Karen Johnson

Kuan Yin

Karen Johnson

I'm an independent single woman who loves to travel. Favorite place to visit in a new country? The grocery store.

Scroll down to read my previous posts, and check back often for more pictures and stories.

"The road opens up before you, and that's where you find freedom."
- Johnny Clegg

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn't matter.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Asia » Singapore » Bugis Village February 1st 2016

I sometimes forget just how wealthy Singapore is. Yes, there are some poor people, but you don’t see anyone sleeping in doorways. And yes, some of the housing is far from luxurious, though nothing that would be called substandard, unless you are a foreign guest worker, then accommodations can be pretty grim. Bear with me while I give you a few statistics to put things in context. (You may skip ahead a few paragraphs if you want, or you can read through and wow your friends with this knowledge.) When you look at rankings of per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product), Singapore comes in third, behind Qatar and Luxemburg. The United States comes in at number eleven, Australia at eighteen, and Canada ranks twenty-second among the world economies. Add to that, the island city-state is home ... read more
Marina Bay Sands
New Bridge St

Asia » Malaysia » Johor » Johor Bahru January 23rd 2016

My main reason for sandwiching a few days in Johor Bahru in between visiting Singapore and returning to the US was to look at potential places to live. Malaysia has a very attractive program for expats where you can get a multiple-entry visa good for ten years. This is geared towards Singaporeans looking to escape the high cost of real estate in Singapore, but I figured it can’t hurt to look. My initial attraction to Johor Bahru (JB from now on) was its proximity to Singapore. That was before I found out first-hand what a pain in the ass it was to travel overland between the two countries. Once in JB, I found that most of the lovely condos were merely pretty renderings and small scale models of the buildings that a developer is planning to ... read more
door guardian
Guan Yin
incense burner

Asia » Singapore » Jurong West January 15th 2016

Did I ever tell you how much I like Singapore? I crossed into Singapore with a sense of relief, though getting here was a pain in the ass. I admit that Saigon exhausted me; the constant whine of motorbikes, the air pollution from all the motorbikes, the broken sidewalks full of motorbikes with no place to walk. In the past I have always entered Singapore through Changi Airport which is an absolute model of comfort and efficiency. I have landed in Changi, deplaned, gone through customs and Immigration, changed money, and been in the back of a taxi, all within twenty minutes. Entering Singapore by land from Johor Bahru, Malaysia is nothing like that. I had a good reason – which turned out to be a crummy reason – to go through Malaysia when I made ... read more
Woodlands Customs and Immigration Quarantine building - CIQ
Johor Strait between Singapore and Malaysia
New Bridge St

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1 January 3rd 2016

Yes, it’s OK to call it Saigon. The official name is Ho Chi Minh City, but the Saigon River is still flowing, and many businesses have Saigon in their name. I asked two college students who were giving me a tour of the Chinese quarter if it was OK to call their city Saigon. “Sure,” one of them said. “It’s easier to say, and it has only two syllables instead of the five in Ho Chi Minh City.” In fact, I got the definite impression that most people would like to change the name back to Saigon. When I think about Saigon the first thing that comes to mind is motorbikes. The roaring, stinking, ubiquitous, fracking motorbikes. I was told that Saigon is a city of ten million people and seven million motorbikes. I think that ... read more
sidewalk parking
bikes and posters
modern skyscraper

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1 December 29th 2015

There are some things that I know, or at least think I know. In fact, I’m down right certain of certain historical facts. Except that some of those facts are wrong. OK, they may contain a kernel of truth, but sometimes the whole truth is ever so much more interesting. The war in Vietnam may be one of the most thoroughly documented wars in history. There were pictures in the newspapers and in magazines, and the six o’clock news was full of images. And I remember the stories behind those images, except that some of what I remember isn’t quite true. One of the most iconic images to come out of Vietnam is that of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who set himself on fire to protest the war. Except that is not the ... read more
Burning monk statue
monk  memorial2
monk  memorial3

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1 December 26th 2015

I first read The Quiet American by Graham Greene in 1971. The war in Vietnam was raging, and the situations described in the book seemed to be ripped from the headlines. And then I got to the end of the novel and found to my great surprise that Greene had started writing it in 1953. It was published in 1955. Depending on which “official” timeline you follow, US involvement in Vietnam didn’t start until 1961. Or maybe it was 1960, or 1956, take your pick. Ostensibly it’s about the rivalry between a world-weary, rather cynical English journalist and a young, idealistic American who were vying for the affection of a young Vietnamese woman. However, the political situation, and American involvement in it, is very much a part of the story. Graham Greene the novelist bears more ... read more
Hotel Continental today
Hotel Continental today
Givral Cafe

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1 December 21st 2015

I like markets. I like interesting supermarkets, but I also like big, wet, smelly markets where you can buy everything from soap to spices to fishes that were flopping around just a minute ago. Ben Thanh Market in Saigon is just such a market. I’ve learned to go to these sorts of markets early in the day. They tend to be a little cooler and a little less crowded then. And, too, many merchants think making a sale early in the day will bring them luck. I had been there earlier in the week and had seen a silk shirt that I wanted. I went there this morning with great resolve; I knew how much I wanted to pay, and I knew the most I was willing to spend. It also helps to have a good ... read more
Ben Thanh clock
stall ladies

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District 1 December 19th 2015

There is a saying in French “L'histoire est écrite par les vainqueurs , et non par les vaincus,” History is written by the victors and not by the vanquished. The War Remnants Museum I was in high school and college during the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War. It was my classmates, my friends, who were being drafted. I watched the war unfold on the six o’clock news every night. I thought the war was stupid then, and I still think war is stupid today. A visit to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon didn’t change my opinion. Originally called the War Crimes Museum, this place is pretty grim. Detailing the hardships of the Vietnamese people under the Japanese, then the French, and then during the war with the United States, I admit to ... read more
Life cover
Chinook CH-47 Heavy Lift helicopter
medic in Life magazine photo

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast December 15th 2015

As a US citizen, I am a national of one of the countries that must have a visa to enter Vietnam. The visa on arrival process seemed cumbersome and time consuming, so I elected to get my visa before I left the US. (If you are part of a tour group, the tour company will arrange a visa for you that you can pick up at the airport. I’m not part of a tour group.) There are two ways to get your visa in advance: you can mail (or bring) your passport to the Vietnamese consulate for the visa stamp, or you can apply for a “loose leaf” visa, in which case you just send a scan of your passport. And, of course, your money, certified check only please. To me, the thought of sending my ... read more
Star Alliance lounge at Los Angeles
Star Alliance lounge LAX

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Sultanahmet August 27th 2015

Legend has it the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was in his garden one day. Unbeknownst to him, a deadly snake slithered into his presence. The serpent was poised to strike the prophet when it was pounced upon by a cat, thus saving the Prophet from a painful death. Muhammad stroked the cat’s head in gratitude, and it is said that the stripes that some cats have on their heads is the mark of the Prophet’s fingers. Now, I don’t know if this story is true, but I rather like it, even if I am more of a dog person. There are a number of hadith (collection of quotes purporting to be from Muhammad) that refer to cats, such as “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good ... read more
bookstore cats
car cat
eating cat

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