For most of my 250+ blog posts on my Less Beaten Paths Blog, I have discussed the back roads of America and Canada.
But for today’s post in the A-to-Z challenge, I want to note some of my other travels outside of the country. I would like to say I’m a world traveler, but I have yet to visit Europe or Australia or New Zealand or South America. But, I have been very fortunate to have lived in Japan for a number of years. From 1987 to 1991, my family also lives there with me. I have also spent a number of weeks working in the Philippines and spend some time working in China near Shanghai and Suzhou. Finally, I should note that I have also visited the mainland of Mexico during a cruise and was able to see the ruins at Tulum.
My first venture overseas was to Japan in 1976 as a missionary for the LDS church. I served in what was then called the Nagoya mission and worked in cities throughout Central Japan including, in order, Kanazawa, Nagoya, Fukui, Takaoka, Ogaki and finally, Fuji City. It was an amazing 22 month experience for me as a young 19 to 21-year-old.
Though most of my time was spent doing missionary work, I did have occasion to travel and visit parts of Japan back then. I also was very lucky to live at the base of the beautiful Mount Fuji, one of the most well known symbols of Japan. Many of the following photos were scanned from old Fujichrome slides taken between 1976 and 1978.
After my return to the states, I went to school, got married, had children and eventually graduated from Arizona State University with a Masters Degree in International Political Science. At that time, in 1987, Japan’s Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Education had started a brand-new program called The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program). After consulting with my sweet wife, I decided to apply for that in hopes that maybe we could go to Japan as a family and experience that country together.
Since we were in the Los Angeles district for registration, I really worried that I would not qualify despite my language skills. But I did and was one of the first 38 individuals selected to participate in the program as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR). There were about 400 others selected as assistant English teachers.
My assignment would be to work in the office of the governor of Oita prefecture on the island of Kyushu. Oita’s governor Hiramatsu was a nationally known progressive governor. He had programs that he had instituted to produce locally and think globally. During my two-year stint as a CIR, I got to travel extensively throughout the prefecture and got to meet many wonderful people and experience many wonderful things, as did my family. Also, as a CIR, I participated in a number of TV programs and my children were in numerous television and print commercials. It was an amazing experience for us all.
On the day that my assignment ended, July 31, 1989, I got onto an airplane to fly to Fukui where I had once served my mission. August 1 would be my first day as the Director of International Planning for a nationally known company called Asahi Solar Corporation, which was also headquartered in Oita. I was the first foreigner to work for that company and I traveled throughout the country with the president of the company. We also made trips to China, Hawaii and other places within the United States in search of improving the solar industry. We even brought a solar water heater to donate to the solar foundation at the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona.
During my four years in Japan from 1987 to 1991, I’ve visited every prefecture in the country except for Okinawa and Hokkaido.
We got to visit many wonderful places and famous places. We attended the national Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Fukuoka. We visited some of Kyoto’s famed sites and more.
Indeed, Japan was a wonderful experience. Our family returned to the US in late 1991 and eventually made our way to Kentucky. While in Kentucky I worked for a number of Japanese companies as an interpreter. I eventually made my way to Lexmark International, where I worked with the software development team to get the Japanese, Chinese, Korean (and other language) versions of their software localized. While an employee of Lexmark, I made two training trips to Cebu, Philippines, yet another great experience. You can read a detailed post of my adventures at my Cebu Journal
My only other real big overseas trip was on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. During this cruise we also got to take a small boat to mainland Mexico and visit the old Mayan ruins of Tulum.
As a lover of history, this was a fascinating visit and one I will not soon forget.
I am glad that my sweet wife was able to accompany me. You can see the entire story on the Polyesterfest Cruise Post of mine.
I am enriched by people. They inspire me, they teach me, they bring me joy.
I have often been told that I have never met a stranger. And it’s true. I am unabashed around people. Whether it’s joking with a person in line at a grocery store or interacting with the person at a table next to me in a restaurant, I always feel comfortable.
The same goes with my travels. I have been blessed to have met hundreds of unique individuals from all walks of life.
The diversity of people enriches us.
Unlike my other posts in this series, I am stretching far beyond the boundaries of back roads in America. This post will take the reader to Japan, the Philippines, Canada and beyond. As a tour guide in Flagstaff I got to interact with 100s of nameless tourists from all over the world. Working in Japan in the late 1980s, I met more unique folks from the far corners of the earth.
First off, there are the “random people.” The people I have photographed on the streets while traveling. Here are a few, including some from the Philippines during my trips there in 2007. From the loneliness of street people, to the unique shots I would see from the car as I drive by in some small town, these people add color.
For years, I have worked and often traveled with singer/songwriter Antsy McClain to many parts of this country. I have been blessed to meet many wonderful musicians, some very well known, others not so well known. Many I have gotten to know well…not as musicians, but as people.
Many of the musicians I have met are genuine. They are such neat people…not pretentious at all. It is nice to talk to them about life. One of them, Bobby Cochran, who played guitar for Antsy for a few years, was also the lead guitarist for the band Steppenwolf in the 1970s. I saw him as a fan back in 1975 and never imagined I would be traveling on the road with him talking religion, politics and life.
Another Antsy fan I met in Lethbridge, Alberta. Crafty Jack is a carpenter and master luthier. I spent two days with he and his sweet wife “Little Debbie” back in 2008. He taught me and my son about guitar making and took us on a nice adventure to Vulcan, Alberta to learn about Star Trek. Also, while in Lethbridge we enjoyed a dinner with him and Debbie in a converted water tower. What a trip! Our visit with him was out of this world!
I have spent time with Crafty and Debbie in California and also on a cruise to Cancun. We strolled the historic site of Tulum in Mexico together. So blessed to know these great folks.
Along the way I have become close friends with many Antsy fans. These “Flamingoheads,” as they are called, are also a diverse and lovely flock of folks. Some have become lifelong friends.
A couple of these Flamingoheads took great care of me on a visit to California in 2015. “Christmas Carla” and “Princess Ione” provided housing, touring and transportation for nearly a week. I got to know them, not as fans of Antsy, but as the real people they are with their unique life stories.
My travels across Canada and the US have led me to others. Take, for instance, Oliver Zuder, a BBQ pit master from Ontario. I met him at Camp 31 BBQ in Paris, Ontario in 2013 and we became friends soon. I went to BBQ competitions to watch him and his brother Davor make people smile with satisfaction.
In the past couple of years, Oliver has started a new BBQ business called Uncle Sam’s BBQ, also in Ontario. We keep in contact and my mouth waters every time I think of him.
Crisscrossing the country I have met and chatted with cafe owners and shop owners. Their colorful stories enrich.
I have also had my brushes with celebrities in my travels. As a tour guide in Arizona in 1983, I once met Alice Cooper in a restaurant parking lot in Sedona. We talked Golf and politics for 30 minutes. No selfies, no autographs. Just two people chatting. On another occasion, I was attending a solar conference in Kobe, Japan in 1991. At lunch I sat with some other non-Japanese from Norway. We chatted a while and then I was introduced to Morten Harket, who I immediately recognized as the lead vocalist for the group A-ha (Take on Me). He happened to be a huge advocate of solar energy. We talked about many things. No pictures or autographs. Just enriching conversation.
One of my fond memories was being on the road for three days in Kyushu, Japan as the personal guide and interpreter for Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. I spent hours listening to her harrowing escape from the Communist regime in Romania. Though a national hero, she was also a prisoner to dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Fascinating stuff.
Back in August 2010 I watched the first episode of the TV show Swamp People. Already an avid traveler and travel writer, I became fascinated with the show, which featured Gator hunters in Louisiana. One of them, Troy Landry, was quite a character. I told my wife “one day I am gonna track him down and meet him.” In 2015 I did just that. I visited his bait shop and crawfishing facility in Pierre Part, LA. He happened to be there buying loads and loads of crawfish from fishermen. We talked and chatted for 30 minutes or more while he worked. Friendly and outgoing, and totally good natured, he told stories of Gator hunting, told me about the crawfishing business and the let me “choot him” in a selfie.
On another roadtrip, this time into Iowa, I visited the small town of LeClaire, on the Mississippi River. This was the home to Antique Archaeology, the Antique shop made famous by the hit TV Show American Pickers. While there in that hot July afternoon, I was told that Danielle Colby, one of the cast members, was around and was always happy to meet fans. She is the tattooed friendly gal that works with the pickers on the show. During my visit, I learned that she had her own business creating unique clothing and had a shop across the street. I went over there and we chatted about her work, her roller derby hobby and her work as a burlesque dancer. She welcomed a selfie too.
Not so famous, but just as unique, was my opportunity to meet 80 year old Clyde Wynia, the creative mind behind the amazing Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. This former attorney turned his welding passion into a unique menagerie of metal creations, including giant dragons and small spiders. He gave me a personal tour and told some amazing stories.
I also can’t forget to mention my encounter with “the one and only JFK,” James Frank Kotera, the Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI. (See full story and video HERE.)
My travels have also led me to chance meetings with individuals with similar interests. And social media, especially Facebook, has extended that opportunity.
On a trip to Wyoming in 2013, I stopped at a place called Hell’s Half Acre. A unique geological formation, it was a must see photo stop for me. I struck up a conversation with a young hot shot photographer named Derek Ace, from Madison, WI. We hit it off and I got his contact info. Derek and I have been Facebook friends ever since and I have been enlightened and enriched by his amazing photography, especially his desert works and his off the chain shots of abandoned buildings, rusted cars and sundry other forgotten treasures left behind. See his Rural Ruins page for some great photos.
As an avid blogger of quirky things, I had a chance virtual encounter via the web of Texas Travel blogger Tui Snider. We exchanged notes about offbeat and quirky places in Texas and soon became good Facebook friends. On a subsequent trip to Texas in 2013, I finally met this amazing individual and her husband Larry at their gothic-accented home in Azle. Besides quirky things, Tui is also fascinated by the paranormal and has also become quite the expert on cemetery gravestone symbolism. She has published numerous books and articles. I count her as a dear friend.
Through Tui I have met ghost tour guide Shelly Cumbie in Denton, TX, who has provided many fascinating stories. I have also become a virtual friend of writer, blogger and podcaster Teal Gray.
Teal has actually done a live podcast interview with me on her internationally syndicated podcast. She also recently write an article about my travel blogging and photography for the Dallas Entertainment Journal (see the link here)
The podcast can be heard in its entirety here:
Even my local staycation trips have led me to fascinating new friends, such as local bird and nature photographers and enthusiasts. See some great photos by the members of the Jacobson Park Photographers Group which I started on Facebook. (see the site)
I have also had the opportunity to meet local chefs that have been on Food Network competitions such as Cutthroat Kitchen or Guy’s Grocery Games. Ranada Riley, co-owner of the Lexington Diner, was one of these. Her “amazing” hairdo and unique cooking style have made her a local celebrity. But there is so much more to her beyond the cooking, whether it be her faith, her love for life or her diverse lifestyle. Meeting her in person and then following her life through social media has been a great adventure.
What more can I say? People bring me great joy and it is so fun to meet new folks every week!
Recently I was assigned by a client to look into the creation of a SmugMug website. I had to do some testing on it, but in the process I created my own SmugMug site. This site has hundreds of photographs that I’ve taken on my travels around the country, in Canada, in Japan, and in the Philippines.
I have not always focused on just the unique and offbeat, but I also have visited many national parks, many scenic wonderlands, have focused on animal life, flowers and trees, and other unique and interesting places and things. My new SmugMug site will feature a great variety of all of these photographs.
I hope you’ll give it a visit and Enjoy the Ride!!