Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Obamacare's real horror story

The real horror story is long term just like pretty much every large scale government program. Most of those who go through Obamacare will opt for Medicaid. However, at the same time, physicians are increasingly opting out of accepting Medicaid as they find they can't afford the government's repayment formula and delays. We're going to learn the hard way that health insurance doesn't equal health care.
In addition, people are taking high deductible health care plans. Just like subprime loans, this sounds great until people can't afford the payments. As the baby boomers retire en masse, this will build up in numbers affecting a large number of people at once.
There are still going to be many people who will choose not to buy insurance nor are they going to pay the penalty no matter how many bills the government sends. We have yet to see what happens with that. Are we going to criminalize not having health insurance?
These are just the tip of the unintentional consequences of Obamacare. The usual long run consequence of massive federal programs is to build up towards a large scale economic drop because the government is a very poor allocator of resources especially in the long run, it works in broad strokes often ignoring the needs of individuals, and it is too slow to micromanage such programs to adjust to changing environments.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Great Depression II

The US government targets a straight line NGDP rate of growth always heading up though massive debt spending and loose monetary policies since the 1980s at least:

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/jn3H-jlEAJAhENWSSZ7HRroSxaUKIONPnPd6ONUSsLgUw_rs8IiVmtad87WAZd2XXbzrzCA_yDH0BseJXhmPnhLQ2D0h_GQOgElgABugFsVUqw1-hJo4

Unfortunately, the rate of sustainable economic growth, this would the NGDP that would occur naturally without any short term dips or rises, has been flattening since the 1970s as the cost of energy sustains nominal rises primarily due to the rise in price of fossil fuels with no alternative being able to be as cheap as fossil fuels nominally were before the 1970s.

What this means is that there has been an increasing divergence between the two rates, and it is the reason why the Great Recession, which was basically an economic correction to bring the two rates closer together, was so large in amplitude. Because the government's reaction through its massive spending and continuing of loose monetary policies, we are basically put back where we were and set up for an even bigger economic correction in the future that will be bigger than the Great Recession and most likely will be bigger than the Great Depression in every way.

In order to prevent this Great Depression II, there are two basic paths. The first, and unfortunately not feasible, is to find an energy source that is at least as nominally cheap as fossil fuels were before the 1970s. All alternative and renewable sources of energy can only wait until fossil fuel prices rises to breakeven with them rather than being able to become cheaper. The second is for the government to target a flatter rate of NGDP growth by gradually pulling back on debt spending and tightening loose monetary policies so that the targeted NGDP rate growth is closer to the rate of sustainable economic growth. This is going to be unbelievably painful medicine because of how overleveraged we are. But it actually would be preferable to a Great Depression II.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Change in buying power since 2000

This is an effort to use the census HINC-05 tables to get an idea of how buying power has changed between the poor, middle class and rich. The following table shows the incomes at the division line between the five quintiles of the population:

Year Between First and Second Quintile Between Second and Middle Quintile Between Middle and Fourth Quintile Between Fourth and Highest Quintile
2000 17955 33005 52265 81960
2001 17960 33312 53000 83500
2002 17916 33377 53151 84016
2003 17984 34000 54440 86860
2004 18500 34738 55331 88030
2005 19178 36000 57658 91705
2006 20032 37771 60000 97030
2007 20300 39100 62000 100000
2008 20712 39000 62750 100250
2009 20450 38530 61800 100000
2010 20000 38040 61720 100065
2011 20260 38515 62434 101577
2012 20593 39736 64554 104086

The following table is the inflation adjusted version of the above table in year 2000 dollars:

Year Between First and Second Quintile Between Second and Middle Quintile Between Middle and Fourth Quintile Between Fourth and Highest Quintile
2000 17955 33005 52265 81960
2001 17677 32217 51257 82185
2002 17221 31771 50593 80755
2003 16964 31606 50606 81932
2004 16893 31689 50475 80383
2005 16936 31791 50917 80985
2006 17259 32259 51244 83598
2007 17013 32770 51962 83810
2008 16723 31489 50665 80943
2009 16578 31235 50099 81066
2010 15958 30353 49245 79841
2011 15710 29865 48412 78763
2012 15639 30178 49026 79049

The table below shows the above table in terms of delta from the year 2000 values:

Year Between First and Second Quintile Between Second and Middle Quintile Between Middle and Fourth Quintile Between Fourth and Highest Quintile
2000 0 0 0 0
2001 -278 -788 -1008 225
2002 -734 -1234 -1672 -1205
2003 -991 -1399 -1659 -28
2004 -1062 -1316 -1790 -1577
2005 -1019 -1214 -1348 -975
2006 -696 -746 -1021 1638
2007 -942 -235 -303 1850
2008 -1232 -1516 -1600 -1017
2009 -1377 -1770 -2166 -894
2010 -1997 -2652 -3020 -2119
2011 -2245 -3140 -3853 -3197
2012 -2316 -2827 -3239 -2911

Finally, the following link is the graph of the above table data:

http://i.imgur.com/3fr3EEp.jpg

What we see is that compared to 2000, income is down across the board. However, the lowest quintile has lost less buying power than the higher quintiles, but in 2012, it was the only quintile to lose buying power.

With all the talk of increased income disparity, what this graph also shows is that the Great Recession pretty much wiped out any significant disparity in buying power difference between the rich and the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My trip around the USA

Just pasting something from my past so that I don't lose it:

On June 12, 1995, I set off in my Saturn SL1 to drive around the USA for 5 weeks alone. This is an email log of my trip:


Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 1

From: Laurel, Maryland
To : Atlanta, Georgia

This trip took me 10 hours. If you plan to visit Atlanta, expect to drive for at least 11 hours (following normal speed restrictions). :-) And as Forest Gump would say, "I've seen every type of rain there is." It rained off and on for the entire 10 hours.

I saw nothing but asphalt and pine trees until right before the Georgia state line at which point I saw a 100 foot tall peach. It was a water tower molded into the shape of a huge peach. Not by coincidence, they were selling peaches for the next five exits. I found this amusing since Georgia was the peach state, but it was South Carolina that was marketing the peach to the extreme.

I stopped by the Georgia visitor center to get any info on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Conclusion: Don't bother trying to get tickets to see any of the Olympics; instead, spend your money on a huge projection TV and watch the Olympics on it (it will be cheaper and you will see more of the Olympics than if you went to Atlanta). If you just want paraphenalia, the place to go is Atlanta Underground located in downtown Atlanta.

I expected to hear southern accents, but it still surprised me when I stopped by a convenience store and overheard a 5 year old boy whine for a toy in a definitive southern twang (I can't describe it better; you have to hear it).

There are no IHOPs here; they seem to have been replaced by Waffle Houses. McDonalds must be reaching the saturation point; there was a McDonalds at almost every exit on the road. I've never seen so many BP gas stations before in my life. Shoney's is everywhere.

The following is what comes out of person whose mind has been numbed by an entire day of driving: "I am one with my car. No one is faster. No opening between two cars is too small. I laugh at the elements BWAHAHAHA. The police can't see me. Cruise control is man's best friend. Truckers respect me. Why are there remains of shredded tires every 10 feet on the shoulder of the road?"

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 2

From: Atlanta, Georgia
To : New Orleans, Louisiana

Underground Atlanta is basically a multi-level mall with a little touch of American history stuck under a downtown street in Atlanta. It uses the underground railroad for historical significance.

I didn't have time, but the following are places I would visit the next time I'm in Atlanta: Coca-Cola Museum, and the Jimmy Carter Center.

While in Atlanta, I visited a former Princeton roommate, Derek, who is now practicing law. I made the mistake of assuming that he worked downtown and took the bus downtown (parking was ridiculous downtown). As a result, I ended up walking two miles through the western part of Atlanta. Imagine a chubby oriental man wearing a Walt Disney t-shirt walking through the economically depressed black neighborhood of Atlanta. I got many stares, and one woman tapped me on the shoulder with a rolled-up piece of paper as we walked past each other. I wasn't sure if this was a greeting or a provocation, so I continued walking without looking back. Derek showed me the Olympic stadium in construction as well as his real estate investments in the area. He wants me to join him in buying run-down houses near the Olympic facilities, renovating them, renting them during the Olympics, and selling them after the Olympics. The only problem I saw was that the people who would rent the houses would probably trash the houses, and after the Olympics, Atlanta's economy and housing market may spiral downwards since they seem to have no other form of introducing money into the economy besides the Olympics. Derek's getting married next week, and I only can say that she must be an understanding woman because he was quite a lady's man in college (and still was as of last year) and he has come clean with her.

The trip to New Orleans was basically more asphalt and pine trees. But when I reached Southern Alabama and Mississippi, seeing the endless expanses of trees and marshes took my breath away. This is probably mainly due to the tedium of seeing only interstates hour after hour, but the look of nature from a slightly elevated view was dazzling. Crossing the Mississippi River was long and satisfying as well.

I took someone's advice and stopped at the visitor center as soon as I hit Mississippi and got discount information about hotels. I paid only $29, but I got what I paid for (paper thin walls, noisy air conditioner, etc.). If any of you come to New Orleans with someone else, it's probably better to pay the $75/night (or more) for the fancier hotels directly in the French Quarter.

I arrived in the French Quarter at 10:30pm EST (9:30pm CST), and promptly went to the first creole restaurant I found. The one I went to was called Olivier's Creole Restaurant located on Douvier St. The restaurant was very nicely decorated with carved wood, chandeliers, ceiling fans, and pictures of old buildings. Nice jazz music was playing in the background, and the host (and owner) of the restaurant went around and talked easily with the customers. They didn't have escargot (snails), and I didn't feel like eating crawfish. So I started off with Oysters Buenville (sp?) (oysters baked in their shell with a cream sauce and covered with cheese and spices), continued with a Creole Gumbo sampler (shrimp, beef, and creole) dish with rice, and ended with Papa Armand's peach cobbler. Everything was delicious (but the peach cobbler was a little on the sweet side). With free fresh, hot buns, I give this restaurant two forks up. Needless to say, I was not able to stay within my $10/day budget for food.

Right now I am in my hotel room listening to Mystery Science Theater 3000 (they're bashing a Roger Corman movie called Attack of the Giant Leech) and noises from the people next door.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 2

From: New Orleans, Louisiana
To : Houston, Texas

Correction: Olivier's Creole Restaurant is located on Decatur St - not Douvier.

Today, I took a look at the French Quarter during the day. It is basically very much like the Baltimore Inner Harbor: lots of waterfront stores and restaurants. The main differences are the abundance of wheel-driven ferry boats, the creole food, and the French Market.

However, my first stop was actually to the east of the French Quarter where something that looked like an aircraft carrier was docked. I walked up to it and debated whether or not to cross the barricade that prohibited pedestrians from getting a solid view of it. It's too small to be a carrier or a CVL. It lacked a jump ramp, so it probably isn't for harriers. It proabably was just a helicopter carrier.

My second stop was the Louisiana State Museum. They had very nice displays on the US Mint that was located here and the history of Jazz. I learned what "Storyville" was to my embarrassment.

My third stop was the French Market. It probably should be renamed to the New Orleans Souvenir Market. Got a t-shirt there.

My last stop was lunch at the Jackson Square Cafe. I got the "Bayou Sampler" which consisted of breaded catfish, sausage jambalaya, and crawfish pie. I definitely give this place two forks up too.

New Orleans is a definite stop for antique fans. There were antique stores everywhere.

Parking should be manageable as long as you park outside of the French Quarter. All the parking lots in the French Quarter are pretty much for the hotel guests.

The trip to Houston was pretty much uneventful (if you call racing at a ridiculous speed uneventful; I'm ready to race at Indianapolis :-)). The bayou was a sight. Midway through the trip, I got a huge bug stuck in my windshield wiper. I got nauseous as I watched this inch-long bug being ripped apart by the wind in front of my eyes (but not nauseous enough to waste time taking it off until I needed gas). The site of oil tanks and refineries were also a major landscape item.

It's becoming an effort to try to make my reports interesting because I'm starting to feel the effects of this trip. I'll do better in the future.

I'll be staying with a relative of mine. They have an 8 month son, so I bought a Lion King Simba stuffed toy, a BIG box of crayons, and a Lion King drawing pad. He seemed more interested in staring at me than the stuffed toy (I guess I look like a bigger stuffed toy :-))

Houston seems to lack any major attraction. I'll probably visit the space center and say hi to Vern Hall.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 4

Correction: My last email should have been titled "Day 3" instead of "Day 2".

I'm staying at my cousin's house with her family which seems to revolve around their eight month old son. He finally paid attention to the Simba doll I gave him, and by his reaction, I would guess that it tastes okay. :-)

I visited the Johnson Space Center's Visitor Center and the Galveston Moody Gardens today.

Johnson Space Center's Visitor Center was built and funded by a nonprofit group separate from NASA. A hamburger there costs $3, so I'm pretty sure I know where they are getting their funding for this place. This place blows NASA Goddard's visitor center out of the water, but it doesn't have as many displays as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. However, it is more interactive; it has legos for the little kids to play with and space shuttle simulators for the older ones (including me - I did a picture perfect landing of the shuttle on my first try). It has a tram tour that goes throughout the center and two theatres. I only saw a show in one of the theatres which was an upbeat synopsis of the manned flight missions from Mercury to the Space Shuttle. I was impressed with the way they fit the Challenger accident into the show. They just stopped the background music at the point of the accident and continued the silence as they changed from scene to scene of people's reaction to the accident. It still hurts everytime I think about it. But don't ask the employees hard questions like "Where can I find a directory of JSC's employees?" The people who work the visitor center are totally separate from the real JSC. There were two different tram tours, and I took the one of the Mission Control Center (MCC) that has been used since the Gemini missions and has been declared a national landmark. I would say that our Network Control Center is much bigger than the JSC MCC. Because it is a landmark, they can't change any of the appearances; this includes upgrading the exteriors of the computers and monitors used (That mainframe terminal may actually hide a pentium motherboard). However, they are building a new control center across the center. They also had a display for the upcoming Apollo 13 movie. I called Vern, but he was busy and I had to go to Galveston. Just for the GSFC people, cost of a 3 bedroom rancher goes for about $80K here, there is no income tax but sales tax is 8.25%, gas is about twenty cents cheaper, the city and suburb is similar to that of Maryland except there are no hills, weather runs on the hot and humid side, and I was here first so I get first pick. :-) You wouldn't believe how much NASA's name is taken in vain around JSC. I've seen all sorts of businesses with names like NASA Cafe, NASA Vision Center, Challenger Shopping Plaza, etc. Even the local McDonald's had a mock space shuttle as its playyard tunnel (named the McShuttle). I didn't know whether to smile in mirth, laugh at the irony, or cry in shame.

Galveston county is located on the Gulf of Mexico coast south of Houston. The Moody Gardens is a huge garden and pyramid shaped greenhouse. The greenhouse is very similar to the one in the Baltimore Aquarium. In addition, they have a 3-D Imax theatre that makes you duck for cover. The show I saw was called "Into the Deep." It was about the critters that live in the seaweed forests of the sea, and seeing all that kelp made me hungry. In fact, I had seaweed soup and rice for dinner (with kimchee of course).

Tomorrow, I'm off to Oklahoma City to find my roots.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 5

From: Houston, Texas
To : Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Everybody in Houston seems to be excited about winning some basketball game two nights ago. :-) Not being a basketball fan, I don't think a threepeat is likely. The Chicago Bulls will be the team to beat when Michael Jordan regains his shooting percentage.

I got a speeding ticket coming into Dallas. I made no excuse. I have learned my lesson, and I am driving the limit now. I am the ONLY car driving the limit. The only vehicle I passed was a house trailer, and even that was a close race.

I got lost when the congested traffic in Dallas forced me onto route 75 instead of I35. I ended up taking a 30 mile detour west on a farm road north of Dallas. The scenery was fantastic. I was the only car on the road most of the time. I saw ranches of all types, rivers with dead trees sticking out like spines on a porcupine, and towns that had populations of less than a thousand with a Baptist church in the middle. Many of the ranches had entryways decorated with symbols like two M's on top of each other, a name on an arch above the entryway, or small models of plows, wagon wheels, etc. were attached to the gates of the entryway. There were bales of hay to the horizon. The strange thing was that the bales were cylindrical instead of being block shaped like I normally imagine them. I stopped by a small post office for directions (and a money order for the ticket). Imagine a chubby oriental man dressed in city clothes walking into a white country neighborhood where Japanese cars are an endangered species. I got nonswerving stares from an elderly woman in a luxury car and two burly guys in a huge GMC truck blasting country music out of its windows.

The trip to Oklahoma was otherwise uneventful except for the 30 foot tall statue of Sam Houston 60 miles north of Houston.

With the help of an old college friend of my father, I found the site of my old home which is now a parking lot. Nothing was familiar except little bits and pieces of buildings and the street. I can't describe the feeling I had, but I started tracing the path I used to take to the Villa Teresa, the nursery and kindergarten run by nuns that I used to attend 20 years ago. The raspberry bush was no longer where it used to be on the way to the school. By the time I reached the school five blocks away, I was running. The playground was the first thing I saw. It was the same shape, but instead of grass, it was paved. Instead of trees, buildings and roads surrounded the place where I first learned how to speak American, took naps, and ate graham crackers with milk. I met the sisters, but none of them remembered me. However, we talked about many things including the bomb blast. It turns out that the school was only 7 blocks away from the blast. They had 7 windows shatter, but noone was hurt. Even so, the school received letters from around the country basically wishing the children well. The children are still responding to them.

My father's friend drove past the bomb site, but it was out of sight. And this wasn't the real reason I came here. I also passed Waco, Texas, on the way, but for reasons of not being ghoulish, I didn't stop to just to stare at a place where people died.

Tomorrow, I start my 16 hour drive to the Grand Canyon.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 6

From: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
To : Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Here's a real short synopsis of my trip to Arizona: flat, wind, cows, wind, armadillo, wind, tumbleweed, wind, mesas, wind, mountains, wind, rain, wind. :-)

I can see how a single drought could turn Oklahoma into a dust bowl. If the soil dried up and was not held down by live roots, the constant northerly wind (unhindered by any mountains) would whip it up. The wind is so regular that all the trees have been tilted or have grown with their trunks bending towards the north like the way Bonsai trees are shaped. Driving through the wind can put you on the edge especially when there's a big semi in the adjacent lane being affected by the winds.

Cows were everywhere, and in one place there were a few square miles packed with cows. Unfortunately, the interstate was downwind. The smell is enough to make me a vegetarian. I now believe the statistic saying that cows produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases in the world. :-(

Road kill report: saw a flattened armadillo, and I flattened a tumbleweed.

Listening to the radio to pass the time became nonviable after entering New Mexico and the mountains. I was only able to get one FM station, and the song was definitely not english (I think it was spanish). Maybe the joke that more people in America speak Spanish than English isn't really a joke.

The gradual change of the landscape from flat farmlands to mesas and then to mountainous scrub was meditative. Running into a rainstorm was hair-raising. Chasing the sunset in the mountains was in vain, but the aura that outlines the mountains after the sun sets was a spiritual experience. Seeing the universe outside my car windows when no city lights are there to obscure the stars was very scary; I felt as if I was going to fall into the sky forever.

A rainstorm on the plains is like falling off a cliff - you know something bad is going to happen to you, but you can't stop it. As I was driving, I first noticed the rainstorm when it was a patch of dark clouds that I could cover with my palm if I held my hand out at arm's length. It was about 15 degrees to the left, and it looked as if it was sitting on the ground. I thought it would just skirt the interstate. As I drew closer, I could see multiple lightning bolts, and dread set in as the interstate slowly and steadily curved towards the center of the storm. Having lived in Oklahoma, my main concern was for tornadoes which usually are preceded by a protrusion on the bottom of the cloud. As I reached the edge of the storm, I realized that distance had made this storm look small; it actually was large enough to cover the Washington D.C. area. And I said the following modified version of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" as the rain started coming down hard enough to obscure vision totally:

Into the valley of death charged me and my Saturn. Lightning to the left of me! Lightning to the right of me! Lightning in front of me! Tornado signs above me! Into the valley of death charged me and my Saturn. We who are about to die salute thee!

It sounds corny now, but I took it very seriously in the midst of the storm.

Tomorrow, I'll see some petrified trees and the Grand Canyon.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 7

From : Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Stopover: Meteor Crater, Arizona
To : Grand Canyon, Arizona

Arizona does not recognize daylight savings time, so it's actually 3 hours behind instead of 2 hours (Mountain Standard Time). This can play havoc in making sure I check out of the hotel in time before they charge me for another day. Radios are no help either because they declare time by saying "it's n minutes after the hour" leaving me yelling crazedly at the radio "WHAT HOUR?" :-)

The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest are actually the same park. If you go into the Painted Desert, you will find petrified trees, and if you go into the petrified forest, you will find multicolored cliff faces. If you are caught attempting to take any rock from this park, the park will fine you $275 (however, the way they check is by asking you at the exit gate if you had taken anything). The best striation and coloration of cliff faces are actually found in between the petrified forest and the painted desert in a spot called the Blue Mesas. The park basically consists of a 30 mile strip of road with tourist stops along its length. I actually took the wilderness entrance to the painted desert and walked an hour into floor of the desert and came back (no one went much further than 5 minutes out into the desert - wimps). I saw a handful of lizards, a jackrabbit, 50 foot wide dried-out river beds, impressive cliff faces up close, petrified trees, and tons of scrub brush. Unfortunately, I didn't have any sunscreen (and I didn't have time to buy it), so I decided to go out anyway (I am suffering now). I was wary of rattlesnakes, so I gave any crevices a wide berth. But the most dangerous thing about the desert were these patches of plants that look like crab grass; in fact, these "blades of grass" were as stiff as knitting needles and as sharp as darts. The river beds could also be treacherous because stepping on a seemingly dry and firm patch of river bed resulted in being shin-deep in mud. The plant-covered dry ground was no better; stepping on seemingly solid ground resulted in dropping up to a foot into a sinkhole. I couldn't stand still either because if I did, flies would swarm around me in an instant. The desert seems to smother any small sounds too ("Noone can hear you scream in the desert or the sea"). When I got back to my car (all I took with me was my camera), I drank half a gallon of bottled water in three swigs. If anyone attempts this, wear a pure-white jean and a loose fitting white t-shirt to avoid absorbing heat (it worked for me). By the time I got to the end of the park, I wouldn't have cared about a petrified rock even if it fell on me. There's only so much tree-like rock a human can be interested in. :-(

On the way to the Grand Canyon, I visited Meteor Crater (hard to miss it with the multiple billboards and having the exit road named Meteor Crater Road). I could tell you stuff like that it's 570 feet deep, but you have to see it for yourself to be impressed by its size. They created a mini museum about the crater, and brought little tidbits to light like that Apollo astronauts trained for their moon landings here. They seem to emphasize NASA a lot in their displays; in fact, they had an entire wall covered with picture plaques of every astronaut involved in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. I have to warn you that this is a definite tourist trap designed to suck your money into the crater ($7 admission! The petrified forest only cost $5! Well-stocked gift shop, and even an overpriced ($3 for a bowl of soup!) restaurant). My major disappointment was that they didn't allow tourists to hike down to the bottom of the crater.

I arrived at the hotels at the entrance of the Grand Canyon as the day ended. Looking at the canyon in the dark was not my plan, so I saw the Imax presentation ($7 for a ticket!) of the Grand Canyon after I checked in ($90 for a night in a medium-quality room!). I paid the extra bucks for the hotel room because I didn't have the energy to drive two hours back to Fallstaff, it would save me time, and all the other hotels in or near the Grand Canyon were booked. If anybody is planning to visit the Grand Canyon for just a day, it probably is best to just rent a room in Fallstaff for a much cheaper price and then drive two hours to the south entrance of the Grand Canyon.

Tomorrow, the Canyon Grande!

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 8

This message is late because the HoJo I stayed at did not have a normal phone system that was compatible with my modem.

Correction: The large town south of the Grand Canyon is called Flagstaff - not Fallstaff.

I am suffering major physical ills now, but I'll get to that later...

Carphone alert: My Cellular One carphone could not connect to anything in the Grand Canyon area.

I could write endless paragraphs, and I still wouldn't be able to transfer the feeling of hugeness that the Grand Canyon gives through firsthand observation. The Meteor Crater was impressive, but the Grand Canyon is frightening. It's enough to give the bravest person acrophobia. I first got a good look at the Canyon behind the main visitor center on the South Rim Trail, and I was struck with the same feeling I had when I stared at the endless stars unfettered by background lights - you could fall almost forever. The floor of the canyon I initially saw turned out to be just halfway to the bottom of the Canyon as I followed the trail to the east.

Here's my itinerary:

- See the introductory slide show in the main visitor center (unfortunately the projector was broken)
- Hike to the Yucatai (sp?) Observation Station via the South Rim Trail
- Drive the East Rim Driveway all the way to the east entrance to the park
- Come back west and drop by almost every major attraction site
- Hike down the Angel Trail on the East Rim Drive towards the bottom of the Canyon and come back

I didn't want to go all the way to bottom since I had started the hike at 2pm (Arizona time), so I decided to go down exactly 2 hours and set aside 4 hours (worst case) to get back up so I would be finished before 8pm. Unfortunately, I made two critical errors: I didn't bring enough water, and I didn't realize how much my trek through the Painted Desert took out of my body. Angel trail has two bathrooms on its 7 mile route but absolutely no water. I had gone down with no problem and reached the second bathroom site exactly 2 hours after I started (5.5 of the 7 miles of this hiking trail). I debated whether to take the extra 40 minutes to go down or to return. Since I had no camping gear and the hotel at the bottom was most likely full, I turned to go back up. My water ran out when I was 1/3 of the way up. This should not have been a problem, but my body started to wear out very quickly (from the desert hike) requiring me to take breaks every 10 feet and walk at a crawl when I managed to get myself up. The trek back up took 4 1/2 hours (I was alone most of the time). The sun set around 8pm. Although it wasn't pitch black, I couldn't tell the difference between the regular ground and the mule manure that spotted the trail (in fact, the dirt on the trail is composed of dried mule manure of the past decades). Luckily, two guys caught up with me and after seeing my plight, gave me 1/3 of their water. The water was metallic, but at that moment it tasted better than anything else I could think of. After this ordeal, I went to eat even though I didn't feel hungry; I could tell my glycogen equilibrium was out of wack because I could feel my muscles being burned for energy during the last part of the hike. Right now I'm in a hotel room (far away from the Grand Canyon to avoid the $90/night bill), and I hurt everywhere. I'm thristy constantly, and I'm experiencing hot and cold flashes. I think I'll survive, but take this as an example of what not to do when hiking down the Grand Canyon. I'm going to leave the west rim and the north rim (reserved in advance of course) for future visits. After all, even the Grand Canyon loses its luster after taking the 50th picture.

The trip down route 64 south of the Grand Canyon at 9pm was an impressive show of the universe that you couldn't buy tickets to see. I was the only car on the road, and the stars were all visible through my front windshield even though I had my highbeams on. I saw my first shooting star whip through the sky, and trees of the forest south of the Canyon materialized on both sides of the road like shadows in a fog.

I'm ahead of schedule, so I'm debating whether to take a detour to Las Vegas (Nevada!). Why? I don't know why? Call it morbid fascination. I'll probably stop by some of the Colorado River dams if I can.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 9

From : Grand Canyon, Arizona
Stopovers: Route 66, Grand Canyon Caverns, Hoover Dam
To : Las Vegas, Nevada

I took the historic route 66 to get to and from the Grand Canyon Caverns. Route 66 seemed like any other western minor highway except for this overwelming urge to put the pedal to the metal and play "Born to be Wild." :-)

If you've seen other caverns like Luray Caverns, then the Grand Canyon Caverns isn't worth the $7.50 admission price. It doesn't have the glitz that other caverns have. It does have a sloth though (ooh ahh). :-)

The Hoover Dam was very impressive. It was like a manmade Meteor Crater with wires. They have a 45 minute tour, but it would have taken an hour standing in line for the tickets. So I just walked around the dam and took death-defying pictures (ooh ahh). :-) Did everybody know that Hoover was our 31st president?

I am staying at the Sahara which is pretty much in the center of Las Vegas (what irks me is that I get a high quality room in the heart of Las Vegas for $35 while I get a mediocre room at the entrance of the Grand Canyon for $90). I got the room by stopping at the Nevada Visitor Center and calling the reservations line for a cheap room. After I arrived, I took the $8.51 dinner buffet which had everything and then proceeded to walk on the Los Vegas strip from the Sahara down to the Excalibur and back. I still haven't recovered from my hikes, so this was an effort for me (I didn't walk the northern portion of the strip).

Opposite to my preconceptions, anybody could have good clean fun at Las Vegas (as long as you walk on Los Vegas Blvd. as little as possible - especially if you bring children). If you bring children, the best places for them are the Excalibur, the Mirage, the Treasure Island, and the MGM.

The Excalibur is the renaissance festival on high-tech steroids. It has all the games you expect at a fair and several theatres (as well as the casino). I won a big teddybear, but I gave it to a mother who had three chidren around her. The Mirage displays the white tigers that Sigfreid and Roy use in their act. Planet Hollywood (a cornocopia of television and movie paraphenalia as well as the food) also resides at the Mirage. Treasure Island has a full ship and island set on which they do free shows. The MGM has a full theme park.

Separate from the casinos, there is also Wet 'n Wild water park and Virtual World. Wet 'n Wild is your average waterslide park. Virtual World is a realtime game of Battletech or Red Planet. Battletech is a game of kill or be killed in huge robots armed with lasers and missles. Red Planet is a racing game in high speed spacecrafts through futuristic terrain. I played a game of Battletech (my callsign was Lunaris) for the first time with 4 other "newbies" and two 10-game veterans. I came in second with 6 kills, and I was only beaten by one of the veterans (callsign: Benihana) who had 9 kills. Everybody else was cannon-fodder.

[ROLL-PLAYING MODE ON]

Yes! Only the evil Benihana survived my wrath! But I, Lunaris the Blue, with my three brothers (Eclipse the Red, Nightshade the Black, and Moonknight the White) and the Woman of Gold shall form the Grey! The Grey shall destroy the filth and corruption of this universe and lead the good people to a brand new future! BWAHAHAHAHA!

[ROLL-PLAYING MODE OFF]

Of course, gambling is the main trade in Las Vegas, and it is everywhere. However, the casinos in the major hotels like Caesar's Palace must be seen just to be gawked at. These places are huge and glitzy! "Good grief!" comes to mind as an appropriate exclamation when seeing these casinos.

I am attempting to keep down my spending at the slot machines, but it is hard. :-(

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 10

From: Las Vegas, Nevada
To : Los Angeles, California

Nothing really interesting happened on the trip to Los Angeles. Remember to get rid of all your fruits and vegetables before entering California. It will save you time at the inspection station. I saw an interesting billboard that said that I am entering Bun Boy country. I also met what seemed to be hippies. A girl about my age approached me at a gas station with gas can in hand and asked me for some gas to spare. I had just about finished pumping, so I gave her $4 instead. As I was driving away, I saw her approach a flowermobile (beat-up van painted with flowers) with a guy leaning against it in a pose that screamed, "I am handsome, I know it, and I have this girl wrapped around my pinky." My sister's husband says that they are deadheads going from one Grateful Dead concert to another. :-)

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I parked next to the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd., and I proceeded to walk from there to the La Brea Tar Pits then to Koreatown to the east and then back to the theatre. It looked small on the map, but my sister says I probably walked about 12 miles. They were showing Batman Forever at the Chinese Theatre, and there were lots of people there. To tell you the truth, I was doing a lot of double-takes because I didn't think real girls wear something as tight and skimpy as some of the movie-goers were wearing. I also saw Richard Simmons pull up in a limousine (with his toupee). I also walked along some of the star plaques on the street. Did you know that Pee Wee Herman's star is still there? Did you know that Thomas Edison has a star dedicated to him? At the tar pit, I got to see methane gases bubble up on the tar lake (ooh ahh). :-) At Koreatown, I showed my inability to speak Korean and promptly had an inferiority complex. But I got to eat good food (duk-mondoo gook - Korean dumplings and rice cakes cooked in a vegetable and egg broth - with a side order of kimchee of course).

The residential areas south of Hollywood are fortresses. The houses and apartment complexes all have one or more of the following: spiked fence, guard dog, iron bars on windows and doors, caged garage, and private security guards. What this told me is that maybe I shouldn't be walking through this neighborhood alone. But I just put on my "Don't touch me or I'll break your arm" look, and walked straight through. :-)

Tomorrow, I going to let my sister lead me around Los Angeles.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 11

I visited the following sites in Los Angeles today: Santa Monica beach, Los Angeles Flying Museum, and various roads in Los Angeles. Is there clean, clear water on any beach of the USA? Good grief! If I was an alien from space, I wouldn't want to contact earth just because of the degredation of the beaches. The human race would seem to be more of a malignant fungus growing on the surface of the earth instead of a sentient form of life. Saying that air quality is bad in Los Angeles is like saying that the Grand Canyon is just a hole in the ground. Good grief! I pity the birds (except the pigeons - they can live anywhere). The Los Angeles skyline is just a ghost in the distance, and the mountains look as if they are constantly enshrouded in fog. Besides the abnormally high amount of air pollution, I wouldn't mind living here. Having mountains visible right outside your window is a treat, and there is no end of places and events to fill up your leisure time.

The Los Angeles Flying Museum is very similar to the aircraft displays in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Is a definite must-see for any World War II airplane buff.

My sister drove me down the main boulevards: Hollywood, Santa Monica, Melrose, Wilshire, and Sunset. All contained the glitzy stores and restaurant typical of the Hollywood stereotype of glamour and excess except for Santa Monica Boulevard. West Santa Monica Boulevard contains many restaurants like the Rage that contain only male customers (I'll give you one guess why) and some specialized stores like Spartacus (metal and leather clothing shop) and a clothes store for transvestites. My sister pointed out all the men she believed to be gay or the women she believed to be actually men in drag. I couldn't tell the difference, and all I wanted to do was to get out of there as fast as possible! I felt extremely uncomfortable thinking that some guy may be sizing me up. :-(

We also went to Universal City, a glitzy outdoor shopping mall and movie theatre, to see Batman Forever. Universal City is the glitziest mall I've ever seen. Imagine taking the neon lights of Las Vegas and sticking them in a shopping mall. There was a giant neon sign of King Kong hanging halfway over the thoroughfare. The comic book and scifi store has a spaceship embedded above its entrance as if it had crashed into the building. There was hiphop dancing on the center stage (sponsored by L.A. Gear) and much more.

If you liked the first two Batman movies, then you will like Batman Forever. It includes the dark mood, violence, and action of its predecessor. However, I'm an old Batman comic book collector, and Batman never killed and his villains were never so easy to kill in the comic books. I thought these characteristics were essential to the Batman lore and was disappointed see these points dropped from the movies. I like beautiful women as much as the next guy, but I thought that the main (and only) female character was just a sex object and love interest to Batman. I wish that they had expanded her character more fully; the comic books also did female characters as more rounded characters than the movies did. Oh well. Sex sells in Hollywood.

Tomorrow, I head for the Redwood National Park in Northern California.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 12

From: Los Angeles, California
To : San Francisco, California

This message is late because the Best Western I was staying at had their phones directly connected to the wall.

On the way to San Francisco, I stopped by the citrus valley around Filmore. The prices were so great that I bought about 50 lbs. of oranges for $10 and 8 lbs. of grapefruits for $3.20. I figure if I eat all of this in a day or two, my cold (that I picked up after my hikes) would go away faster (or I'll get sicker with indigestion).

On the way to San Francisco, I took part of the scenic coastal route (route 1). I stopped by the beach, lugged my citrus fruit out, and munched on some of it while viewing the waves crash on the rocks below me. It was nice.

I stopped by San Francisco, but I just stopped by Pier 39 because I had to be in Seattle by Sunday. Pier 39 is just like Harborplace in Inner Harbor, Maryland. Pier 39 has the following extras: sea lions, a fantastic view of the other side of the bay, stores in the open, and authentic warships as museums. San Francisco also still had the trolley power lines stewn above the streets, but instead of trolleys, they have buses that use the power lines. This is a great idea because they didn't have to waste money tearing down the power lines, and the air is kept cleaner by having the buses run on electricity instead of gas. I ate at a place called Little Swiss, and in order to make sure I tasted the fair from all the seas that border America, I ordered Red Snapper Saute. The price was high, but the portions were large and delicious. I would give this restaurant one and a half forks up. Definitely not for the weak of wallet.

Interesting point: no toll is charged if you go north on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 13

From: San Francisco, California
To : Somewhere in southern Oregon (it's all woods anyway)

This message is late because something didn't connect with the phone system at the hotel I was in.

Sticker on hot air hand dryer in rest stop: "Push button to receive a message from your congressman."

Here's my reaction as I approached the Redwood National Park starting from about 100 miles south of the park:

"Gee, there's a lot of trees"
"Gee, there's a lot of big trees"
"Gee, there are lots and lots of big trees"
"Gee, there are lots and lots of big, humongous trees"
"Gee, I hope one doesn't fall on my car"

Unfortunately, the Redwood National Park has no trees that you can drive under. There are three trees just to the north and south of the park that you can drive under for a fee. But I couldn't find them, and I didn't feel like lining the pockets of people who are not part of the park.

What distinguishes Redwood National Park from other national parks are: extremely tall trees, large number of beaches, and proportionally large mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are so big that when you bat them away, you actually feel significant resistance from their large bodies. I know that somebody has created small robots and programmed them to behave and react like real crickets; here's how I would program a robot mosquito:

REM Redwood National Park mosquito program to annoy Sang
DO UNTIL dead
CALL SUBROUTINE Find_Sang_Eating_Fried_Chicken_In_Park
DO UNTIL swatted_away
CALL SUBROUTINE Swarm_Around_His_Face
ON RANDOM_INTEGER(1,3) DO
1: CALL SUBROUTINE Land_On_His_Food
2: CALL SUBROUTINE Land_On_His_Nose
3: CALL SUBROUTINE Crawl_In_His_Hair
ENDDO
ENDDO
ENDDO

The park is very nice to drive and walk through. You have to turn on your headlights even in full daylight because the trees block most of the sunlight. The dead redwoods look like huge white skeletons.

California does not prevent you from taking fruit out of the state. I've traveled about 100 miles into Oregon, and all I've seen are trees. I couldn't see the forest because of the trees in my way. :-)

Tomorrow, I make it to Seattle.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 14

From: Somewhere in southern Oregon (it's all woods anyway)
To : Seattle, Washington

Nothing really interesting happened during this trip. I somehow passed from Oregon to Washington without even knowing it. However, it was impressive seeing Mt. Rainier break over the wood covered mountains when cresting a rise. When I reached Seattle, I could barely hear out of my right ear, and that was only due to intensive and constant swallowing. The roads from the Redwood National Park to Seattle dip and rise so many times that I was practically deaf. I could forget about using my cellular phone while driving because the roads curved so much that I needed both hands on the wheel to keep from going off a cliff.

Tomorrow, I am having my friend, Ingrid, show me and her father the islands of Washington state.

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 15

The San Juan Islands in Washington state are just magnificent. We took a ferry from Anacostes to Orcas Island. This ferry was big enough to carry about 60 cars and trucks, and it was so stable that we couldn't tell when it was docked and when it was moving unless we looked out the side. In addition to the wood-covered islands, we could see the Cascade Mountains on one side and the Olympic Mountains on the other. Key points of interest were the snow covered peaks of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker. One other aspect which was both annoying and yet nostalgic was the six busloads of inner city elementary to middle school students who accompanied us on the ferry. When the announcer warned people not to spit over the railing, guess what some of the kids did? Eventually, they were penned up away from the railings by the chaperones (only death row inmates deserve this job).

We dropped off at Orcas Island and went to Crescent Beach where we rented kayaks to row around the sound (the niche of the horseshoe shaped island). I can't say enough about the natural beauty of the San Juan Islands. There were multicolored starfishes galore, tiny crabs, small fishes, logs of driftwood, and much more. It sounds boring in print, but it seemed so brand new in person. There were other islands we could have gone to, but it took all day just to enjoy Orcas Island.

Interesting point: the sun sets around 10pm in Seattle at this time of the year causing us easterners to exclaim "I can't it's still daylight!" frequently.

Tomorrow, I continue my cold therapy here at Seattle (one could easily get used to this place).

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 16

Today, Mr. Kohlstadt and I visited the sites of downtown Seattle. We visited Pike Place Market first. This is the home of the "low flying fish" (the fish salespeople throw fish all over the place). Salmon (huge) is the specialty of this market, and the local specialty is Copper River salmon shipped down fresh from Alaska and jumbo JUMBO dungenous crab. I tried one crab (delicious! I give it two claws up!); they boil the crab with just a hint of garlic and salt.

We also dropped by Pioneer Square to take the "Underground Seattle" tour. There seems to be another city buried under the current Seattle. However, we did not have enough time for the tour. Watch out when you come to Pioneer Square; this is panhandler central (one panhandler just stuck out his hand to us without saying anything, one approached the standard way, and one yelled something unintelligible behind our backs).

Instead of the tour, we went to the Seattle Museum of Flight. This is better than the Los Angeles Flying Museum, and it contains planes that even the Smithsonian Air and Space museum doesn't have. It had the SR-71 Blackbird with the drone attachment used to take pictures when it was dangerous to send the manned spy planes across the former Soviet Union, an F-18 Hornet, the only CAA (FAA) sanctioned automobile airplane, a MIG-21, a F4 Phantom, a F4U Corsair, and many more.

At the end of the day, a barbecue party was held at the edge of Washington Lake in honor of Dr. Kohlstadt's departure from Seattle. It was just plain beautiful talking with various people (including Microsoft employees!) while the sun set across the lake and behind the city outline (at 10pm!). It seems Bill Gates lives here, and I was looking for his legendary yacht with a helicopter and smaller yacht in tow (no luck).

Tomorrow I head for Salt Lake City.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 17

From: Seattle, Washington
To : Salt Lake City, Utah

FYI, it took 16 straight hours to get from Seattle to Salt Lake City. The scenery isn't anything new, but it was very nice (mountains, sky, clouds, farms, etc.). I wish I could put the car on autopilot and just watch the scenery go by while lying on a lounge chair attached to the roof of the car. Of course, I saw some things I would have preferred not seeing (for example, I have seen cows do EVERYTHING).

Tomorrow, I'll actually visit the salt plains.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 18

From: Salt Lake City, Utah
To : Bryce Canyon, Utah

The Salt Lake of Utah is ... a salt lake. It is a recreation spot pretty much like any other beach. The Salt Lake State Park, located at Saltair, is one of the biggest beach sites. I decided not to swim because I get this huge inferiority complex in front of women everytime some great looking guy appears. I decided to skip the salt plains because I wanted to spend time at Bryce Canyon instead. Salt Lake City seemed to have several things to offer like Temple Square and other things, but again, I wanted to spend time at Bryce Canyon instead.

I decided to drop down to Bryce Canyon now instead of earlier when I was in the Grand Canyons because several people have said that it was better than the Grand Canyons and I now have some slack time for this. Bryce Canyon is north of the Grand Canyons, and it is a "young" canyon. The lime deposits have not all been washed away. This leaves fantastic formations consisting of spires, arches, and other shapes that defy short descriptions. There are also many trees with their roots exposed in twisted shapes. Admission is $5 for 7 days. I came in around 7pm (MST). I watched the introductory slide show which explained how rain and snow are continuallu shaping Bryce Canyon, and then I went to all the sites for viewing the canyon, and then I hiked through the canyon.

I was determined to hike through Bryce Canyon even with my flu and impending thunderstorm. I went into the canyon alone at 8pm and came out at 10pm (sunset is at 9pm). Very few people probably experienced hiking through Bryce Canyon in the middle of a thunderstorm at night (I was the only one today). One thing that happens is that the differring striations of the formations become more distinct and colorful when they become wet, and the twilight and dusk accents every crevice and cave. The canyon takes on an entirely eerier personality, and walking through it alone can terrify you and/or make you braver. I was prepared this time with clothing, water, umbrella, and flashlight. However, I was still worried about the lightning, wind, and mud. Scarred and blackened remains of trees litter the canyon, and I was wondering if my wire-framed umbrella was going to make me lightning bait. The wind at the corners and tunnels of the path threatened to tear my umbrella out of my hand. The slippery mud (made of dried horse manure instead of mule manure) made the steep parts of the path a practice in skiing (or skydiving a long way down without a parachute). I went down the West Sunset Trail, the Navajo Trail, the Peek-Aboo Loop, and back up the West Sunset Trail - about 5 miles total. By the time I was climbimg back up to the rim, it was pitch black dark, and the only the flashes of lightning provided any form of light besides my flashlight. This was an extremely exhilerating (but kinda stupid) experience. I'm going to leave the scenic route 12 drive (east of Bryce Canyon) for a future trip.

One problem with leaving Bryce Canyon at such a late time is that there are no hotel rooms available within 100 miles. I am actually in east Utah right now. Tomorrow: Pikes Peak, Colorado.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 19

From: Bryce Canyon, Utah
To : Pikes Peak, Colorado

Roadkill report: I barely missed a mouse and a rabbit last night. I also saw a deer by the road, but I couldn't avoid a second mouse that is nothing more than a stain on the road now. Actually, anything that is stupid enough to run in front of a car instead of away from the car should probably be removed from the gene pool anyway.

Route 70 from Utah to Colorado is one of the most fantastic stretches of scenery. In Utah, huge mesas and canyons butt againt the north side of the interstate. In Colorado, rocky mountains, glaciers, and rivers crowd the road. It pretty much rained all day, and driving was gut-gripping at times. Hydroplaning your car on the edge of the roaring Colorado River is matched only by hydroplaning your car on the steep road leading to Pikes Peak. It was cold in Colorado; I don't know if this is the norm in the rockies. It was pretty much useless to try to go up Pikes Peak in the clouds and rain; I'll wait until tomorrow morning to go up.

Tomorrow, I head for Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 20

From: Pikes Peak, Colorado
To : Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

On my 28th birthday, I drove up Pikes Peak. It seems fitting: cross a life milestone - climb a mountain. The trip up the peak was made doubly interesting because there was a practice run of the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb race. There were racing cars of all classes (including a racing semi truck!) and racing crews from everywhere including Japan. There was even a head-on accident that delayed tourist access to the peak. However, I could only get up to 13,000 ft instead of the full 14,110 because snow and ice blocked the last three miles of the road. This was fine since the storm clouds blocked view from 12,500 feet and above, and I was getting lightheaded from the thin air anyway. Having silver-gold as the color of my car was handy because the mud that splattered my car on the way up blended right in. :-)

On the way up to Yellowstone, I was amazed to find the exact same mountainous and river view that was available on route 70 east into Colorado. I wanted to stop by the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, but I didn't have time and the Rockies were covered in rain clouds anyway. This will have to for a future trip. Even so, I arrived in Cody (the first town east of Yellowstone) at 9:30pm. Luckily, I was able to get one of the last two rooms available in town at a reasonable price (during 4th of July weekend!).

I will hit the park tomorrow and then head for Mount Rushmore. Tonight, I am enjoying the rest of my birthday by watching a letterbox version of Logan's Run (one of my favorite sci-fi movies).

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 21

From: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
To : Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota

This is late because I slept in my car. I was hoping that my luck in finding rooms late at night would hold up, but coming into Rapid City, South Dakota, at 2am in the morning was asking too much. After futilely driving around for a while, I settled on parking in the Rapid City Tourist Information Center and conking out for a few hours.

Yellowstone National Park is essentially your typical park where you can picnic, camp, swim, fish, etc. The two things that distinguish this park from others are the active thermal activity and the size. The thermal activity consisted of hot springs and geysers mainly concentrated in the southwest portion of the park. I stayed (1 1/2 hours!) for Old Faithful to blow; I must say that I was impressed. I was a little dubious at first because a small town grew right beside the geyser solely as a tourist trap, and even the prairie dogs that reside next to the geysers have come to rely on the tourists for food. However, nature has proven that even human greed and inconsideration cannot dim the magnificence of Old Faithful. I spent 7 hours at Yellowstone, and 5 of those hours were spent just driving (I only stopped at a few of the many sites!). It takes 3 hours just to drive from one end of the park to the other. There are two main loops within the park with circumferences of about 80 miles and 100 miles respectively! I thought about hiking them, but it would take 2 to 3 days just to hike one loop! In addition, I was able to see the scenic landscape like the many waterfalls, snowcapped mountains reflecting in mirror-like lakes, and buffalos.

Question: What do you call a buffalo grazing on the side of the road in Yellowstone? Answer: A 20 car backup. The roads are only two lane (one lane in each direction), and when one car stops, everybody stops! I was disgruntled, but I couldn't blame them. The buffalo was impressive (size of a cow and a half), but the park rangers virtually tattooed warnings of possible gorings by buffalos on everybody's foreheads. I was disappointed to find out that the bears were removed from Yellowstone on purpose because of problems with tourists.

Yellowstone is still recovering from the forest fire it suffered 4 to 5 years ago. Some parts of the forest still looks like the blast site around Mount St. Helens. When the forests are viewed from a high point, it looks as if someone took a large paintbrush and painted half of the forest the color grey in splotches and spots. Even the trees that are recovering still have no bark and leaves only grow on the top third of the trunks. Smaller trees are starting to grow, but only on the edges of the dead areas. The forest will recover - but not in my lifetime. :-(

Tomorrow, I head for Mount Rushmore.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 22

From: Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota
Stopover: Crazy Horse Monument, Badlands National Park
To : Somewhere in Minesota

This message is late because the hotel's phone system didn't work for some unknown reason.

I only could get 3 hours of sleep in the car because the morning sunlight was too bright, and it was getting embarassing seeing tourists stare at me as they headed for the tourist information center.

Mount Rushmore was impressive, but it seemed smaller than all the pictures and television made it look. Fact: Mount Rushmore was carved from 1923 to 1940. The builder (forgot his name) died before the last president was completed. I was disappointed to hear that they will not have fireworks during the fourth of July, but they have a standing rule not to allow fireworks in the Black Hills.

I went to the Crazy Horse Monument next. They have completed the face, made a tunnel when the gap between the arm and the horse would be, and outlined the face of the horse on the uncarved granite. Unfortunately, it costs $6 to see it. Unlike Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse is a nongovernment funded project. The area will eventually be a complete American Indian research and learning center. Walking through the visitor center, I get a sense of a feeling of betrayal as if someone has been cheated of their home by a con artist. I can understand how the Indians feel because the Koreans went through something similar during the Japanese occupation. In situations like this, you hold onto your cultural identity in a death grip. You demonize the foreigners, and emphasize the nostalgia of your race to your progeny. The anger and resentment is passed down through the generations, but the reasons for the anger gets blurred or distorted. I feel that, like the Koreans, the Indians are just waiting for us foreigners to leave, and then they will reclaim the land. If you ever visit Korea, you must see the monument created in celebration of freedom from Japanese occupation. It is as huge as several football fields, and its displays of Japanese atrocity can do nothing but make you angry at the Japanese. Koreans will never forgive or forget the Japanese for their occupation, and I feel the same will be for the American Indians with the rest of us "Americans." :-(

On the way to the Badlands National Park, it was hard to avoid noticing the many, many, many billboards advertising "Wall Drug" for miles before hitting the town of Wall, South Dakota. This huge tourist trap originally was a pharmacy, but it grew from its origins of offering free ice water to travellers into virtual department store with a western accent. I bought a new pair of hiking boots here (I totally wore holes through the sole of my old pair). Even though it is an obvious tourist trap, it is very engaging and cute. Funny and informative reading material about the history of Wall Drug is everywhere, and the staff is very friendly. Of course, you can still get all the free ice water you want, and you definitely have to see the automated cowboy bands (I believe one of the moving dummies is actually a mockup of former president Reagan).

The Badlands National Park is a strech of shallow conyonland in the middle of endless fields of undulating grass. The cliffs are basically sand colored and very little grows because of the salt content of the soil. In the pioneering days, robbers would move trail markers (piles of rocks or stakes of wood) so that settlers heading west would be redirected into the Badlands. After the settlers have been thoroughly weakened after running out of water in the middle of this desert, the robbers would steal everything (and preseumably leave the settlers to die). I just mostly drove through it and stopped in two places; after the Grand Canyons and Bryce Canyons, the Badlands pales in comparison unfortunately.

I am now heading towards Mineapolis, Minesota, for the 4th of July because that is where the largest shopping mall (even has an indoor roller coaster) in the USA is located, and they probably will have fireworks. Slumming in the mall will take on a different perspective tomorrow. :-)

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 23

From: Somewhere in Minnesota
To : Mall of America, Minnesota

I decided to go to the Mall of America in Minnesota because I guessed that they would have fireworks for the 4th of July. On the way, I stopped by the town of Albert Lea for gas and lunch, and I saw part of their 4th of July parade. The parade was very interesting because it consisted of things you would expect in a small modern western town: lots of horses, large construction vehicles, a few organizations, and a flatbed with 30 people performing a country line dance (really).

The Mall of America is located just south of Minneapolis, and it is the biggest shopping mall in the USA. It has over 400 stores and an indoor amusement park complete with a ferris wheel and roller coaster. It is definitely worth a look if you're in town. I certainly got my exercise today by walking through the entire mall.

For the 4th of July, they had a rock and roll concert (to support the programs to feed the hungry) called "Jam Against Hunger" in addition to the fireworks. For $10, I saw 7 hours of rock and roll music by 3 bands: Ipso Facto (a local Minnesota reggae band), REO Speedwagon, and Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. The place was packed, and the music was very good. REO Speedwagon played a few of their new songs in addition to their classics. However, it rained throughout the concert until Ringo and his band came out. Ringo and his band played a selection of classic rock and roll from the 70s. His singing isn't best I've heard, but he does successful entertain everybody with his humor. The age of the concert attendees was very diverse consisting of babies up to people in their 50s and 60s. The fireworks was definitely the best I've ever seen. They played 4 songs to the fireworks (the last one being an extended version of the Star Spangled Banner). The 30 minutes of fireworks probably does not compare in size with others like in Washington DC, but it had more variety than I ever seen in another fireworks display (I guess they have to be better since fireworks are legal in Minnesota). In the last minute alone, they must have exploded several hundred blockbusters in rapid succession. This was definitely the best $10 I've spent. If I came a day earlier, I would have seen the Flying Elvises parachute into the concert area. :-)

Ever since Seattle, I've been pretty much selecting destinations by the seat of my pants. I can't think of anything that I would really want to see between Minneapolis and the Adirondack National Park in New York State, so I'm going to see if I can drive all the way there tomorrow.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 24

From: Mall of America, Minnesota
Stopover: Chicago, Illinois
To : Somewhere in Indiana

Today was a travel day. I didn't make good time because speed limit was pretty much 55 MPH instead of 65 MPH most of the time, and it probably would have taken the same amount of time if I detoured a hundred miles around Chicago instead of going through it. :-(

I have finished about 75% of my trip without paying a toll, but starting with Chicago, toll booths appeared with a vengence. I don't mind pay $1.75 to get into Chicago, but interstate 90 west of Chicago does it in the most annoying way: 4 booths charging 40 cents each (each 10 miles apart) and a 15 cent toll on the off ramp! Leaving Chicago to the east cost $2. Entering Indiana costs 50 cents and interstate 90 through Indiana is a ticketed toll road like the New Jersey Turnpike! Good grief! There must be a moral to this; I know I paid enough for one!

If you are in Chicago, you should visit the Navy Pier and North Dock. Chicago has performed a renovation of this shorefront area the same way that Baltimore renovated the Inner Harbor. Starting July 14, the Navy Pier will be a Convention Center/Boardwalk/Restaurant/Store/Recreation area. They even have a McDonalds ferris wheel! I stopped by for lunch, but I didn't have time to look at the other Chicago attractions. Someone mentioned that Chicago was a mess because of rundown factories and residential areas, but I couldn't really see any of that. I guess Chicago has gone through a renewal similar to Baltimore. The skyline was great to look at from the cafe I was eating lunch in.

Tomorrow, I'll definitely reach the Adirondacks (hopefully).

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 25

From: Somewhere in Indiana
Stopover: Cleveland, Ohio
To : Somewhere in New York

Today was another travel day. Speed limit was still pretty much 55 MPH most of the time. It looks like I'll only have time to drive through the Adirondacks instead fo camping overnight.

I stopped by Cleveland for dinner. It doesn't have a lakeside recreational area like Chicago. Instead, it has an area around the river called the Flats. The Flats consist of over 100 bars, nightclubs, and restaurants (Hooters, Shooters, etc.) lining both sides of the river near Chicago and the mouth of Lake Erie. If I had a clue what to do in a nightclub or bar, I'm sure I would have had fun. Instead I went to a restaurant and had what Cleveland considers as a way to cook soft-shell crabs. I went to a riverside restaurant called the Watermark, and I got two of the smallest soft-shell crabs I ever seen sauteed in a dark sauce placed on top of a mound of spinach pasta. Being a Marylander, I did what I thought was obvious: cut one of the hot rolls in half and make a soft-shell crab sandwich. I think I made a faux pas. :-) The Flats are a mess because of a lot of contruction going on. It looks as if it is following Baltimore and Chicago in rennovating its waterfront area, but it looks like Cleveland has at least a year to go before they're finished. The cityscape from the Flats consists mainly of huge steel and concrete bridges; watching some of them raise or turn for passing boats is a nice thing to do while eating at one of the riverside hot spots.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 26

From: Somewhere in New York
Stopover: Adirondack National Park, New York
To : New York City

I've been spoiled by driving through the west. I could drive through three states in the west in the same time it took me to drive through New York! Toll booths are everywhere! Speed limit is at most 55 MPH everyewhere in New York! Police cars are everywhere in New York!

I drove through the Adirondacks from west to east (route 3 to route 30 to route 28), and it was very nice cruising down the road with good music (Elton John, Hootie & the Blowfish, Sheryl Crow, etc.) playing and good scenery passing by. The Adirondack forest was what Yellowstone's forest should have been - trees so congested that you couldn't even walk between the trunks. The main thing about the Adirondacks that sets it apart from other parks is its large number of large lakes. I passed at least three large lakes and when I took a closer look at the map, I realized that the Adirondacks were spotted with these lakes. If I had more time, I would have liked to hike one of the trails that existed in the mountains on route 28.

I did a silly thing and picked up two scruffy looking guys on Interstate 87 north of New York City. It was 10pm, pitch dark, and about to rain, so I felt sorry for them. They had no money and said that their driver deserted them. They turned out to be decent guys, and they showed me a faster way to get into New York City. I dropped them off at the Grand Central Terminal on 42nd street and headed west on 43rd street to meet my college friend, Jeff, in Battery Park. I don't have the proper adjective to describe the women (assuming that they are women) on 43rd street west of the Grand Central Station. Suffice it to say that they made the women at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles look like girl scouts. I locked my doors.

Tomorrow, Jeff and I head for Acadia National Park in Maine.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 27

From: New York City
Stopover: L.L. Beans, Maine
To : Acadia National Park, Maine

Today was another travel day. Jeff is accompanying for the last stretch of my trip. You would have been proud of my New York City driving. I drove crazily enough to impress native New Yorkers. :-) With my nondentable Saturn sides, I had no fear.

We dropped by Freeport, Maine, to check out L. L. Beans. Freeport has to be the outdoor fashion capital of the USA. In addition to L. L. Beans, there were other stores like Bananna Republic, Gap, Levis, etc. Since we were in Maine, we ate lobster since it seems to be the state's mascot.

We are currently in the town of Bar Harbor right outside of the Acadia National Park. Hopefully, we'll get in some hiking, kayaking, and whale watching in tomorrow.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 28

From: Acadia National Park, Maine
To : Somewhere in New Hampshire

I'm too tired to be funny today, so I'll just describe the day. If you come to Bar Harbor on a Sunday, I strongly suggest eating breakfast and/or brunch at the Bar Harbor Inn. In addition to having a large selection of food, the view over the harbor itself was wonderful. We kayaked 4 hours around the Porcupine islands off of Bar Harbor, and our arms are killing us right now. The Porcupine islands are very similar to the San Juan islands off of Washington state. We drove up Cadillac mountain (tallest mountain on the east coast), visited Thunder Hole (a formation of rocks on the shore that causes big waves to make a very loud sound), and generally drove around the park. The main characteristic that separates Acadia National Park from other parks is that it is an island; otherwise, you pretty much do the same things that you do in any other park. We also attended an open Dulcimer (sort of a cross between a harp and a xylophone) Festival in Bar Harbor too.

Tomorrow, we head to Boston, Massachusetts, to check out the town and some possible PhD sites.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 29

From: Somewhere in New Hampshire
Stopovers: Boston, Massachusetts
To : New York City

I picked up an application for the PhD Computer Science program at MIT. It doesn't look good: they receive over 1800 applications for graduate studies, and they only accept about 45. Some years they don't even accept any. :-( I couldn't find the computer science department in Harvard University at all. It's possible that they use technobabble to hide its identity (e.g., Department of People with No Life, Department of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Research, etc.). The campuses are typical of prestigeous universities: lots of gothic architecture, lots of construction (gotta do something with all those alumni donations), and lots of young people wearing clothes that my month's salary would barely afford.

Harvard Square, west of Harvard University, is an especially interesting place to visit. There are chess games going on in front of the mall all the time, there are beautiful people everywhere, there are more orientals than there are any other minority (or maybe orientals are the majority), and there are many interesting cafes, restaurants, and stores to visit. I would say that Cambridge and Boston is the Los Angeles of the East Coast. We ate lunch at a cafe called Cybersmith Cafe. Every table in this cafe had a computer on it, and you would get a special credit card that you would insert into the computer to charge time spent (20 cents a minute). This cafe even had a two player virtual reality game where you would put on a headset and chase another person in a 3-dimensional maze studded with obstacles. We mainly ended up beating each other senseless in a 3-dimensional video game similar to Street Fighter. For dinner, we went to a high class restaurant in the downtown Boston Marriott hotel for the best clam chowder in Boston (seemed appropriate).

Tomorrow, I will see some more of New York City.

Sang

Subject: Sang's Trip: Day 30

Jeff and I pursued our interest in Japanese animation (anime for short) in New York City today. We went from Battery Park to the World Trade Center to Greenwich Village to Time Square. I went overboard, as usual, in acquiring anime. In the process, I saw that Time Square was being cleaned up. As the leases on the more sleazy businesses are up, the city refuses to renew the leases. Eventually, they plan to put more respectable businesses like Walt Disney in Time Square. We found a black market on anime in Time Square (this kind of stuff thrives because anime prices are inflated at least 100% in the USA). The people involved were a little scary, but the prices were right.

Tomorrow, we travel to Philadelphia for the annual wargaming convention, Origins. From now on, I will be attending the wargaming convention, and I'm pretty sure that most, if not all, of you would be bored to tears if I detailed what happens at this convention. So, I'll just synopsize my vacation.

OBSERVATIONS:

- One factor of why Clinton beat Bush probably was because there are many more towns, counties, and cities named Clinton than Bush (in fact I haven't seen a single thing named Bush). People like to have a president named after a place they know. Additionally, I did not see a single place named Dole. :-)
- A person can drive across the country in five days today reliably. It took the pioneers of our country half a year to perform the same trek with a much less chance of survival. I feel sad that I have it much better than the original founders, but it is wonderful how much we've come.
- Our country is too small. There is no frontier anymore in our country. Every square foot belongs to somebody. This was opposite of what I expected.

LESSONS LEARNED:

- Don't speed, but if you do, don't exceed 5 mph over the speed limit.
- Don't use the air conditioning for long drives (even if it's over 100 degrees); it's a good way to get a chest cold.
- Always have a water bottle next to you on long trips.
- Bring your own shampoo, laundry detergent, and alarm clock - most hotels don't give it to you.
- Bring lots of tall kitchen garbage bags - dirty laundry, trash, etc.
- Get a hotel room before 10pm.
- Reserve vacations ahead of time for popular spots (Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Las Vegas, etc.) through a travel agency.
- When visiting multiple national parks, get the Gold Eagle Passport for $25 instead of paying the full entrance fee at each park.
- Bring AND use SP45 suntan lotion.
- UV rays don't penetrate car windows, so if you want to open the car window and you don't want to use suntan lotion, close the car window that would allow the sun to directly shine on your skin.
- Relax (but be alert) when you drive. If someone cuts you off or is tailgating you, ignore them. If someone is slow in front of you, just wait. If a policeman pulls you over, shut up.
- For currency in the USA, all you need is Discover and Visa credit cards and knowledge of how to withdraw cash from your savings account at an electronic teller. Make sure that you paycheck is directly deposited into your bank account.
- Bring along music that usually keeps you awake. I brought Billy Joel, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Harry Chapin, soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, soundtrack of A Chorus Line, Simon and Garfunkel, and Fleetwood Mac. Eric Clapton was definitely not one to play if I wanted to stay awake. Billy Joel was most effective for me ("Pressure" definitely had me bellowing at the top of my lungs).
- Jiffy Lubes are usually in the suburbs of the large cities, but you have to find a phone book somewhere to find out where they exactly are.
- Visiting the first visitor center when you enter a state will provide you with valuable hotel information most of the time.
- Bring clothes for all weather and hiking shoes.
- Rice Chex makes good munching food when driving.
- Allocate about $15/person a day for food.
- Allocate about $50/person a day for hotel.
- Expect to drive about 6 to 10 hours a day with an average fuel consumption of 30 miles/gallon and speed of 60 mph which equates to about 400 - 500 miles/day and assuming an average price of $1.25 for 87 octane gas, $13 - $25/day for gas.
- higher altitude require less octane - you will see this at pumps because they will offer 85 octane instead of 87 octane gas.
- Bring a glass cleaner for the bugs on the windshield.
- Put some sort of antifog coating or spray on the inside of the windshields.
- Buy peaches from South Carolina and oranges from Filmore, California.
- Get a calling card and use it instead of charging long distance calls to your room bill.
- Hotels never give you enough blankets; bring a sweat suit to sleep in or extra blankets.
- Buy your postcard stamps at a post office in bulk before going on you trip.
- Find out how to use Contact 24 for doing your banking over the phone.
- Get a car phone whose battery can be charged while plugged into the car as well as into an electrical outlet.
- Some hotels give you an extra $10 off if you say that you would like to check out prices at one more hotel.

I had a few profound questions that I thought a lot about during this trip, and here are the results:

QUESTION: Why don't I have a girlfriend?
ANSWER: I simply don't try hard enough. I don't have the confidence, and I fear rejection too much. I may also be hung up over one special girl from my past. I could also lose 50 lbs. :-)

QUESTION: Is there a God?
ANSWER: I did not find God or speak to him or find any evidence of direct activities of God. I found no evidence to support the existence or nonexistence of God in my travels, but if there is a God, he is playing a hands-off attitude with the human race. The human race is allowed to be as glorious or decadent as it wants to be. We can build monuments and cities beyond imagination, but we can also pollute the land and seas. We can build a society like none before, but we can also worship vice and continue hating and killing. The human race may have an effect on every square foot of this world, but it is not the center of the world. Driving through an intense rainstorm on the plains should convince anyone of this. I always had a subconscious problem with accepting the Bible or any other holy book as the word of God, and the basic reason became clear to me on this trip. The problem with the Bible is that it is too limited in scope. It is written from the viewpoint of human beings as if they are the center of history of the world. Comparing the Bible to the history of the Earth is like comparing my kindergarten Charlie Brown dictionary to the unabridged Webster's dictionary. Both the Bible and the Charlie Brown dictionary only contain a small part of the history of the Earth or the Webster's unabridged dictionary, and the Bible and the Charlie Brown dictionary are simplistic compared to the Earth or the Webster's unabridged dictionary. The Bible and the Charlie Brown dictionary both talk to us as if we were children who need things explained limited to a human's or child's understanding and experience. Human beings are only one chapter in the holy book we call the Earth, and the Earth is only one book in the vast library we call the universe. If we don't watch out, the chapter of the human race could be turned as easily as the chapter of the dinosaurs was turned. He must be waiting for us to do something. I don't believe that action consists simply of worshipping Him. He doesn't need us or our worship; being omnicient and omnipotent means this. So what is He waiting for? What can we do that God cannot? Since God is perfect and we are imperfect, it must be something that only can result from imperfection. He probably is waiting for something relatively simple in concept but huge in scope: expanding out into the universe, create world peace, find what to do when the energy of our sun runs out, etc. If there is a God, then the main question I need answered directly from God is WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE HUMAN RACE? More specifically - WHAT IS MY PURPOSE? If there is no God, then the human race is basically like a fungus on the face of the Earth whose main purpose is to survive. If this is true, then we need to expand into the stars so that we don't have a single point of failure (the Earth). We also need to figure out what we're going to do for energy when our sun and all the other stars turn into inert matter. Maybe we could cause the matter of the universe to collapse into a single mass causing a big bang (again?). You're probably thinking "Sang's been alone too long; he's gone stir crazy!" :-)

QUESTION: What is my destiny?
ANSWER: I don't know. Is my destiny to raise a family and live happily ever after, or is it something bigger? I always felt that my life was building up to something: I graduate from public school to get into college, I graduate from college to get a masters, I get a masters to get a PhD, I get a PhD to qualify for higher management, I get higher management and military experience to qualify to possibly lead the country or even the world! (I don't think small). I feel that I have to leave some lasting legacy, and if it's not going to be through my progeny (no luck in the wife situation) then I will impact this world in such a way that will not be forgotten in human history (gotta do something with all that pent up nervous energy)! :-)

Thanks for reading my attempts at describing my journey in an entertaining manner. Your interest is part of the reason why I never felt lonely during this trip (having a ridiculously packed schedule helps stem off loneliness too). See some of you back at work on Monday, July 17! I'll keep in touch with the rest of you!

Sang