Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Short Break for Holiday Cheer

Friday, October 28, 2011

Some of the Spookier Places I'd Like to Visit

In light of the season, I was thinking about some of the more creepy places I would like to visit. Here's a list of 10 that I think few would find comforting in anyway.
Reaching up from Hell

Wat Rong Khun
Wat Rong Khun in Chang Rai, Thailand, is still under construction. A controversial modern temple, it is part traditional Buddhist temple, part white-frosted wedding cake, and part avant-garde art. Visitors must cross a bridge to the temple over a field of fangs and hundreds of pleading white arms and suffering faces of statues reaching up from hell. The temple is dominated by a stark whiteness but inside and throughout other areas of the temple compound, including the toilets, are highlighted with sparkling gold.

Chandelier in Sedlec Ossuary
In Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, the Sedlec monastery is home to a very old crypt. A popular burial site for centuries, residents were victims of plague outbreaks and Hussite Wars. In the 1870s a local woodcarver was hired to make creative use of the bones that had been piling up in the crypt. This was no minor task: the Sedlec Ossuary contains the remains of over 40,000 people, many of which were used to decorate the chapel. The effect is a macabre yet beautiful scene: elaborate light fixtures, arrays of bells, furnishings, splashy wall treatments and coats of arms are all recreated from skulls and bones of all sizes. Is that chandelier staring back at you?

Ryugyong Hotel
The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, has been under construction since 1987. The massive and still unfinished 105-story hotel looks like a luxury hotel designed for Mordor. Esquire described the hotel as "the worst building in the history of mankind. The epithet "Hotel of Doom" is quite fitting. Construction halted due to lack of funding, and the partially completed building stood windowless and looming ominously over the city for sixteen years before work resumed in 2008. The design was strikingly modern at the outset but time has not been kind, it now looks simultaneously menacing, dated, and unconscionably extravagant juxtaposed with the impoverished populace.

Dongyue Temple
Department of Implementing 15 kinds of Death
The Dongyue Temple is Beijing's most morbid shrine. The operating Taoist shrine of Dongyue Temple is an unsettling but fascinating place to visit. Stepping through the entrance you find yourself in Taoist Hades, where tormented spirits reflect on their wrongdoings. The 'Life and Death Department" is a spiritual place to ponder your eventual demise, the "Department for Wondering Ghosts" and the "Department for Implementing 15 kinds of Violent Death" have slightly less inviting names, while the ill might seek out the "Deep-Rooted Disease Department". Other halls are less morbid, but no less interesting. The best experience can be had during the Chinese New Year or Mid-Autumn Festival.
Department for Demons and Monsters

Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, MO
I cannot say how many times I've gone by the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis without taking the time to stop. It's reputed to be one of the USA's most haunted houses. St. Louis' Lemp Mansion has a long history of odd occurrences. Charles Lemp committed suicide in the house in 1949 and strange things have taken place at the house ever since. Door swing open spontaneously, glasses leave off table and break, and a tragically short-lived reality TV Show, are just a few examples. Today, the mansion operates as a restaurant and inn that capitalizes on the morbid fame through murder mystery dinner theatre, Halloween parties and weekly tours by a noted "paranormal investigator".

Scott Monument
The Scott Monument in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a spiky Gothic fantasy with more than a passing resemblance to a Thai temple. It's the monument to Sir Walter Scott and a fixture of the Edinburgh skyline. It stands only 61 meters high so the climb to the top doesn't sound too daunting until you find yourself wedged into the preposterously tiny spiral staircase. The final curve is so notoriously tight that squeezing yourself through the final doorway requires the flexibility of a spelunker. Edinburgh mystery writer Ian Rankin once set the scene of the crime at the top of the Scott Monument, with much of the story focusing on the physics of getting a stiff cadaver down the twisty staircase. Bill Bryson has described it as looking like a "gothic rocket ship".

Catacombe Dei Cappuccini
The Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo, Italy houses inhabitants all decked out in their Sunday best. Unfortunately, that Sunday was several hundred years ago, and the outfits have fared significantly better than the wearers. The mummified bodies of skeletons of some 8000 Palermitans from the 1600s through the 1800s are kept in the catacombs for all to see, some so well preserved that they look eerily lifelike. Men and women occupy separate corridors, and within the women's area there's a special virgin-only section. Spooky for adults, probably terrifying for the kiddies.

Chornobyl Reactor #4
Abandoned Ferris Wheel
Chornobyl Reactor #4 in the Ukraine is the famous site of the world's biggest nuclear disaster. The 30 KM-radius exclusion zone is has been mostly uninhabited since 1986. Still, limited tours have been available since 2002 for those curious enough to get a glimpse of the industrial ghost town but aren't put off by the ominous click of a Geiger counter. Factories, homes, schools, and a very creepy abandoned amusement park stand decaying and choked with weeds, but remain otherwise like they looked at the time of the disaster.

Ottawa Jail Hostel
The Ottawa Jail Hostel in Canada seems to be the basis for a horror movie. Where else can you spend the night in the slammer? And what better than a slammer that is haunted by the spirits of former inmates that was also deemed unsuitable for prisoners due to appalling conditions? Opened in 1862, the Carleton County Gaol was in operation for over a century, but it was hardly a hit with the prisoners who complained of cramped conditions and sanitation problems. It might not have been suitable for prisoners at the time, but if you're a traveller on a tight budget and don't mind that your room happens to be a prison cell and your bunkmate might be spectral, it's perfect. As a "prisoner" today, your punishment includes parking, wifi, and a games lounge.

White Alice
White Alice is located above Nome, Alaska, overlooking the town and the Bering Straits from the top of Anvil Mountain. A weird Cold War relic, from down in the town it looks like a bizarre space-aged Stonehenge. From a closer view, it could be a film set for a shoot of the Victorian-era War of the Worlds. The four strange corrugated-iron sound reflector structures were intended for listening to suspicious Soviet activity. A gold-rush town a century ago and the finishing line for the Iditarod dog-sled race today, Nome is the perfect example of a honky-tonk, almost-at-the-Arctic-Circle frontier town. For a real Alaskan experience visit White Alice during the Midnight sun.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The True Legacy

There was always that nagging feeling he had failed in so many different ways. The king had feared the possibility of recognizing his strengths and successes and the complacency that might come of it. So much worry compounded by his concern that he never really measured up to his father, who was also very much beloved by the people. Both men were selfless and caring, giving everything they had to the betterment of the kingdom. Both men were endowed with an incredible desire to serve.

Some say this all-consuming worry was probably the cause of the illness that took the once vibrant and strong man and destroyed his physical frame, leaving him bed-ridden and frail. As he lay in his deathbed, moments of lucidity were nearly overwhelmed with bouts of confusion highlighted with mostly indiscernible ramblings. When these mumblings could be understood the context was difficult to decipher.

The queen spent her days attending to the needs of her king. The prince took on much of the responsibilities of the kingdom, though he too was hardly found far from his father’s bed. The illness was drawn out. Eventually, the king was overcome and passed away.

Of course, the land grieved the loss of such a man. There were many who thought to send condolences to the family. The funeral was held in the fashion of the land, many remembering the great deeds of their lost king. The king’s children each shared many of their memories. Almost all who spoke suggested this king was greatest among rulers for his care of his people. They all agreed that all were blessed for knowing him. He served his people without any concern for self, stretching all available resources beyond what most thought possible. Many commented that this great king would not have thought such a spectacle over his life necessary. Indeed, he would have preferred that energy focused toward more productive activities. His dying wishes asked that instead of flowers at his funeral, people would do an act of service instead. Failing that, a donation to humanitarian charities should suffice.

The king was buried with generations of great men and women, where anyone looking at the monuments could be reminded of their great deeds.

With the ceremonies and gathering done, the prince was still consumed with grief. His memories of his father provided comfort but such was fleeting. Although the Prince knew many who had died, he realized he had only this once grieved. The prince spent his days helping manage the affairs of the kingdom but all around him knew of his grief. He seldom laughed like he used to. His wit hardly ever brought forth the mirth people knew.

One day after the evening meal, the prince had excused himself to the upper garden seeking to be alone with his thoughts. He wished to remember some things of his father and make plans for helping some of the less fortunate. The king was a man of service and that is what made him the happiest. So, the prince was trying his best to follow in these great footprints.

Although he thought he was alone, there came a visitor who wanted to help the prince feel better. The visitor was the country’s preeminent singer. Stepping forward, the rustling of her steps drew the prince’s attention to her.

“Why are you here?” demanded the prince. He wished to be left alone and found the intrusion bordering on treason. Certainly is was not but these were his feelings anyway. The prince in his grief had lost much of the charity that made his father the great man he was.

The Singer retreated a little at such brashness but said in a strong voice, “I’ve come to sing for you. You have forgotten something about your father.”

“I’ve not forgotten my father. He is why I am who I am. No. Be gone with you.”

“Your country suffers while you waste your time here. The world crumbles though you busy yourself thinking to protect it,” the singer pleaded. “Although you think to live your life as your father did, you’ve forgotten what truly made the king, Our King.”

“If I relent and allow you to sing, will you leave me alone?”

As an answer to the prince’s question, the singer began her song. Her voice was incredibly fine, cutting to the very center of the prince’s soul.

Almost immediately the artist seemed to take on another’s countenance. This visage was that of a very young girl, though her voice continued to be the same. The girl whose clothes were worn to near rags looked hungry, her eyes held a wisdom revealing a life already heaving with turmoil and grief. Though otherwise quite clean, she had a little soot on the end of her nose and a bandaged wrist. The song seemed to tell of a youngster living a meager existence with little hope of even attending school until someone recognized her needs and helped her family.

The song changed a little, whether it was a slight decrease in tempo or a change in key the prince did not recognize. The performer’s voice still as clear as it was from the start, seemed to take on a heavier tone. The little girl was gone replaced by a young boy, a couple years her senior. The boy wore a school uniform and had a look that suggested he was from a family of some substance. He stood there looking a little self-conscious. The song continued to tell of a boy whose family played a high stakes game with their wealth. When the father lost everything he fell into a deep depression from which he never recovered, ultimately leaving the boy an orphan. The boy, having never known want, was left with nothing. He was scared. The verse continued to explain the boy was reunited with a long ago lost relative who took the boy in as his own.

Again, the song’s tone moved a little different and the boy was gone, replaced by a young woman who was wrapped in a blanket. Something terribly wrong had happened to this poor girl. Her faced was bruised and she held herself as if she were sore all over. The blanket almost covered her but the prince could see her clothes had been torn. The verse explained how the girl had been abused by someone who should have loved her. She was alone in the world and needed some support and a new beginning. This someone did that for her and she was able to get back to school and start a new chapter in her life without the baggage of her past.

As the song continued the young woman was gone, replaced by an elderly man in a chair, too feeble to stand. This was a lonesome time for a man whose lifetime of experience seemed to shine and sparkle through his gray eyes. The canto continued to explain how this man’s life seemed to drag on endlessly in complete loneliness. Telling of how someone came to him and asked a simple question. Since the answer was not so simple, his gray eyes had a twinkle of pride and usefulness that was not there before.

In the final verse, the man was replaced by a lost soul whose whole world was encompassed in a small glass pipe. The addiction destroyed everything the person had, leaving him empty as soon as the contents in the pipe were consumed. Living his life to pursue that addiction, this was an empty soul until someone found a way to unlock the trap.

As she finished her song, she resumed her original visage and turned to leave. The prince stood speechless with tears streaming down his cheeks. His father knew there were people that needed to be helped. That help took the form of many different shapes and sizes. He was freed a little from his grief and was able to focus on finding the individual rather than the cause. The king hadn’t failed at all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Prop Us Up On Our Leanin' Side

I was thinking of this fellow I read about who always prayed, "Lord, prop us up on our leanin' side." After hearing him pray that prayer many times, someone asked him why he prayed that prayer so fervently.

He answered, "Well sir, you see, it's like this. I got an old barn out back.  It's been there a long time. It's withstood a lot of weather.  It's gone through a lot of storms, and it's stood for many years. It's still standing.  But one day I noticed it was leaning to one side a bit.  So I went and got some pine poles and propped it up on its leaning side so it wouldn't fall.

"Then I got to thinking about that and how much I was like that old barn.  I've been around a long time. I've withstood a lot of life's storms.  I've withstood a lot of bad weather in life, I've withstood a lot of hard times, and I'm still standing too. But I find myself leaning to one side from time to time, so I like to ask the Lord to prop us up on our leaning side, 'cause I figure alot of us get to leaning at times.
"Sometimes we get to leaning toward anger, leaning toward bitterness, leaning toward hatred, leaning toward cussing, leaning toward a lot of things that we shouldn't.  So we need to pray, 'Lord, prop us up on our leaning side, so we will stand straight and tall again, to glorify  you.''

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Citizen's Arrests

I was thinking recently about my time as a security guard, which by the way was one of the worst jobs I've ever had. Before I could take my first assignment, I had to pass a written test. Part of the test reviewed the powers of arrest security officers actually have. Incidentally, these powers and privileges are granted by the Constitution to every citizen. As citizens, our duty to stop crime wherever we may see it is paramount. So, here's a guide to correctly performing a citizen's arrest as I remember it from my security guard days (rent-a-cops are very smart people).
Confirm a crime is in progress: It's important to recognize the difference between true crime and just being mean or stupid. Some things that seem illegal like speeding or breaking a young girl's heart aren't actually against the law. Just to explain how confusing it can be, many things you might think are legal just aren't. You can't be mean to dogs or hit people with cars. Because of these kinds of legal minutia, citizens are only allowed to make arrests for the "Big Three" crimes: theft, murder, and lying to parents.
Secure the Reprobate: Most people won't even realize they've committed a crime. So, you can easily overpower and handcuff them with your homemade handcuffs (use twigs and discarded lint so the handcuffs can double for a friendship bracelet when the arrestee gets out of jail). If he resists arrest, you are constitutionally authorized to lash out with your sharp tongue and cutting insults.
Wait for Authorities: The last step is to call in the professional lawmen. Ring the nearest Crime Bell. A fleet of judges will promptly arrive at the scene ready to carry out swift justice. They'll sentence the reprobate to jail, apology camp, house arrest (no longer allowed to watch the T.V. program House), or a year of hard labor (just another name for unpaid internship in an obstetricians office). You'll want to celebrate your hard work keeping crime at bay by setting off some fireworks or shooting a gun into the air.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How can you change that which is fanaticism?

What does it mean to be a fan? Sports fans place more importance on one team over another, this is so very common. Few embrace logic when making this distinction, however. In most instances our fondness is founded in emotion. Still, once established as a favorite we begin to demand a higher level of performance from the members of these teams. 

The player’s performance on and off the field or court is important to their fans. While they focus on what made them famous – the athlete in their sport, the actor on the screen or stage, the politician in office – it is their personal, their ‘normal’ life, that tends to bring the most consternation.

This week while watching the NBA playoffs, I found myself disgusted by the actions of a few players on my team. Yeah, I considered them my team – at least until this week. No, I don’t play basketball. I’m hardly good enough to play a game of H.O.R.S.E. In fact, I do not usually watch much throughout the normal season. It is the playoffs I find enjoyable. Each game is important. Well, I enjoy watching most of the time. This week we witnessed flagrant fouls and players ejected from the game more than once. Once is bad. Thrice is untenable.

Certainly, the famous didn’t ask to be our role models. They simply did something better than others. Tiger Woods plays golf, Charlie Sheen acts, and basketball players play ball. Not that I thought they were my role models or considered these young men anything more than the basketball players they are but to think I would watch in disgust as these “professionals” flagrantly, and inexcusably sought to cause harm to the opposing team members. So disgusted was I that I left the room without any desire to watch the rest of the game. They earned that loss and will remain losers in my eyes.

A life-long fan of the Lakers, I am left wondering to whom I should throw my support, my fanaticism. And so I question how do you do that. How can one just change what their favorite team might be? Maybe I’m better off just taking a break from professional sports. I’ll focus on the Angels for now, in any case. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hrustevich plays Antonio Vivaldi

It's wonderful to come across something so exciting and unusual as this. I have something of an eclectic taste in music, organ music is something I enjoy. I stumbled across this master of the accordian on youtube and have enjoyed just about everything for which I stopped long enough to listen. Hope you enjoy it too.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Make Sure to Wear Clothes That Fit

Wear the clothes that fit. That is my life philosophy. It might be good advice for fashion but it’s far more than just how well your shoes fit or whether your belt has enough holes in it. Did you know high collars will make you neck seem shorter? Yep. So, if you’re like me and have a double chin, you’re not likely to get the look you’re after from a high collar. Just as you should never buy clothes that are too tight or short, your life should be a fit for who you are right now. Goals and wishes, places we want to or maybe should be, aren’t what we are right now. Just as we should not purchase clothes based on what we wish we were, our actions today should not be as if we’re accomplished.

This isn’t a defeatist attitude, of course. Life isn’t going to be what we want it to be if we just accept it as it is dished out. Do you want to look good in that swim suit? Then, you make adjustments to your life, set goals – both long term and short. After doing this, you make the daily efforts necessary to accomplish those goals. Establish a plan and follow the plan, doing things in the right order – wearing the clothes that fit.

If I were to set a goal to bench press 400 pounds, I would not start by first lifting 400 pounds. Maybe my capacity would be something around 100 pounds today, 105 tomorrow and 110 the following day. I would do the work necessary to make the goal of 400 and, gradually, I would accomplish the task.

My goals need to be a good fit as well. It is unlikely I would be able to press the 400 pounds by this Friday, requiring a little more time to work up my muscles. I should build them up in a manner that would not injure me and slow my progress. I remember a few years ago, I took a break from my work-out routine (yes, I used to exercise every day). When I started my routine again, I just decided to pick up where I left off. I did some serious damage. “It only hurts when I laugh, doc.” It took days for me to recover. When I again restarted my routines, I established an exercise curriculum that was more fitting to my body’s fitness, working back up to where I was before. Then, I was ready to move on to more advanced goals.

Wearing clothes that fit definitely means making the choice to do what is needful today and then doing what is needful tomorrow. So, that’s a good philosophy, right?