Featured Post

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

7 More Tips About Heat Exhaustion

For those of you who saw me on NewsChannel 8 today, my previous post covers most of the points I addressed on TV. However, for those who are looking to do a bit more research into the phenomenon, here are links to a few articles which provide professional insight on the topic.

While you may think of heat exhaustion as a condition most affecting hard-core athletes, it can impact the Regular Joe as well. So, there's a lot to be learned from how professional athletic trainers deal with it. Here's some input from the National Athletic Trainers' Association.

Certainly, the staff of Grand Canyon River Guides has to know the inside scoop on heat-related illnesses. Multi-day trips in the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer are adventures just waiting for a heat incident. Here's the company's chief of emergency services take: http://www.gcrg.org/bqr/14-1/hypo.html

Food Network nutritionist discusses how much water to drink.

Several companies produce electrolyte beverages and powders. Nuun makes self-dissolving electrolyte tabs that are designed for athletes, but can be used by all. I can't vouch for the product, not having tried it, but the FAQs on Nuun's website seem solid.

Meantime, two other notes gleaned from experience and research:

1. Heat exhaustion isn't always caused by heat, per se, although it is usually a major factor.
2. Other factors that can contribute to the condition are dehyration, altitude, air quality, humidity, and surface temperature (a tennis court or pavement will be hotter than a field of flowers, for example).

Saturday, June 22, 2013

7 Things to Know about Heat Exhaustion

Looking perky before the fall
After a long day of summer sightseeing, have you ever felt headache-y, queasy or nauseous? Have you experienced the shakes or has your face gone pale? You may have had heat exhaustion without even knowing it. And it's important to know it, because once you have an episode of heat exhaustion, you are more susceptible to it in the future.

Now, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But believe you me, I know from heat exhaustion. I've ended up in the hospital with it four times. The first was after a three-hour singles match in the mid-day California sun. The second was after I had flown to California non-stop and played tennis (doubles, this time) later in the afternoon. That incident was clearly caused by the triple whammy of dehydration from the plane, the sun, and exercise. Incident #3 was after my first and only attempt at Bikram Yoga (I highly DO NOT recommend this form of yoga--it's actually the antithesis of yoga, IMHO). And finally, there was the infamous incident in China, which took place, not after a round of exercise, but in the middle of a day of sightseeing in Beijing. That's another one that resulted in an IV in the ER. I highly DO NOT recommend the ER in China.
The face of heat exhaustion

One month later, I am still sorting out dozens of receipts written in Chinese, trying to decipher what's what in order to send my claim to the Travel Guard insurance company. So that you can avoid similar travails--both heat stroke on your travels and the accompanying paperwork, a bit of advice is in order. Again, I am not a doctor, but I've learned some excellent tips from the four who have treated me for the condition.

1. HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE. You can never have too much water before you go out in the heat and while you are out. Better yet, as you hydrate, alternate between water and sports drinks loaded with electrolytes.

2. Take it easy within 24 hours of landing after a long-distance flight. Aside from the above-mentioned combo of coast-to-coast flying and tennis, I believe the incident in Beijing may have developed from the following set of activities:
    Day 1: 14-hour flight to Beijing
    Day 2: Climbing to the top of the Great Wall in heat and humidity
    Day 3: Four hours at the (shaded) Summer Palace, followed by an afternoon of sightseeing in Tiannamen
              Square and the Forbidden City. Temperature was in the high 80s, not taking into account the heat    
              from the pavement and the air quality.
While I had taken care to get plenty of sleep and what I thought was plenty of water (although probably rationing unconsciously due to the yen to avoid using squat toilets still so prevalent in China), BOOM! Down I went in the Forbidden City.

3. Carry electrolytes with you if are prone to heat exhaustion. I had Emergen-C packed in my suitcase, but it wasn't with me in the Forbidden City. A friend had salt pills packed, but again, she didn't have them in her purse. Both would have been perfect for dissolving in a bottle of water.

4. Carry energy bars, dried fruit or something similar.

5. Wear a hat and sunscreen.

6. Get out of the heat and rest. Once you start feeling the effects of heat exhaustion, you may be too far gone...and an IV will be your only solution, so to speak. But if you feel on the cusp, immediately stop your activity and stay cool. This is what I tried to do in the Bikram class 30 minutes in....but the instructor wouldn't let me leave the room, the heat index of which was probably upwards of 130. After 30 more minutes in this extreme sauna, I forced my way out (as the instructor chased after me calling me a coward--nice).  Had I left the  room when I initially felt ill, I would have been okay with liquid, rest, and shade. But the extra heat did me in, even though I was laying on my mat during that time. On to the ER.

7. What do you drink once heat exhaustion kicks in? Interestingly, the Chinese doctor who treated me said drinking water straight is one of the worst things you can do. He suggested that once heat exhaustion  sets in, water intake further dilutes salt levels. This condition is called hypontremia. If this is your issue, there is a need to drink liquids containing electrolytes instead of straight water. No other ER doctor had  ever mentioned that to me.  Interestingly, though, in checking a number of legitimate medical websites, 100% recommend water, although agreeing that electrolyte-spiked liquid is better yet. These same sites put a total kibosh on drinking carbonated beverages or anything with caffeine.

Best bet--before leaving on a hot trip, ask your doctor for his/her advice and get travel insurance, just in case. As for me, I'm staying out of the heat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Plane Talk

So, I’m flipping channels the other night and I end up on C-SPAN. Now, mind you, I do watch C-SPAN every now and then (in fact, my viewing of such while living in Santa Barbara made me realize I needed to move back East). But when I do watch, 99.9% of the time, I watch authors discussing their works. I never, ever watch Congressional hearings. Except that last night, I did.

The topic was the merger between American Airlines and US Airways. The hearing was held by the Senate Aviation Subcommittee. The main questioners were Senators Maria Cantwell (WA) and Mark Warner (VA). The main testifiers were Doug Parker, currently CEO of US AIrways and soon-to-be CEO of the merged company, and Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.

The main point of contention was the necessity of slot divestitures at Washington's Reagan National Airport (DCA) If the carriers don't give up slots at National upon merging, the new airline will control two-thirds of the flights out of DCA. There was also a discussion of loosening DCA’s perimeter rule, currently restricting the number of daily flights beyond 1,250 miles from the airport.
But that’s not really the stuff that intrigued me. Right now, US Airways is in an alliance with United. United has an international hub at Washington Dulles (IAD). So, when US Airways devotees, particularly those who live in smaller cities, currently ponder one-stop routes to Europe, Dulles is a strong East Coast hub airport to consider. While they can’t fly direct on US Airways equipment, they can still get a code share flight on a U.S.-based carrier.
But if US Airways merges with American, that leaves US Airways and American passengers without an international DC hub. American’s main international hubs on this side of the country are the New York's JFK and Miami. Meanwhile, you can get to Europe on US Airways via Philadelphia or Charlotte. For the most part, you won't be able to get there from Dulles on the merged US Airways/American.
And that weakens Dulles. And that worries Warner, whose constituency would be affected by the loss of business. I don’t know why I find that little tidbit so interesting--after all, I can fly United directly out of Dulles without connecting, so I am not personally impacted. But in all of the minutiae involved in airline mergers, the international hub issue is one I never considered. Just my two cents and some food for thought. Of course, if that food for thought is requested in the air, there will be a charge of more than two cents. But ancillary fees...that's an issue for another post.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

It's Just Another Manic Punday

And now, for the first in a weekly series called It's Just Another Manic Punday. I do hope you will add your thoughts and your punditry in the comments section.  Also, feel free to play Spot the Pun. Count the number of puns below.  I shall attempt 10 per bon mot (or bon mouth--and yes, that counts as one).

This is a true story. This past week, I was at the dentist. Now, brace yourself. We were jawing about the NSA scandal and the job of data analysis (because this is what one discusses with a DDS in DC). The dentist says, without a trace of irony, "I can't imagine a more tedious job." He is saying this as he is chiseling plaque off my teeth.

Now, I grant you, it would have made for a better bit if he was using a drill. "I can't imagine a more tedious job," says the dentist while boring his drill into my cavity.  See that--tedious=boring. Very nice. Ivory much like that version. But the root of the matter is that I had no cavities. Thus, I cannot go filling my tale with a false tooth. Chew on that.

If you have a topic or a word which you would like me to punder, please make your request below.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My take on Long Island, the Great Gatsby and Grapes. This appeared in The Washington Post Magazine on May 19. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Of Monopoly Mania and Mongolia

Devoted readers know about my obsession with collecting Monopoly games around the world. If you need to catch up on my fetish, proceed directly to GO, or if you like, let's hang out in free parking. For those who prefer the Cliff Notes version, my one and only must-buy when abroad is Monopoly. I don't particularly like playing the game, but over the years, I have purchased about 40 boards and have framed about 30 of them. My most recent purchases took place in the Baltics, where I scurried to find a Lithuanian version in Vilnius and picked up two-for-the-price-of-two in Estonia (both the Estonian edition--right--and the Russian release--and please note the awesome alliteration in that run-on sentence).

Thus I am sad to report that my most recent trip--to China, Mongolia, and Russia--yielded no boards. Of course, as noted above, I bought the Russian rendition in Estonia, so there was no need to repeat. To pay homage, however, I did actually find the game in TSUM, the lesser-known version of GUM. Both were stolid department stores back in Soviet days, best known for empty shelves, long lines, and surly service. Now, they are very fancy. TSUM's tiny toy department was located downstairs adjacent to the food hall, into which I had run in search of a piece of fruit. Anyway, because I actually saw the game in Moscow, according to my rules (which require that I have actually been in-country---although truth be told, I gladly accept presents from all countries), I can consider my Russian board authentic, even if bought in Tallinn.

China, of course, still being officially Communist (though you'd be hard-pressed to tell if you were a visitor from Mars), does not condone the homage to capitalism that is Monopoly. There is a Chinese version sold in Taiwan, and I imagine that if one looks hard enough, one can find an underground game in China. But I was too busy playing Operation in Beijing to take time to look. And truth be told, it likely would have been time wasted (like my day of searching in Bangkok, as outlined in the first-paragraph links).

But Mongolia, ah Mongolia. This is truly a sad story. Now, I would never have expected to find a Monopoly game in the remote, formerly Communist country of Mongolia. And given that just two days would be spent there during my Trans-Siberian trip, I noted in advance it would be unlikely that there would be time for a search. My actual journey to Mongolia, moreover, was further shortened by my adventures in Chinese medicine (again, test link in previous paragraph). I ended up spending just one day there.

Most of that day was spent at a lovely national park two hours from Ulan Bator. When we got back to the city around 6:30, our guide suggested a cashmere stop. Apparently, the day before, while I was laid up in my hotel room in Beijing, the entire group had been given a choice between shopping at a department store or shopping for cashmere. The majority opted for the department store, so the wool buyers amongst us were left feeling sheepish. Anyway, the cashmere shop was very close to our dinner site, so many were bullish on the detour and rammed into the store.

It was at that point that a fellow American traveler asked me if I was going to buy anything. I said no, that the only thing I buy overseas is Monopoly. And then she shrieked the words I still rue, "When we were at the department store yesterday, I saw a Monopoly game front and center and thought it interesting."

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT? Not only was there a Mongolian version of Monopoly, but had I been with the group, I would have stumbled upon it with no effort. Imagine the joy that would have instilled in me. Instead, I was deflated, but defiant. Maybe I could get to that Monopoly game before leaving Mongolia. Alas, I was told that, given the horrible traffic in Ulan Bator and the time of day...or rather, the time of night...the store would likely be closed by the time I got there. I believe, in retrospect, this was actually a clandestine attempt to keep me with the group--and since I was still feeling the after-effects of my heat exhaustion, I wasn't exactly in condition to argue. And so, no Monopoly from Mongolia. I was morose.

Now, you should know that aside from my compulsion to buy Monopoly, I also tend to obsess about stupid things (TMI about OCD?). At any rate, for days after, I was repeatedly thinking how cool that game would have been--a board from a former Communist country, from one of the most remote places in the world, and in Cyrillic to boot. I wondered how much the board cost--they usually retail around $40, although I have purchased a game for as little as $1 (Poland) and as much as $70 (Sweden). I wondered what the board looked like. I wondered if the board featured Ulan Bator exclusively, or, like my Canadian and Austrian versions, showcased cities around the country.

Of course, I'm over it now (as you can tell from this extended blog post). I realize I now have two options. I must go back to Mongolia. I actually would really like to do so, perhaps to stay in a yurt or to check out the famous Naadam Festival--although that is in the summer, so given my heat sensitivity, maybe another time would be better.

 If I don't get back there soon, though, dear readers, it is up to you for relieve my pangs of regret. If by chance you are in Mongolia, go directly to the damn department store and please buy me my game. I will, of course, reimburse you for the cost of the game and for transportation. Let me clarify that, though--I will cover your cab from your hotel in Ulan Bator to the store. I khannot pay for airfare to Mongolia. I am not, after all, Mr. Moneybags.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tallinn You About Estonia

Prior to the big adventure on the Trans-Siberian Express, I ducked into Estonia for a few days. You can hear my radio review of the trip at www.aroundtheworldradio.com this Saturday at 10:50 AM EDT. If you miss it, the segment will be hanging in the site's archives  It's the last segment of the June 6th show.  Also, you can discover more at www.visitestonia.com.
Meantime, a colleague who traveled with me wrote a terrific piece of poetic prose at http://www.everettpotter.com/2013/06/estonia-lithuania-past-tense/. I have excerpted part of the story here, and added my own pictures and links. Marc Kristal echoes precisely my feelings about traveling back to places after they have changed from a former state of being.  Not only that, his coverage of Tallinn is spot-on; his words painting a far greater masterpiece than I could ever expect to fashion.
In addition to the sites Marc mentions below, I highly recommend a visit to the Museum for Puppet Arts. It illustrates the rich history of puppet theater in Estonia, which, ironically, was especially prolific when the Baltic nation was a puppet of the Soviet Union. 

A few months ago, I visited Rome, a beloved city in which I have long followed, like many tourists, a particular, equally beloved routine. One of the high points is a first-day visit to the Forum – where I was very surprised to discover that admission to this fascinating monument, one of the essential archaeological sites in the west, was no longer free.
I was, of course, shocked, shocked by this change of policy – but, really, why should I have been? As the history of Rome itself so eloquently demonstrates, everything is a moment in time, and even the things that seem immutable are fugitive. Still, I was struck by my own reaction, my feeling that this small transformation – the installation of a ticket kiosk – had drawn a line in history: suddenly the ‘old’ Rome, the Rome in which you could stroll down the steep stairs behind the Piazza del Campidoglio and into the seat of ancient empire, was gone. This led me, in turn, to consider how particular and personal experience can be, how the absence or presence of knowledge or context can powerfully influence one’s perceptions. To wit: If your first Roman holiday came after the installation of the turnstile – AT, as it were – Weltschmerz for Rome BT is inexplicable, even absurd: So they’re charging admission. What’s the big deal?
What’s interesting is that this disconnect can exist even if the line in the sand of time is epoch-making – for example, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent independence of its vassal states. In Prague, Warsaw, or anywhere else behind the Iron Curtain, the difference between Then and Now is quantum (LAURA's note--Berlin is the prime example of this phenomenon, IMHO) . Yet if you have no memory of what life was like in the Eastern Bloc prior to 1991, then freedom there is your reality, and you can be as mystified by those haunted by the ghosts of the Soviet years as someone who’d never known a Forum without turnstiles. Thus it can be invaluable, when visiting places where, to paraphrase Faulkner, the past isn’t past, to be made aware of significant recent history: the better to understand what shaped the seemingly eternal everyday-ness of the place you’re experiencing, and to perceive that you are in fact in a kind of chrysalis, a city or country emerging from a previous state of being into a new condition traced by, but separate from (hopefully, someday), the dark past.
A recent visit to Estonia and Lithuania brought this home to me sharply, the former especially, as Tallinn, Estonia’s enchanting capital, is in many ways a typically ‘modern’ European city – which is to say that it can comfortably put forward both the historic and contemporary. Tallinn’s Old Town, comprised of upper and lower districts, began life in the early 13th century and is today a picturesque mélange of Danish, German and (to a lesser degree) Russian influences; from my base at the Hotel Telegraaf, a chic hostelry installed in the city’s old telegraph building, it was a pleasurable stroll to the district’s greatest hits: the best-preserved medieval town hall (dating from 1404) in Europe; on Town Hall Square, the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy (dating from 1422) in Europe (be sure to check the expiration date on your prescription of Eye of Newt); and   handsome churches.  
Seaplane Harbour Museum
At the same time, contemporary Tallinn is palpably present, in cultural attractions such as the design-forward Kumu Art Museum (in Peter the Great’s Kadriorg Park) and the superlative fun-for-all-ages Seaplane Harbour maritime museum. It is contained within what is surely one of the great interior spaces to be found in the Baltics, a three-domed concrete-shell airplane hangar dating from the early 20th century. The Rotermann Quarter, a former industrial district near the waterfront, has been reinvented via the alchemy of that ubiquitous urban revitalization model, an interleaving of historical and contemporary architecture, as a hip business, residential and leisure-time destination. 
Yet the years between the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1944 and 20 August 1991, when the nation declared its independence, make themselves felt in large ways and small. Nowhere is this more transparent than at the KGB Museum atop the Hotel Viru, a 23-story modernist pile built by the USSR’s Intourist agency to attract foreign customers (and currency). It opened in 1972.
Former KGB Headquarters
Radio Room in Hotel Viru
The museum, which debuted in January of 2011 and has drawn some 75,000 visitors to its relatively cramped quarters, is difficult to characterize, in large measure because there’s not much to it. Overlooking the former headquarters of the KGB in Tallinn, the outpost occupies the hotel’s top floor. It remains unreachable by elevator, as was the case during the Soviet years, when it officially didn’t exist (nosy questioners were told floor 23 held ‘technical rooms’. There are displays of vintage photographs and documents, an office with telephones and technology that, though only four decades old, own a primitiveness worthy of the Flintstones, and a KGB ‘radio room,’ used for sending messages and eavesdropping on guests. The place exerts a weird fascination, which derives (for me at any rate) from its almost perfect conformity to a 1950s Hollywood-style laff riot vision of utter Commie incompetence – the kind of comedy in which the Red agents are depicted as bumbling,  bushy-browed buffoons booming out party platitudes but all too susceptible to Jack Daniel’s, Chiclets, and other classy American blandishments.
The mirthful mood is abetted by my group’s tour guide, Jana, a fast-talking, high-energy gamine in a red warm-up jacket with the museum’s logo emblazoned on its back, who calls to mind a blond, pixie-cut version of the impish Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, and sustains a non-stop monologue that is at once richly informative, deeply sad, and laugh-out-loud funny. Indeed, it is not too much to say that Jana is the KGB Museum, as she animatedly fills its dreary rooms and corridors with the bizarre up-is-down world of Estonia under the pathetic, vicious Soviet thumb.
What do we learn? That the Viru, Tallinn’s first skyscraper and most prestigious hotel, required a mere three years to construct (using Finnish labor), as opposed to the decade or more it typically took the unmotivated local talent to finish a comparable job. That, out of 460 rooms, 60 were bugged – the joke was that the Viru was built from “micro-concrete – 50 percent concrete, 50 percent microphones.” That only the best rooms, the ones with views, were wired, and that guests such as journalists, who were most likely to divulge useful information, received the same bugged accommodations over and over again. That the KGB went so far as to insert microphones into butter plates in the dining room (while cautioning the waiters never to put them in the dishwasher).

We learn as well that the spy agency’s omnipresence, which it took great pains to conceal, was an open secret to one and all. Mischievous guests would often write ‘KGB’ in the elevators where the button for the 23rd floor would have been, and a museum visitor who’d been at the Viru pre-1991 told of standing in his wiretapped bathroom and loudly complaining of a lack of toilet paper – after which a bellman immediately showed up with a fresh roll.
Despite the promise of the risqué floorshows, in which scantily clad Eastern Bloc Amazons posed provocatively (though with the high-minded froideur of magistrates), the Viru was a tough place to relax and have fun. The bar didn’t stock bourbon – too American. Local people, even if they were blood relatives, were not allowed above the ground floor. Prostitutes were prohibited – the museum displays a list of banned scarlet women, their names chivalrously blocked out – and those who managed to get in the door had to write the price of their services on their shoe soles, which they’d display discreetly by crossing their legs. And, showing us a vintage photo of a matron armed with a pencil and a stern, eagle-eyed glare, Jana tells us about the Viru’s 68 ‘guardians of the floors,’ whose job it was to write down the activities of the guests (one night, to induce writer’s cramp in these unfortunate old ladies, a visiting dance troupe spent hours scampering back and forth between each other’s rooms).

As this story suggests, to work in such a place was to be more than a prisoner in name. Jana shows us a trick purse that, when opened, set off a paint bomb: the idea was that a hotel employee who might find a lost wallet and try to secure some foreign currency would be busted by the colorful splatter. That this was no laughing matter is evident from the story Jana tells of two waiters. One who was caught drunk on the job was sent to work in the hotel’s storeroom for three months. Another, found with a pocket full of Finnish money, was sent to jail.
For the entire, unedited (by LP) story, visit http://www.everettpotter.com/2013/06/estonia-lithuania-past-tense/
Marc Kristal is an architecture, design and travel writer. Kristal, a contributing editor of Dwell and a former editor of AIA/J,The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and numerous other publications. His books include Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors (2010) and Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture (2011). Also a screenwriter, Kristal wrote the film Torn Apart.  He lives in New York.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Trans-Siberian Postscript

June 1
Washington, DC

Good Morning, Comrades. I am back in the US(S)A, after three weeks of adventure, absurdity, love, sickness, weight loss and innumerable travel tales.

In brief, here are a few highlights, in chronological order:

Part I (best forgotten)

A Great Wall
A Summer Palace
Heat exhaustion in the Forbidden City
An overnight at a Chinese hospital
The Chinngis Khaan Airpor/Ulan Bator at midnight
The Mongolian steppe
Part II

My first step in Russia

A giant Lenin head in Ulan Ude

One of two odd encounters with bears

Wading in 30 degree Lake Baikal

Studying the Siberian countryside for hours a day
Studying Cyrillic one hour a day
More Lenin statues (full-size, but not life-size--dude was a midget)
Several babushkas
Countless Russian Orthodox churches
1 mosque
2 Kremlins
10 pounds lost weight
1 case of the flu
1 Red Square
0 Monopoly games