like the right thing to say.  And maybe it’s even kind of true, in the end.  The US can’t manage basic train connections from its international airpots to its effective capitol cities (IAD-DC, JFK-NYC), and  you can roll (levitate!) from PVG to Shanghai in 7 minutes.

It’s not all international roses, for sure:

To be fair, not every Asian terminal is so astoundingly convenient. Seoul, Bangkok and Taipei top a list of those without high-speed rail options.

My memory of Seoul?  Well, I was 17 and had hair halfway down my back.  Customs was, uh, interested in me.  But my recent experience with Taipei’s airport certainly tracks his:

To top it off, everybody at Taoyuan was unfailingly polite, from the immigration officer to the man at the currency booth.

And isn’t this how it should be? In the end, an airport is more than just a place to kill time, more than an annoying conduit between ground and sky. It’s an expression, a gesture, a statement. It’s a welcome to, and a farewell from, the place you’re visiting or coming home to. In much of the world — not only Asia but throughout Europe as well — they have figured this out.

I am absolutely and completely onboard with his “in the end” thought.  The idea that a significant international airport should well represent the country it’s a gateway to is the thing that keeps me railing against JFK (seriously, *that* is the first thing that people see when they arrive in the US?) and LAX (Just shoot it.  Please.) while I’m in awe of YVR (Vancouver).  Airports are amazing spaces for humanity.  The US needs to do a better job of respecting and supporting that.

 

*Funny part: when I landed at HKG, it was the end of the longest flight I’ve ever been on – almost 17 hours from Newark.  I stumbled to the car service, never once looking up.  And on the way out, I was ten kinds of late, so ran through the terminal without once looking up.  Yep, I somehow managed to retain zero memories about the biggest indoor space in the world, with the exception of some escalator that ended up taking me where I didn’t need to be (compounding the lateness).  Well done!

December 14th, 2010

Elsewhere

Posted in Personal, Taiwan, Travel by MB

It’s been incredibly windy and bone-chillingly cold in DC for the past week.  The warm and rainy place I’d rather be, at the moment:

Restaurant in Chihshang, Taiwan

December 10th, 2010

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Taroko Gorge Descent

Posted in Cycling, Taiwan by MB

I’m polishing and queuing up the rest of the Taiwan Cycling Festival pieces this weekend, but I thought I’d go ahead and publish this great (tho’ impromptu) video of BikeHugger‘s Mark V descending through Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge.   I shot this from the back of our bus, which we were taking to the Giant store to pick up our bikes.  Mark already had his bike, and took the opportunity to do a bit of motorpacing. Our hotel – the Taroko Leader Village – was situated mid-valley, so it was all downhill:

I’d suggest not trying this at home, but unless you’re lucky enough to live in Taroko Gorge, you couldn’t even if you wanted to.  Check in on Monday for more Taiwan cycleliciousness (to steal an adjective).

November 19th, 2010

Friday Notes: Rock Dodge Edition

Posted in Cycling, Distribution, Policy, Taiwan, Travel by MB

Of everything I have on my to-do list today, getting down the “rock dodge” drill for a cycling instructor course is probably the most difficult.  The result isn’t particularly challenging (dodging a rock), it’s the method by which you’re required to do it (a seemingly unnecessary bit of countersteering).  In any event, if that’s the toughest part of the day, it should be a good day, no?  Now on to bits and pieces collected over the week:

30 airports in 30 days.  I remember wishing I could do this, when I saw the JetBlue pass on sale.  It’s been at least 5 years since I last did a “mileage run” (something you do to push yourself just over the line for the next medallion status in a frequent flier program), and quick travel appeals less than it used to.  But this?  Sounded like a bit of fun.

Travelling at a slower speed is what’s gained my interest, lately, and this piece on a significant uptick in bicycle touring makes it sound like I’ve got some company.  A proper cycling tour has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and I think Taiwan cemented my decision to make it happen soon.   It’ll probably start with a long weekend’s out and back along the C&O, to sort things out.  Then maybe a SF-LA (via the PCH) week trip?  After that, who knows?  I should probably stop reading this site, if I want to keep it reasonable . . .

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Here are a couple of interesting pieces on control in the marketplace.  The first is about the differing approaches between Facebook and Google on the matter of who controls your data.  You know you’re doing it wrong when you make Google look unthreatening by comparison.  (I keep trying to kick the Facebook habit, but it’s tougher than you might imagine.  Serious network effect going on, there.)   The second is a post by a San Francisco restauranteur, and why he doesn’t use OpenTable.  It’s really quite interesting, the amount of leverage that OpenTable (with its dominance of the market) has on metro area restaurants.   I’ve been using OpenTable since they arrived in DC (2003?), but this (and, well, this) makes me hope that a competitor will be arriving shortly.

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I admit that, despite the rather large rhetorical role that it’s played in Virginia’s politics, I’ve never taken a close look at “clean coal” (or the veracity of a million claims about it).  So while I realize that it’s just scratching the surface, I felt like I learned a fair bit from the always-informative James Fallows in this article:

To environmentalists, “clean coal” is an insulting oxymoron. But for now, the only way to meet the world’s energy needs, and to arrest climate change before it produces irreversible cataclysm, is to use coal—dirty, sooty, toxic coal—in more-sustainable ways. The good news is that new technologies are making this possible. China is now the leader in this area, the Google and Intel of the energy world. If we are serious about global warming, America needs to work with China to build a greener future on a foundation of coal. Otherwise, the clean-energy revolution will leave us behind, with grave costs for the world’s climate and our economy.

If anyone has rebuttals to this article that I should check out, do pass them along.

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Michael Turton, a Taiwan-based blogger, highlights what I think is a compelling political ad explaining why it’s important to care about politics.  Watch it:

YouTube Preview Image

Yes, it’s in the context of Taiwan, but it struck me as hitting universal truths.

November 14th, 2010

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Market Edition

Posted in Taiwan, Travel by MB

After the opening ceremony, we bounced off on our way to Lu Wey.  But first, we stopped by one of Taitung’s markets:

Click here for a full screen slide show.  Make sure that comments are enabled (look to the upper right for the checkbox).

November 12th, 2010

Friday Notes: Better Than Raking Edition

Posted in Cycling, Policy, Society, Taiwan, Travel by MB

Hey, did I mention I went to Taiwan? Oh, you hadn’t heard? Well hey, here’s some more photos from the kickoff!

Somewhat more seriously – you should check out Mark V.’s take, over at Bikehugger. It’s more succinct than me. And if what he’s got cued up in his Flickr stream is any indication, it’s going to be more interesting. (He’s inspired me to rethink what can be done with phonecam video.)

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Okay, I kinda want one.  (Should I just have admitted that?)

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Still time to register for the ThinkBike workshops:

The opening session will be kicked off by the Dutch Ambassador Mrs. Renée Jones-Bos.  City staff, local decision makers, and bicyclists are invited to learn more about Dutch cycling infrastructure and policy best practices.

I’ll be there for some of it.

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You’ve seen this already, right?  One part of the Federal government tells us that too much cheese is bad for us while another part works to improve the sales of menu items with 8x the usual cheese?  I think that government has a legitimate role in promoting certain behaviors, but it’s pointless if one effort will undermine the other:

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

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Let these roll around in your head for a while:

Here are a few examples of instances where other languages have found the right word and English simply falls speechless.

1. Toska
Russian – Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

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I love Hong Kong. I love a good flow. I love hip-hop. Enjoy all three below, in this video from MC Yan:

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Great post and comment thread on the best tool (and other) warranties. I rarely shop by lowest price, aiming mostly for quality that will last a long time. But service in the event of failure is a definite priority. Because buying cheap shit is ruining us.

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I wish I’d had a chance to see this:

Known to its creators and participating artists as the Underbelly Project, the space, where all the show’s artworks remain, defies every norm of the gallery scene. Collectors can’t buy the art. The public can’t see it. And the only people with a chance of stumbling across it are the urban explorers who prowl the city’s hidden infrastructure or employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

That’s because the exhibition has been mounted, illegally, in a long-abandoned subway station.

November 12th, 2010

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Kickoff & Triathlon Photos

Posted in Cycling, Taiwan by MB

As outlined here, we spent the morning in Taitung at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival.  In addition to giving me the opportunity to chat with a lot of people about the state of transportation cycling in Taiwan (verdict: struggling), it was also my first time on a bike there.  We started easy, with a quick loop along one of Taiwan’s many recreational bike paths.

Triathlete mounts bikes in Taitung International Triathlon

For a slideshow with captions, click here.

November 9th, 2010

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Kickoff in Taitung

Posted in Cycling, Taiwan, Travel by MB

Having managed our way from Taipei to Taitung, finishing the day in Chihpen’s hot springs, we’re ready for the opening event – the kickoff to the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival.  We started off with an energetic aboriginal Taiwanese drumline:

Opening Ceremony Marking Ongoing Efforts

The 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival is is what we’ve come for, and the opening ceremony marks the culmination of years of efforts in support of cycling by many.   As I’ve learned in my own cycling advocacy efforts, nothing happens without the long-term cooperation and dedication of many people, so crediting some individuals with the success of a project almost always excludes others.  However, there are those who play key roles, and here we have those responsible, in large part, for making Taiwan a more cyclist-friendly destination (L-R): Director General of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau- Janice Lai (賴瑟珍), Giant Bicycles founder & cycling advocate – King Liu (劉金標), Magistrate of Taitung – Justin Huang (黃健庭), and Minister of Transportation and Communications – Dr. Chi-kuo Mao (毛治國):

Dedicated to Cycling

The hope of the organizers of the Taiwan Cycling Festival is that many of us will discover what they already know:  Taiwan – and especially eastern Taiwan – is an incredible place for cycling.  Not only does it offer many natural attractions, such as the Taroko Gorge and spectacular coastal routes, there are also many significant infrastructure features aimed specifically at attracting cyclists.  While Taiwan has a history of developing and improving facilities for recreational cyclists –  scenic bike paths, for example – the past two years have seen a substantial uptick in these efforts. While many cycling promotion efforts amount to little more than marketing campaigns, Taiwan has committed substantial resources to actual road and facility improvements.  Among other things, Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications, in partnership with the regional governments of Taitung and Hualien, have:

  • widened and improved the shoulders of many roads, including the primary north-south routes along the coast, Highways 9 and 11.
  • initiated a retrofitting of railcars to provide roll-on/off transportation for cyclists’ bikes
  • provided cycling service stations during peak cycling activity periods (like the Taiwan Cycling Festival)
  • creation of a central information hub at http://motcbike.iot.gov.tw/ (to be available in English next year, I understand)
  • instructed local government offices (including police stations) to provide direct support to cyclists on an ongoing basis

Details for many of these efforts can be found on in this companion post.  These are just some of the projects being funded by a four year commitment of approximately US$25 million from the federal government.  Why? As Dr. Mao explained during the kickoff,

It is hard to develop other heavy industries in eastern Taiwan due to the small population.  However, this area has rich tourism resources.  Thus, we have selected eastern Taiwan as an ideal area to develop cycling tourism.  We will develop cycling tourism under the principles of promoting eco-friendly tourism and fostering sustainable development.

Cycling tourism, long established but often seen as a niche market, is booming and Taiwan is positioning itself to take advantage of that growth.   This positioning isn’t just a new plan that will be discarded when the next Bright Idea comes along, but another step forward in development efforts that can be traced back to the early 00s, when the government redoubled its efforts to improve its tourism and cycling attractions.   The promise of economic development via cycling tourism, along with the aggressive advocacy efforts of the Giant-supported Cycling Life-Style Foundation, gives me confidence that the government’s commitment to these efforts is real.

But Will They Come?

The obvious question, then, is whether these new efforts will be successful in bringing in overseas tourists.  Taiwan is certainly dedicated to spreading the word.  The kickoff in Taitung was the beginning of a week of events – including the Taitung International Triathlon, the “Challenging Yourself” organized ride, and the Taiwan Cup – expected to bring in 30,000 visitors to eastern Taiwan and US $4.3 million in tourism spending.

Since 2009, the area has been host to a large number of sponsored cycling festivals and multi-day organized rides – I suspect, however, that overseas tourists were a rather small percentage of the cyclists that participated in these events.  Why?  Well, if you’re in the US or Europe, you likely already know the answer.

Made in Taiwan

When you hear Taiwan, it likely brings to mind factories, high tech equipment, and probably crowded urban areas.  That’s about it.  While Taiwan certainly has an abundance of all of those things, there is so much more to it than that.   But the perception of Taiwan – which has been reinforced over the lifetimes of most Westerners by the ubiquitous “Made in Taiwan” label – remains a significant challenge.  While I’ve managed trips to many of the cities in Taiwan’s corner of the globe – Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and Shanghai – Taiwan was never even on my radar.  We simply don’t meet enough people who have been there for anything beyond business, and it hasn’t at all made its way into the public consciousness as a destination.  This failure to grab potential tourists’ imaginations isn’t a knock on Taiwan, either.  In fact, it’s something of a compliment to Taiwan’s other strengths – technological innovation and manufacturing exports – that a place with such enormous tourism potential could have that overshadowed.

Yet with just a bit of effort, and little more time, Taiwan should be able to move itself into the list of places a cyclist thinks about when looking for a new adventure.   Any place that can offer riding like this –

Riding through Taroko Gorge

– has an enormous leg up on the competition.  When you combine that with cyclist-oriented rail travel into the region, well-marked routes through a beautiful countryside, and no shortage of off-the-bike pleasures, Taiwan should be able to work its way toward the top of any short list of destinations.  But first, people have to know about it.  So stick around, and let me tell you a bit more about all of those things.  And hopefully you’ll tell your friends.  And they’ll tell theirs.

Related: Recent Improvements to the Eastern Region’s Cycling Infrastructure

November 9th, 2010

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Cycling Infrastructure Improvements in Taitung and Hualien

Posted in Cycling, Taiwan, Travel by MB

[This is intended as a companion piece to this post about the kickoff of the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival]

Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) are in the midst of expending a 4-year (2009 to 2012) US$25 million budget for the “Bicycle Network Demonstration of the Eastern Region” project.  These projects are designed, in the words of the MOTC, to:

[E]stablish a bicycle network in the eastern region and to implement the seamless integration of the railway-bicycle combination transits to connect scenic, recreational, ecological and cultural sites as part of the blueprint for the bicycle network in the eastern region.

To this end, the MOTC – in cooperation with other federal agencies and the local Hualien and Taitung governments – have already completed a number of cycling infrastructure improvements.

Bicycle Facilities Construction and Improvements

The MOTC have have aimed their efforts at making the Hualien-Taitung bicycle routes a “bicycle riding paradise.”  In 2009, a total of 174 km of paths or on-road facilities were constructed or improved (including the introduction of of slow lanes within the provincial highway system to integrate bicycle lanes).  This resulted in a regional of total of 578 km of networked roads that incorporated cycling facilities.  According to the MOTC, 2010  will be 250 km of bicycle paths and, with assistance from local governments, another 89 km of on-road improvements.  By the end of 2010, there should be a total 917 km of cycling facilities/improvements in the region.  These include improvements on the existing routes of Provincial Highways No. 2, No. 9, No. 8, No. 9C, No. 7, No. 7C, and other minor connecting roads.

Bicycle Facilities Design Guidelines

To ensure that all this work results in a safe and useable bicycle network, the “Bicycle Path System Plan Reference Manual (2st Ed.)” has been completed, and is available here (in Mandarin).  In addition, a safety manual aimed at riders – the “Bicycle Riding Safety Manual” –  is available for download.  While I’ve been told that an English-language version of the linked site is forthcoming, I’m not sure that English-language editions of either of these publications are planned.

Hualien’s Bicycle-on-Bus Service

In 2009, Hualien implemented a bike-on-bus project, providing racks on the front of its municipal buses. I’m unclear as to whether the rollout was limited to particular routes (I suspect it was).  They appear to be your standard quick on/off racks found in many countries.

Railway Integration

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) is integrating bicycling into its regional services, with the goal of carrying people and their bicycles in the same railcar.  Initiatives include:
  • Bicycle Carriage Transformation:  The TRA plans for modifications of 45 cars of the Chu-Guang Express and 32 cars of the PP Tze-Chiang Express to transport people with bicycles.  After modifications, each car will have bike racks and passenger seating.  Some of the removed old units will be recycled into bicycle service stations.  There are future plans for special train reservations for which bicycle enthusiasts may apply.  The TRA has also announced that preliminary prices will entail reduced fares, with each bicycle receiving a 50% discount from the regular fair.
  • Bicycle Depot Setup:  The plan is to provide 16 bicycle depots along the eastern region with services such as bicycle rental, rest areas, restrooms, bicycle maintenance and cleaning, food courts and other resources.  In conjunction with the “2010 Taiwan Bike Day” activities, the TRA set up 5 stations in Sincheng, Shoufong, Rueisuei, Yuli and Taitung.  This brings the total to 8 stations currently in operation.  One goal of these additional stations is to allow for one-way bicycle rentals.
  • Station Access: the TRA plans to provide overpass and underpass walkways, with room enough on both sides to carry bicycles from the railcar to the station exit.
  • Passenger Information: the TRA’s website will provide schedules and search systems for its railway-bicycle services.

As it stands, information about the status of these services is not available via the English language version of the TRA site (which leaves much to be desired, in general). I’d strongly advise calling them to book and confirm services well-ahead of time.

Public Information Efforts

The “MOTC Eastern Region Bicycle Information” website is intended to provide cycling enthusiasts traveling to the eastern region to check on traffic, travel and accommodation information.  I’ve found that – via the magic of Google Translate – the site is somewhat useable for English-language users.  I’ve been told that an English language version is forthcoming.  Also, for Mandarin-reading users of the Windows Mobile 6.1 platform, there’s a pretty nifty app providing all this info, available for download.  Or so I’m told.

Note: I always welcome corrections, but I welcome them especially so to this piece.  The information above was based on my own observations, supplemented by information provided by the MOTC.  Despite that, I’ve likely got a detail wrong or plans have already changed.  If you have information that can help improve this piece, I’d quite appreciate it.

Bus Rack Photo credit: Ministry of Transportation and Communications

November 5th, 2010

Friday Notes: Reclaimed Edition

Posted in Distribution, Politics, Society, Taiwan by MB

It’s been some time, no?  So let’s see what’s in the closet:

Taiwan!  I know, surprise.  But still, my head’s still half there, and I keep finding more avenues of interest.  One of the big sources of that is Michael Turton’s blog, which appears to focus on my general areas of interest – cycling, politics, and information control – but in a Taiwanese context.  Check it out.  This great piece on subtle (and not so subtle) creeping censorship is great, as is this photo series on the (often hilarious) political billboards featuring posing candidates.  It does not, unfortunately, include a shot of my favorite: two candidates, thumbs up, over the headline: “Younger and Better!”

Girl tends a fire on WenHua St., near Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

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This should be circulated to everyone you know who is considering law school:

The number of people employed in legal services hit an all-time high of 1.196 million in June 2007. It currently stands at 1.103 million. That means the number of law jobs has dwindled by about 7.8 percent. In comparison, the total number of jobs has fallen about 5.4 percent over the same period.

At the same time, the law schools—the supply side of the equation—have not stopped growing. Law schools awarded 43,588 J.D.s last year, up 11.5 percent since 2000, though there was technically negative demand for lawyers. And the American Bar Association’s list of approved law schools now numbers 200, an increase of 9 percent in the last decade. Those newer law schools have a much shakier track record of helping new lawyers get work, but they don’t necessarily cost less than their older, more established counterparts.

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The US may have had to occasionally compromise on its trumpeted values to combat Terraism., but we still stand strong against obvious things like child soldiers, right?  Well . . .:

The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four toubled states on Monday, over the objections the State Department’s democracy and human rights officials. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries — all of whose armed forces use underage troops — one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear.

The NGO community was shocked by the announcement, reported Tuesday by The Cable, that President Obama authorized exemptions from all penalties set to go into effect this year under the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008. The countries that received waivers were Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen.

Anyway, it’s not like being a kid *really* makes a difference in the US.

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Bob Gucionne died while I was on my trip, and no one around me knew who he was.  And that made me sad, because I used to love his magazine as a kid.  No, not that one.  The other one.