Monthly Archives: May 2017

AtW #44: Carlos VillaWolf and Leah Ittner

Picture of Dan, Carlos and Leah.

Dan, Carlos and Leah

Carlos VillaWolf and Leah Ittner are good friends of Katie's and mine. They lived in Beijing for four years and moved to Ho Chi Minh City about ten months ago. They were back in Beijing to visit friends over a long weekend, and we managed to squeeze in some time to record this podcast.

This one is full of sage wisdom; I hope you enjoy it!

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Show Notes:

  • This map shows you Ho Chi Minh City, including the bubble that is District 2.
  • In the podcast I mentioned the story of a woman in New York who thought someone was stealing her identity, but the truth was even darker. Here is is.
  • Here is the interview that I talked about, Tim Ferris and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • Here's the trailer for Moana. Yup, American accents.
  • Carlos mentioned an article titled 10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America. The author paints in broad strokes and I don't agree with all of it, but yeah, it's mostly true.
  • Here's more info about Babies, the documentary Carlos and Leah talked about.
  • Wondering how the US compares with the rest of the world in maternity leave? Here you go.
  • Germany has been paying people to have kids for the last decade.
  • EU countries could start requiring US citizens to get visas for travel, but this isn't really because of our current political climate. And it would be an easy thing for the US government to fix. The problem is that we still require citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania to obtain visas to visit the US. This is a violation of our reciprocity agreement with the EU. If the EU actually changed the rules, my guess is that we'd start honoring this agreement real quick.
  • Here's Louis CK on Jay Leno talking about how he's not saving anything for his kids:

Around the World #43: Talking North Korea with Jeremiah Jenne

North Korea: Picture of Dan and Jeremiah.

Pondering about North Korea.

Tensions have been rising on the Korean peninsula. What are our options?

My guest Jeremiah Jenne is a historian based in Beijing. He has been to North Korea multiple times, including just a few weeks ago (I have been there as well). Jeremiah laid out three potential military strategies for the US to intervene in North Korea; unfortunately, all of these options are various shades of terrible. He also talked about diplomatic strategies, which also are controversial and risky.

Jeremiah has several other projects in Beijing. He runs a small company called Beijing by Foot, which gives walking tours of historical sites around the city. I went on one of these tours to the Summer Palace and thoroughly enjoyed it; highly recommended for anyone interested in Chinese history.

Jeremiah's blog is Jottings from the Granite Studio. This includes the writing he does for other publications, as well as his Podcast, “Barbarians at the Gate.”

This was an awesome show, so lets get to it:

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Show Notes:

  • Jeremiah's email address is Feel free to send him your questions about the tours he runs.
  • Jeremiah's blog is Jottings from the Granite Studio.
  • Jeremiah's podcast is Barbarians at the Gate. He and his co-host and guests talk about their favorite characters in Chinese history, as well as more recent events in China. I especially appreciate the way he gives historical context to what is happening in China today.
  • Jeremiah's tour company is Beijing by Foot.
  • After you have listened to Barbarians at the Gate, Jeremiah recommends that you check out Laszlo Montgomery's excellent China History Podcast and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, which tells the story of the classic Chinese novel of the same name.
  • The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the Hutong construction project that is currently taking place in Beijing. Of particular interest to me is San Tiao (3rd alley) in the Beixinqiao neighborhood, which I mentioned during the podcast. A few weeks ago there was so much debris in the road, you coould barely walk through it. Katie and I returned more recently and found that, while there were many brick walls where there had been entrances to restaurants, the alley was still a relatively lively place.
  • China is in the middle of a bike-sharing revolution. Shanghai alone has 450,000 shared bikes. New York City, by constrast, has only 10,000.
  • Finally, an “only in China” moment happened a year and a half ago when the government enlisted monkeys to dismantle bird nests ahead of the country's military parade.
North Korea: Picture of Kim Il Sung Square.

Last year Katie and I traveled to North Korea. Here is Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang.

North Korea: Picture of the Pyongyang subway.

Pyongyang subway. And then the actors lined up... Just kidding.

Picture of Angkor Wat.

When I went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, all of these people were vying for position to capture a photo of the iconic sunrise over the temple.

Picture of Angkor Wat from the top of Phnom Bakheng.

The next morning, we arguably got a better view of Angkor Wat from the top of Phnom Bakheng.

How To Stay Comfortable While Exploring New Places

Picture of Katie in a comfortable wicker chair.

Katie is comfortable. Are you?

Travel is a huge part of my life, and while I usually talk about destinations, I thought I'd mention a few tips for staying comfortable one the road. What do you think? Anything else you would add?

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for Tommy John's upcoming infographic featuring some of the comfort tips I've included in this post! They specialize in men's base layers, like boxer-briefs, so comfort is in their DNA.


Quality footwear is one of the few pieces of gear I'm willing to splurge on. When you travel, you're often on your feet all day. Terrain can be uneven and unsuitable for cheap and uncomfortable footwear. This is especially true if you're traveling with a heavy backpack. I recommend buying a pair of hiking boots with rigid soles and ankle support. Trust me, you don't want to walk for hours on cobblestone streets and potholed sidewalks in a pair of loafers or high heels. Your feet and ankles will thank you at the end of the day.

Air Mattress

A good night's sleep is essential to staying healthy on the road. If you're a budget traveler like me, you'll often find yourself sleeping on friends' couches, in airports or on cheap hostel beds. In China, where I currently live, even medium-range hotel rooms come with beds that are slightly firmer than particle board. If you travel with an air mattress, you'll set yourself up for a comfortable night's sleep no matter where you are. Technology for air mattresses has greatly improved in the last few years; you no longer need to carry a thin piece of foam that won't even fit in your backpack, or a huge bed that requires an air compressor to inflate. Nowadays, there are several models of air mattress that are the size of a 1-liter Nalgene bottle and weigh less than one kilo. They take less than a minute to inflate; you'll be in dreamland before you know it.

Ear Plugs and Eye Mask

It's 3 a.m. You're in a hostel dorm room, sound asleep. Suddenly, the door creeks open and the lights are turned on. You hear laughter and maybe even some sounds that you can't un-hear. Your bunk-mates have returned from a long night of drinking, and now you're wide awake. Of course, you would never be so discourteous, but not everyone will follow the basic rules of dorm-room decency. You could eschew dorms in favor of private rooms, but that can get quite expensive. What other options are there?

Use ear plugs and an eye mask! They are both cheap (or free!) and have saved me more times than I can remember. I still use an eye mask that was provided to me years ago on a long flight. As for ear plugs, I find the ones that are made for women with snoring husbands the most comfortable. (I realize this is ironic on multiple levels.)

Pro Tip: If you use the trifecta of an air mattress, eye mask and ear plugs, you can sleep comfortably in airports, in hostel dorms, under the stars, on your friend's floor, or almost almost anywhere else.

Slow Down

Fatigue is one of the greatest sources of discomfort on the road. And one of the biggest causes of fatigue is traveling too quickly. You'll have some of your favorite life experiences when you travel. Just make sure to slow down enough to thoroughly enjoy yourself.


Keep in mind that travel itself is not always comfortable. Hostels can be noisy (see above). Bus rides can be cramped and bumpy. You might get sick from the water. You could even be delayed due to a natural disaster or political unrest. Often you can avoid these situations, but not always.

My advice is to accept the hand that is dealt to you. If you really wanted to live the most comfortable life possible, you would never travel in the first place. Giving up control is a big part of being on the road. At some point, you'll have to accept this and move on. If nothing else, you'll end up with a good story.

Picture of comfortable hotel bedroom.

Not everywhere is this comfortable.

AtW #42: Siberia, Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan

Kurdistan: Picture of Gigi and Dan.

Gigi is about to catch a flight to Hong Kong.

My guest today is Gigi Wong. Originally from Hong Kong, she currently lives in New York, where she works with first-tier Chinese real estate developers. We spent most of our time talking about a trip Gigi took a few years back. Starting from Beijing, she rode the Trans-Siberian railway to Moscow. From there she headed into Finland, Estonia, Germany, Austria and Turkey. She still wanted more adventure, so after Turkey, she traveled to the little-visited countries of Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Gigi is very well-traveled and I had a lot of fun talking with her. Now, let's get to our discussion:

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Show Notes:

Here are a few of my photos from the Forbidden City in Beijing:

Picture of Forbidden City. Picture of Forbidden City. Picture of Forbidden City.

Click for photos from my first trip to the Forbidden City.

Forbidden City trip #2.

And now for some photos from my trip across Australia on the Indian Pacific train:

Picture of Indian Pacific Train. Picture of Indian Pacific Train.
Picture of Indian Pacific Train.

The nullarbor, in the middle of Australia.

More pictures from my train trip.