A 2,200-year-old stone army and more: a brief visit to Xi’an, China

20160527_132453-01Maybe you can’t take it with you, but Qin Shi Huang (QSH) sure tried. The first emperor of a unified China, QSH directed the construction of thousands of terracotta warriors, assembled to protect him in the afterlife. This stone army — consisting of not only soldiers but also horses and even chariots — was interred with him in a vast necropolis when he departed from the mortal world in 210 or 209 B.C.

Eventually the burial site was lost to history, and it remained no more than the stuff of legend for over two millennia. Then, in 1974, QSH’s terracotta protection force was serendipitously discovered by a group of farmers who were digging for a well in what is today the city of Xi’an. The archaeological site has become a museum complex where you can explore some of the massive pits that have been unearthed, and view the terracotta fighting units arrayed therein.

When I made my first voyage to China in May 2016, an excursion to Xi’an was on the agenda, principally so that I could view the terracotta army — although Xi’an is actually a city of nearly 9 million inhabitants that offers a variety of attractions. Because I was there for one main reason, I hadn’t alotted much time for the city, and consequently I didn’t see very much of Xi’an’s other points of interest. Here’a an account of my activities during my two night stay. Continue reading

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46 countries and counting on my World Karaoke Tour!

Prior to the time when this blog went live on December 4, 2011, I had karaoked in 23 countries. In just a little over five years since then, I’ve doubled that total! Last night, I sang at a bar called the Hibiki Lounge in Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates thereby became country no. 46 on my World Karaoke Tour.

The 23 new countries in which I’ve sung since starting this blog have been on five different continents. And it’s not just about the singing; along the way, I’ve seen some pretty breathtaking sights in the places I’ve travelled to — from the pyramids of Egypt, to Machu Picchu, to the Taj Mahal, to the Great Wall of China, to Petra. I feel very lucky to have had those experiences, and to have made it to so many parts of this planet. I feel even more fortunate to have made it safely through my heart surgery in 2015, and to have been able to resume my international singing very soon after that operation. Finally, I’m grateful to the readers who’ve visited this website throughout my journey since late 2011.

Here are brief excerpts from my first song in Dubai — the song that brought me to 46 countries of singing. The tune was Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman.”


In the coming months, full posts about my most recent singing and travelling adventures will appear on this blog. In addition, some exciting new destinations for my karaoke travels are in the works for later this year. Among those locales will be one of the seven countries that I’ve been to before without managing to karaoke in them. Here’s hoping that I’ll finally be able to cross that nation off my list!

I hope your 2017 is off to a great start.

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world, rising an astonishing 2,722 feet.

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world, soaring 2,722 feet into the sky.

What are your travel plans for this year?

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Singing my way through the U.S.A.: getting better acquainted with my country in 2016

14124516_10153968017432198_5873781346852298892_oAs reflected on this website, my karaoke travels — and my wanderings generally — have traditionally focused on international destinations. After all, this blog celebrates my World Karaoke Tour. However, in mid-2016, I began to place a greater priority on getting to know — and singing in — more of the vast, diverse United States in which I live. This new emphasis was foreshadowed on the penultimate night of 2015, when I made my South Carolina singing debut in the lovely city of Charleston. Then, shortly after the calendar flipped to a new year, I made a fulfilling jaunt to Baltimore, a city where I once lived and to which I often return. About halfway through the year, as the summer was heating up, I embarked on a campaign to expand the number of states in which I’ve stepped foot, while sometimes making repeat journeys to old favourites. I began flying (and occasionally railroading) all over the continental U.S. on weekends — in some cases, taking advantage of longer holiday weekends. Here are highlights of my American travels of 2016, and my “road” singing appearances in the U.S. during the year that was. Note: This post contains numerous karaoke videos. I get it; you have a busy life. So if you can watch just one of the videos, I suggest that you make it the one from Alabama. But you should watch more than just one. 🙂

Baltimore, Maryland (January 2016)

In mid-January, I strode down to Baltimore to catch up with some friends from my university days. (I studied at Johns Hopkins University in that city.) Baltimore, which is nicknamed “Charm City,” boasts a handsome skyline when viewed from across the harbour:

The downtown Baltimore skyline on a cold day in January.

The downtown Baltimore skyline on a cold day in January.

Naturally, my Baltimorean excursion featured some karaoke. (If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have included that particular trip in this post. 🙂 ) Continue reading

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A Beiing blast: singing in mainland China

13528087_10153781885782198_5515978226484355728_oThe People’s Republic of China (PRC) is really, really big. The second-largest country in the world by land area, the PRC covers some 3.7 million square miles. It’s also the most populous nation, housing an estimated 1.38 billion people as of 2016. The largest cities in China are also ginormous; for example, Shanghai boasts a population of approximately 22 million, while the capital city of Beijing is not far behind at roughly 19 million. Overall, no fewer than 14 Chinese cities count populations north of 5 million. (Note: various websites provide widely divergent population totals for these municipalities, depending on how such terms as “city” and “urban area” are defined.) But although you’d expect those sprawling metropolises to offer a plethora of entertainment options, one diversion that’s common around much of the globe is missing from China’s megacities. Specifically, just try to find a karaoke bar in the PRC where you can sing in public. In my experience, it can’t be done.

Believe me, I tried. But in the PRC, karaoke seems to consist exclusively of the “private room” establishments so popular in eastern Asia where patrons rent individual rooms in which to sing with their friends or business associates. In China, such venues are known as “KTV” joints. Now, in China this past spring, as is the case with most of my international journeys, I was travelling solo. For that and other reasons, KTV-type establishments are normally a non-starter for me. I mean, singing by (and to) myself in a closed room is not my idea of fun times. Yet during my travels in China, every single karaoke venue that I, or my hotel concierges, was able to find was a KTV club — even in the vast megalopolises of Shanghai and Beijing. (I also failed to find a bar or restaurant with public karaoke in the other Chinese city that I visited, Xi’an, whose inhabitants number just under 9 million. It’s possible that a Western-style bar with public karaoke might exist in one of the many other large cities that dot the PRC, but the absence of such a place in either of the PRC’s two biggest cities is glaring, and isn’t a good sign.) So what was I to do? Continue reading

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Country no. 42 on my World Karaoke Tour: singing inside the Axis of Evil in North Korea

selfie2016 marks the quarter-century anniversary of my taking up karaoke. On my birthday in March 1991 I sang karaoke for the first time; and during the ensuing summer I first began to embrace karaoke as a passion. You can read more here about how I got started as a karaokeist. Never during those formative days of my obsession did I imagine that I’d embarked on a journey that would one day culminate in my performing karaoke in North Korea.

And yet, although my singing appearance in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, which is what North Korea officially calls itself) was 25 years in the making, I almost blew it. Things worked out in the end, but I’ll never know just how close I came to screwing up my chance to sing in North Korea. This post discusses how my stupid mistake put my long-anticipated trip to North Korea in jeopardy; then it covers what happened when I finally got the chance to sing inside a totalitarian state.

Prologue: I don’t want this plane to land

June 4, 2016
About 2:15 pm Standard Time of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

As Air Koryo flight 752 from Beijing made its final approach to Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, I grabbed my daypack from under the seat in front of me. Anticipating my passage through immigration, I wanted to gather together all the documents that I’d need to present upon entering the airport: my passport, my entry visa, and the three landing cards I’d filled out during the flight. As the first step, I unzipped the compartment in the front of my daypack in which I always carry my passport when I’m in transit.

The passport wasn’t in there. Continue reading

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Taipei unplugged: highlights of my stay in the Taiwanese capital

small Taiwan mapMy introduction to Taipei in late May to early June of 2016 was memorable in part because I sang in a karaoke taxi in that city — thereby making Taiwan the 41st country on my World Karaoke Tour. But I wasn’t only there to sing. A city of some 2.7 million inhabitants — the capital and largest city of the island nation of Taiwan — beckoned me to explore it!

My sojourn in Taipei came in the midst of a vacation during which I checked off two bucket list items (the Great Wall of China, and the Terracotta Army in the Chinese city of Xi’an), and which culminated in my tour of North Korea, a country rarely visited by Westerners. It would have been easy for Taipei to be overshadowed by such high-profile destinations. Nevertheless, Taipei left just as much of an impression on me as any of my other stops in East Asia this past spring. Moreover, as you’ll see, my visit to Taipei lasted slightly longer than planned, although the circumstances that extended my time on Taiwanese soil weren’t necessarily a positive highlight. 🙂

Taipei 101: a skyscraper like no other

As an architecture geek who’s enamoured of supertall skyscrapers (“supertall” being a classification that applies to edifices at least 300 metres, or 984 feet, in height), one attraction that I particularly looked forward to checking out while in town was the Taipei 101 building. Indeed, I even chose a hotel across the street from it. Taipei 101 didn’t let me down.

Getting to know the building

Opened to the public on the last day of 2004, Taipei 101 stands 1,474 feet tall at its roof, and 1,671 feet tall at the tip of its spire. From the time of its completion until 2009, it was the tallest building in the world; that title was wrested from it by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which I’ll be seeing in person in early 2017. 🙂 As for Taipei 101, its distinctive profile has been likened to a series of Chinese food takeaway boxes, piled one on top of another; it’s also evocative of multiple levels of that most traditional of Asian architectural genres, the pagoda. Further contributing to its unique appearance is its green hue. Incidentally, its name derives rather prosaically from the fact that it rises 101 floors above ground. (It also has five subterranean levels, which house a parking garage.)

My very first first daytime activity after arriving in Taipei was an ascension to Taipei 101’s observatories. It boasts indoor observation decks on the 88th and 89th floors, and an outdoor observation platform on the 91st floor. That outdoor observatory encircles the building at an altitude of 1,285 feet — the second-highest alfresco viewing platform of any skyscraper in the world. Continue reading

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Country no. 41 on my World Karaoke Tour: hello again, Taiwan!

02_0063_6X8DFinding a place where you can sing karaoke in public, in front of a live audience, is surprisingly difficult in much of Asia. On that continent, it’s far more common to come across establishments with private rooms that people rent by the hour with their friends or business associates — and where they sing only to their companions. During my recent visits to China and Taiwan, such “private room” facilities — known as “KTV” clubs — are ubiquitous. In contrast, in both of those countries, I couldn’t find a single venue that provides the opportunity to perform karaoke in public. This proved to be the case even in extremely populous cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

In an upcoming post, I’ll address how I got around that difficulty in mainland China. In Taiwan, however, the solution proved particularly exciting: I sang in a karaoke-equipped taxi! Doing that had special meaning for me because I have a history of karaokeing in taxicabs — and that history even includes a connection to Taiwan. So let me back up a little bit and share the backstory.

Prologue: singing on the road in my nation’s capital

Flash back to November 2011. During that month, I spent an afternoon as a passenger in a taxicab operated by Filipino expat Joel Laguidao in Washington, DC. That taxi was outfitted with karaoke equipment, which I made full use of as Joel drove my friend and me around the city of Washington. The full story of how that ride came about is recounted in this blog post, which also includes links to videos from that ride. Suffice it to say that I didn’t stumble by accident upon Mr. Laguidao’s karaoke cab; I tracked him down after having sought for years to experience the thrill of karaokeing in a moving vehicle. Continue reading

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A classically good time in Rome: how I spent my third visit to the Eternal City

wine with dinnerMy third visit to Rome, which happened in late November 2015, wasn’t only about karaoke — although I did go singing on multiple nights, thereby finally managing to add Italy to my World Karaoke Tour after a previous failure to accomplish that in 2004. 🙂 Enjoyable pursuits also filled my daytime hours. This post is about the ways in which I occupied my time when I wasn’t descending upon the karaoke bar. As you’ll see, my activities constituted a mix: I experienced new attractions that I hadn’t made it to during my 1993 and 2004 excursions to the Italian capital, while also stopping by to say “Ciao!” to some of my favourite landmarks in the city built on seven hills. There was, however, one commonality among the various sights I took in: if you’ve been reading this blog for any significant length of time, you’re aware that I’m passionate about history. Throughout my stay, I indulged that passion in a city that’s as steeped in history as any other.

The Spanish Steps: at least I was able to look at them

Situated just off the Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps (Scalanita di Spagna) consist of 135 stairs linking the plaza to the Trinità dei Monti church above. They were installed from 1723 to 1725 and are a renowned meeting place and a mecca for people-watching — somewhat akin in both respects to London’s Trafalgar Square. Continue reading

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Country no. 40 on my World Karaoke Tour: a valentine to the Bahamas

Supreme CourtIn November 2015, after two failed attempts in the previous 22 years, I finally succeeded in adding Italy to my World Karaoke Tour when I sang in the Eternal City of Rome. At that point, the tally of countries in which I’d karaoked had just climbed to 39. Jetting off to the Bahamas a few months later, I sought to increase the country count to 40. Spoiler alert: that goal was realized. And I did it in a manner nearly unprecedented in my karaoke travels.

Ordinarily, karaoke is an evening activity. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for the karaoke festivities at a particular bar or restaurant to get underway at 10:00 pm or even later. But this past February, in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, I found a venue that allows patrons to sing all day long — not just after the sun has gone down. And on Valentine’s Day afternoon, I sang there right after lunch! Before we get to the details of this latest international karaoke appearance, I’ll provide some background on the destination where it happened.

A little bit about Nassau and vicinity

Geographical overview

Often regarded erroneously as part of the Caribbean, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is actually located in the western Atlantic Ocean rather than the Caribbean Sea. It does belong to the West Indies, a grouping that essentially consists of all of the island nations and overseas territories that lie between the United States and South America. Nassau is situated on the northern coast of New Providence, the most populous (but only the 13th largest by area) of the more than 700 islands that comprise the country. (A note for my fellow geography geeks: the collection of islands that makes up the nation of the Bahamas is part of the Bahama Archipelago, which includes not only the country of that name but also the British overseas territory of Turks and Caicos. The Bahama Archipelago is also known as the Lucayan Archipelago.) Continue reading

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Performing in the Palmetto State: my World Karaoke Tour hits Charleston

Me on the grounds of the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, about ten miles outside of CharlestonCharleston, South Carolina has witnessed nearly 350 years of history since it was first settled by the English as “Charles Town,” named in honour of King Charles II, in 1670. Colourful and centuries-old homes line the streets of this harbourside town — a city that was already over 100 years old when a collection of 13 colonies to which South Carolina belonged declared their independence from Great Britain. Later in its storied past, as the United States of America was developing into a powerhouse on the world scene, Charleston would play a key role in the Civil War that threatened to disunite those states; indeed, that bloody conflict was ignited when the rebels who called themselves the Confederacy seized Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbour in 1861. A quarter-century later, subsequent to its state’s reabsorption into the Union, Charleston was rocked by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever to strike the eastern U.S.

Today, despite some unfortunate events in its past, Charleston is a physically stunning city that’s increasingly emerging as a sought-after tourist destination. During the long New Year’s weekend that straddled December 2015 and January 2016, I became one of those tourists. 🙂 Charleston made an ideal focus for my first-ever journey to the State of South Carolina — partly because its walkable historic district was perfect for a New Yorker like me who doesn’t drive. 🙂 More importantly, by virtue of my singing within South Carolina’s borders on that trip, the Palmetto State became the latest U.S. state in which I’ve made a karaoke appearance! Continue reading

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Ten things I’m looking forward to in 2016 (and a couple more that I’m hoping for)

42762094_sI think it’s fair to say that any year when you undergo heart surgery is a rough one. By that standard, 2015 was challenging for me. Not that the year was without its magical moments; seeing Angkor Wat and Mount Rushmore in person were certainly bucket list experiences, and after I recovered from my operation I increased the number of countries on my World Karaoke Tour to 39 by singing in Rome.

On a non-travel-related note, in July I moved to a new apartment — still in Manhattan, but in a much better building, with far superior management to the slumlords who own the apartment that I vacated, and in a nicer neighbourhood. My new residence provides me with more pleasant surroundings — a big plus, since on the vast majority of my days I’m not off globetrotting, but am hanging out in my home base of New York City where I work full-time as a lawyer.

Me at Mount Rushmore in July 2015.

Me at Mount Rushmore in July 2015.

So with my surgery 110 days in the past, 2015 is ending on a high note for me; and as the world prepares to begin using its 2016 calendars, I have heaps of exciting plans for the year ahead. Here are the things that I’m most looking forward to in the upcoming 366 days (remember, ’16 is a leap year!):

1. Charleston, South Carolina for New Year’s

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Charleston, South Carolina; it’ll be my first-ever visit to this city in the southern U.S. that I’ve long sought to experience. In 2014, readers of Conde Naste Traveler magazine voted Charleston the no. 1 city in the U.S. to visit, and the no. 2 city in the world to visit. I look forward to finding out firsthand why Charleston makes such a spectacular impression on its visitors. While in town, I’ll be taking in historical sights as well as reconnecting with some old friends who reside in the area. And Charleston is where I’ll be ringing in the new year. Because this is a karaoke travel blog, I feel obligated to mention one more aspect of what’s in store for my sojourn in Charleston: either in the last days of 2015 or the very beginning of 2016, South Carolina will become the 21st U.S. state in which I’ve sung karaoke! (Technically, my tally will then stand at 20 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, which lacks statehood status. But I’m trying to keep things simple here. 🙂 )

Stock photo of some historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina.

Stock photo of some historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina — the city in which I’m going to start 2016!

Continue reading

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Country no. 39 on my World Karaoke Tour: living la dolce vita in Rome

TreviIt seems like I travel to Rome every 11 years. My initial excursion to the Eternal City came in 1993. My second jaunt to Italy’s capital happened in 2004. And in November 2015, during the long weekend surrounding the American Thanksgiving, I descended upon Rome for the third time.

Due to its rich history and its abundance of artistic treasures, Rome is one of my favourite cities in the world. But this time I was jetting there on a mission unrelated to its cultural heritage. Even though I’d already been to Italy twice — including stops in Rome both times — I hadn’t yet sung karaoke within its national borders. That made Italy one of the few countries I’d visited without adding it to my World Karaoke Tour. In returning once more to Rome, I intended to change that. So while I was excited to again gaze upon such beloved sights as the Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I was even more stoked about the opportunity to achieve my long-sought goal of singing in such a storied location.

Just to be able to make it to Rome on this latest occasion was, for me, what U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden would call a BFD. Continue reading

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My heart will go on: my heart surgery experience and my continuing recovery

67 days ago, I underwent heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. It was the first surgery of any kind that my body had ever been subjected to. This is the story of my experience on the operating table; during my ensuing stay in the hospital; and during my recuperation after I was sent home — a recuperation that’s still ongoing. For background covering the time period from the diagnosis that I needed the surgery, through the initial pre-operative procedures that I underwent, go here, here, and here.

Prelude: my heart catheterization and the night before the operation

The catheterization: not as bad as I’d feared?

On Wednesday, September 9, I arrived at the hospital for my final pre-operative procedure: the heart catheterization, alternatively referred to as a coronary angiogram. This procedure consisted of a doctor inserting a tube into my wrist and running that tube through my radial artery, and adjoining arteries, all the way to my heart. A thinner tube, the catheter, was then run through the initial tube; attached to the catheter was a tiny video camera. At some point, a special dye was also injected into me to assist the doctor with the imaging of my arteries. The purpose of all of this was to check for arterial blockages.

As the catheterization was getting underway, when a painful needle (separate from the IV port that was already affixed to me by then) was being inserted into my wrist to forge a pathway for the tubes, I sang “My Favorite Things” (from the film The Sound of Music) in an attempt to overcome the pain. 🙂

The procedure was performed under sedation, with the sedative agent being fed into me via the IV port. I’d previously been informed that being sedated would feel “like twilight”; but I experienced no sensation out of the ordinary while the catheterization was ongoing. Any effect that the sedative may have had on me was very subtle; I was able to engage in a conversation with the doctor during the entire procedure.

As I’ve previously written, I’d been reluctant to agree to the catheterization and had to be talked into it by the surgeon; I feared that the tube could accidentally puncture one of my arteries while passing through it, causing me to bleed to death in 30 seconds. Fortunately, that worst-case scenario didn’t materialize. The catheterization didn’t kill me. 🙂

Still, I wonder how essential it was. Not surprisingly in light of my relatively young age for a heart surgery patient, the catheterization didn’t find any blockages. I could have told the doctor he wouldn’t find any; we could have just skipped the whole thing and gone straight to my surgery. 🙂

Following the procedure, I was taken to a recovery room where I was started on an intravenous drip to help wash out the imaging dye from my body. I was also told that due to the trauma to the point in my artery (at my wrist) where the catheter had been inserted, for the following three days I would be required to avoid bending my wrist excessively. No one told me what would happen if I did engage in such bending, but I suspect the answer probably would have involved dangerous amounts of blood gushing out of my wrist.

Me in the recovery room after my heart catheterization.

Me in the recovery room after my heart catheterization.

On the eve of my operation

Before all the dye had been flushed from my system, I was removed from the recovery room, admitted to the hospital as an inpatient, and brought to a regular hospital room. Continue reading

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Today I had my pre-operative procedures at the hospital

What with my heart surgery scheduled for next Thursday, today I went in to the hospital for some “pre-admission” procedures and consultations in anticipation of that upcoming operation. The more minor of the procedures that I experienced today included a chest X-ray; an EKG (electrocardiogram); and bloodwork. Although I normally hate having blood taken, and although my heart sank when I saw how many vials the nurse was going to fill (which would mean that the needle would be in for a relatively long time), this morning’s bloodwork barely hurt at all. So that was an unexpected bonus.

My consultation regarding the anesthesia

It probably helped that I was distracted while the blood was being extracted from my vein; because while that was going on, a nurse was simultaneously briefing me on some details regarding the anesthesia that I’ll be given at the outset of my surgery. That hospital is nothing if not efficient. 🙂 Anyway, I did have a lot of questions for the nurse, in light of the fact that I’ve never been under general anesthesia before. She also gave me some instructions to help prepare my body for the anesthesia. (In addition to the standard requirement of fasting from midnight the night before the surgery, an example of those instructions was that from now until after the surgery, I shouldn’t taken any anti-inflammatory pain medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs, which is an abbreviation for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. In the United States, among the popular painkillers that are classified as NSAIDs are Advil and Motrin.)

Also during my colloquy with the nurse, I mentioned that I’m a singer and that I therefore hoped the anesthesiologists would go easy with the breathing tube that will be jammed down my throat during the surgery, in order to avoid damaging my vocal cords. (Yes, I told the nurse about my World Karaoke Tour. :)) Relatedly, we discussed how, as is standard in heart surgery, I’ll still be “intubated” (that is, the breathing tube will still be inserted down my throat) when I wake up in the operating room. While my surgeon believes in “extubating” (removing the tube) very quickly after the patient regains consciousness, I expressed concern that until the extubation occurs, I may feel like I’m choking. The nurse offered that if I want to minimize the risk of harm to my vocal cords, I should refrain from struggling with the breathing tube before it’s removed. Sound advice, I’m sure; but how will I have the presence of mind to remember it when I’ve just been knocked out for four hours and I’m feeling groggy and disoriented?

My CT-scan and a missed photographic opportunity

After all of that was finished, I had to walk several blocks to another of the hospital’s buildings, where I underwent a computed tomography scan, usually abbreviated as a CT-scan. My CT-scan involved the following steps:

• I drank several cups of water.

• An intravenous (IV) tube was attached to one of my veins.

• While lying on my back, I was slid into a cool machine with the appearance of a vertical donut. Via some blasts of radiation, images were taken of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis areas.

• A “contrast dye” was then injected into me through the intravenous tube, and more images were taken inside the donut-esque machine. You may have heard that when such a dye is pumped into a patient’s vein, the patient experiences a warm, tingly feeling throughout his body for a couple of minutes. That proved to be the case with me.

Here I am with the IV tube in my arm immediately after the completion of the CT-scan.

Here I am with the IV tube attached to my arm immediately after the completion of the CT-scan.

Things didn’t go completely smoothly during my CT-scan. Continue reading

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Viva Las Vegas: stunning views, a quest for a motorcycle, and karaoke during my eighth visit to Sin City

Las Vegas selfieEarlier this month, I made my eighth annual visit to Las Vegas. For the fifth year in a row, my trip to Sin City was in conjunction with the annual Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA). At TCONA, I had my usual awesome time convening with some of the smartest and most knowledgeable people in the United States (and even a few from other countries like Canada and Norway). It was enjoyable to reconnect with some really cool and interesting people who share my passion for learning as much as I can about every subject in the world, and whom I’m honoured to call my friends. Moreover, it was equally rewarding to make new friends who meet that description. As well, competing against a self-selected group of elite trivia players, in the diverse array of individual and team contests that TCONA offers, pushes me to improve myself and perform as well as I can.

As I do every year, I also managed to slip away from TCONA to experience an attraction in Las Vegas outside of the Tropicana Hotel where the event is traditionally held. Of course, it also goes without saying that my latest long weekend in Vegas included karaoke. 🙂 Finally, being that I was in a town where gambling has been known to take place, I also managed to squeeze in a little bit of that pastime — and came across a new twist on the blackjack tables that I tend to hit.

The view from Paris: très jolie

The Strip is renowned for its themed hotels, including several with sections that mimic world landmarks.  For example, if you roam the grounds of the New York, New York hotel, you’ll find replicas of iconic Big Apple structures ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Brooklyn Bridge to the Chrysler Building. At the Venetian, you can take a gondola ride among doppelgängers of some of Venice’s most legendary sights, such as the campanile (bell tower), the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). And then there’s the destination that was the subject of my August 2015 non-TCONA excursion in Las Vegas: the Paris Hotel, and one portion of it in particular.

While the Paris boasts reproductions of the venerable Arc de Triomphe and of several other Parisian edifices of note, the hotel’s centerpiece — and a key component of the skyline of the Las Vegas Strip — is a one-half scale duplicate of the most celebrated symbol of the City of Lights: the Eiffel Tower.

The view from the top: it’s not the Champs-Élysées, but it’s pretty darned nice

The Eiffel looms over the Paris Hotel, as seen from behind the fountains of the Bellagio across the street. This photo was taken during my very first visit to Las Vegas, in November 2008.

The replica of the Eiffel Tower looms over the Paris Hotel, as seen from behind the fountains of the Bellagio across the street. This photo was taken during my very first visit to Las Vegas, in November 2008.

Las Vegas’s version of la tour Eiffel features an observation deck 460 feet above ground level. (By way of comparison, the highest observation level in the actual Eiffel Tower in the city of Paris is 906 feet above the ground.) Continue reading

Categories: North America, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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