Back in Benjasiri

Bangkok. Friday. Evening. Cool (relatively).

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many down vests, knitted hats, and overcoats along Sukhumvit Road as I did this morning. It was 24 degrees Celsius outside, and several Thais I encountered seemed to be shivering and freezing.

Despite a couple of visits to bars last night, I woke up at seven and looked forward to going out for a few laps in Benjasiri Park, a long-time favorite lung here in Bangkok. A lap around Benjasiri is about 700 meters, and today there were over 100 of us, some walking briskly and others, like me, jogging.

The variety of running techniques offered the usual delightful spectrum: from the slightly rigid T-Rex style where arms barely move and stay close to the body, to those who seem to float on feather-light legs and aerodynamically shining arms. It’s starting to feel perfectly fine to be overtaken more often than passing people – as long as those passing me are younger…

I noticed that in the middle of the park, around the pond with pedal boats, a couple of aerobics classes were taking place, and a group of seniors was practicing Qigong or Tai-Chi. A young guy was shooting penalty shots with a bright green basketball, and the old guy who welcomes everyone at the park’s entrance stood in the warm morning sun, watering Christmas flowers with a content smile on his face.

A few years ago, during a dinner in or near Malmö, I can’t remember where, a friend asked us what it was about Thailand that made us return time and time again. I don’t remember what we answered, probably because there is no simple answer. And to be totally honest, I’m not sure they would understand even if I tried to explain.

Hooked on a feeling, as Swedish singer Björn Skifs once sang.

My first visit to Thailand was in 1988, and I still haven’t been to any country in the world that comes close to offering everything that Thailand still has: friendly, polite, honest people, fascinating culture, delicious food, fantastic natural experiences (mountains, jungles, beaches, islands, cities), and a reasonably solid infrastructure, making it easy (and safe) to stay and enjoy life here. Neither Charlotte nor I would want to live permanently in Thailand, but being able to come here and stay for a while from time to time truly enriches our lives.

Of course, it’s a different Thailand today than when I traveled around the country 35 years ago. Back then, despite my backpacker attire and limited budget, I always felt like a fairly wealthy Westerner who often received more respect than I deserved. Of course, there were well-off Thais even back then, but they were barely visible. Today it’s the opposite. I’m still respected, perhaps mostly because I’m now an older man, and I still wear a variation of the same backpacker outfit (T-shirt, cargo shorts, sneakers). Old habits die hard, I suppose.

But for many years now, there’s a large and visible Thai middle class with a standard of living comparable to that of any average Westerner. And I’m no longer an exotic curiosity from the West but just a slightly older man in backpacker clothes paying with an embarrassingly weak currency (Sweden’s krona).

Well, anyway…

During my very first visit to Bangkok, there were only a few bland department stores (Robinson’s). Today, there are at least a dozen gigantic luxury department stores and an equal number of large, lavishly designed shopping malls – unparalleled in Europe and the USA. Except for some Russians, Chinese, and Japanese, the majority of those shopping in these extravagant palaces are Thai nationals with clearly more disposable income than I have.

Tonight, another mall, EMSPHERE, was inaugurated, where, among many other well-known brands, IKEA has a city store. We were there for the grand opening, but after just a few minutes in the swelling crowd, I felt a hint of claustrophobia and quickly retreated to the aforementioned oasis, Benjasiri Park, where tranquility gradually returned.

Despite the significant changes Bangkok has undergone since my first trip from the old Don Mueang airport in a Tuk-Tuk, as a newly arrived 25-year-old in the late 1980s, fortunately, many of the delightful contrasts that make the city so incredibly exciting and interesting are still abound. High and low, big and small. Ancient and brand new, side by side.

After our flight with Air Asia from Osaka landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday around noon, and our passports were stamped with new visas, we connected our phones to a Thai mobile network and took the express train from the airport to Sukhumvit Road. The sun was setting between the city’s forest of skyscrapers, and downtown seemed to bathe in a beautiful glow. We both felt great to be back in Bangkok. A kind of homecoming.

Ten years ago (2014), Charlotte, Elle, and I lived here for six months, just a few hundred meters from where I’m writing this on Soi 24. We rented a reasonably large apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms in a hotel (Oakwood) with a Swedish GM and super-friendly Thai staff. We really appreciated all the conveniences included in the rent and definitely the practical location. Being close to so many good restaurants, department stores, and almost next door to Phrom Phong Skytrain station, if we wanted to leave the neighborhood, was absolutely fantastic.

Unsurprisingly, I have a vast collection of photographs and countless hours of video footage from that lengthy stay and all the times we visited Bangkok before and since. A coffee table book is in the works and should be ready early next year. The above scene of Pooky, a local model and yoga instructor (incidentally married to a Danish fellow), was captured near the pond in Benjasiri Park and might be included in the aforementioned book

A few songs in my Asian November playlist.

Naha Airport Okinawa (OKA)

Captured this just as we were about to board our flight to Osaka yesterday morning at Naha Airport in Okinawa. The cabin crew were genuinely happy when we handed them our flyer for Charlotte’s popular airline website

Flying southwest today.

Jamming at Jam & Relaxing Times in Japan

Meanwhile, in Osaka…

Japan. Evening. Sayonara.

Just a little while ago I was sipping on a glass of Suntory Soda in our hotel room’s small bathtub. Lying there, I was contemplating our trip how much fun we’d had and all the great food we’d enjoyed. Clearly the most enjoyable trip to Japan so far. And the most affordable. The weak yen makes even the weaker Swedish crown stretch quite far.

Before my bath, we had enjoyed a delicious dinner just a few hundred meters from the airport hotel where we were staying tonight. We’ve got an early flight heading southwest tomorrow, so no Osaka this time around.

For most airport restaurants that I’ve ever visited, this principle applies: not good but expensive.

Tonight’s meal offered the opposite: a delightful dinner for a reasonable price: 185 SEK/person, including a large draft beer each (served, as usual, in chilled mugs).

We couldn’t think of any of our meals in Japan that we hadn’t described with at least one superlative followed by an exclamation mark. Even the convenience store food we’ve had a couple of times has been surprisingly tasty.

Will miss Japanese food. And the heated Japanese toilet seats.

But also the Japanese politeness, friendliness, modesty, and honesty.

There is still a deep-seated sensibility here. But also anxiety or reservation that I think we from Sweden both recognize and quite appreciate. At least people of our generation probably feel that way.

Here, you are treated (and judged) based on how you behave, especially us foreigners, the so-called “Gaijin.” I haven’t bowed so much in a long time. But it felt natural to respond to politeness with at least as much politeness.

Yesterday we ate at Jam, one of Okinawa’s many teppanyaki restaurants where a skilled chef cooks your food in front of you on a massive steel grill.

The first time I had Japanese food was in the mid-1980s seated along a teppanyaki table at Mikado in Gothenburg. Mikado was located above White Corner at that time if anyone remembers that place.

There was a lot of showmanship yesterday, but the chef also made really good food, and the drinks at Jam were not watered down. We even had a bit of interaction with the family from Nagano sitting next to us.

After dinner, everyone around the teppanyaki table was ushered to the restaurant’s lounge area where dessert was served (ice cream and green tea).

It took a while, but the Nagano family couldn’t resist and approached us a bit shyly, asking if they could take a group photo with us in it. We agreed, of course. Much chatter and laughter ensued!

I think it was a full moon as we walked back to the hotel at Moon Beach on Okinawa late last night.

Right now, here in Osaka, it’s raining (not to be confused with Åsaka, where my grandfather Eskil comes from). But it looks like it will be sunny in Bangkok tomorrow afternoon…

Sayonara, Japan, and thanks for a couple of magical weeks!

Huge Resorts vs Boutique Hotels

HereFrom a facility perspective, there are definitely more benefits than drawbacks of staying at a huge resort. Most resorts have at least one pool, a sizable gym and offer a decent breakfast buffet.

On the other hand, these larger places tend to make you feel like you’re in a holiday factory, one of numerous anonymous guests shuffling between beach chairs, dining tables, and hotel rooms.

I’ve come to prefer a middle ground, hotels that are somewhere between the small, personable boutique hotel and a ginormous resort. Moon Beach Museum (pictured above) is huge but since we’re here during the off-season and there aren’t many other guests, we’ve had a lot of space and zero crowds to deal with.

Went out for a 5k jog yesterday morning, then breakfast, then laundry, then the beach, then a fabulous dinner at Jam, a Polynesian-style restaurant nearby. Time to head for Osaka.

Trollhättan. Grandpa & Godzilla

It sounds strange, but when I’m in Tokyo, I think about Trollhättan, the city where SAAB cars were once made and where I spent formative time with my grandparents as a youngster.

Let me explain.

For about a year, sometime in the early 1970s, I lived with my grandparents Eskil and Agnes Andersson on Örtagårdsvägen 17 in Trollhättan. At the beginning of this nearly year-long stay with them, communication between my grandfather and me was pretty much impossible. His English vocabulary was just as limited as my Swedish. Grandmother Agnes was no linguist, but she had studied basic English at night school for a few semesters.

When my grandfather and I shared breakfasts, there was often silence at the kitchen table. The only sound was the loud slurping noise when my grandfather ate his thick morning porridge or drank coffee from the saucer with a sugar cube between his teeth. He had already done an hour’s work on the farm before sitting down to have breakfast with me.

Grandma Agnes always had a lot to do in the mornings and rarely took the time to eat with us.

After breakfast, my grandfather would retreat to his study, carefully cutting out the TV schedule from the last page of the local newspaper. With his thick, rough fingers holding a black ink pen, he would circle the television shows he planned to watch that evening.

Eskil Andersson was born in 1901 and was not an educated man. I don’t think he had more than six years of schooling. On the other hand, he was very practical, curious, and eager to learn.

He followed the news on TV, listened to the radio, and meticulously read both the regional paper “Göteborgs-Posten” and the farmer’s specialty magazine “Land”.

He never touched grandmother’s stack of weekly magazines. I, on the other hand, enjoyed them for their cartoons. My favorite was “Året Runt” (Year Around), where the cartoon about the delightful anti-hero “Mister Kronblom” was published.

On weekdays, when my grandfather returned from either farming, the stable, or the smithy in the evening, we had dinner together with my grandmother.

If I didn’t have any homework, we would meet again just before the news program “Rapport” aired in his study, where the TV was placed at the far end of a disproportionally large wooden desk (which, as I recall, was covered with light veneer).

There, my grandfather always sat in his creaky, semi-circular wooden chair with armrests and squeaky wheels. He reached the TV’s volume knob and channel selector (two buttons, one for each channel) by grabbing the desk and pulling himself along the floor.

Once he’d found the right program and adjusted the volume level (he was hard of hearing even back then), he pushed the chair back across the floor, took out his pipe, stirred the burnt tobacco in the bowl with an old match, tapped out the ash, and pressed a fresh pinch of Borkum Riff or John Silver into the pipe.

Then Grandpa lit the tobacco with a new match, leaned back in his chair, took a puff, and exhaled smoke through both his nose and one corner of his mouth. I remember being completely fascinated by his pipe ritual.

During these TV evenings with my grandfather, my grandmother would come in after a while with a bowl of carrot sticks or sliced winter apples for me to snack on.

By then, Grandpa’s study was already filled with smoke, and despite being asthmatic, I really liked the scent of tobacco fumes. Today, whenever I see someone with a pipe or smell the aroma of pipe tobacco, my thoughts immediately go back to those lovely moments with my grandfather Eskil.

Ok. Let’s move on to the connection between Tokyo and Trollhättan.

During lunch break one Friday at Lyrfågelskolan in Trollhättan, the school I attended for a semester, the boys in my class were enthusiastically chatting about a monster movie that would be shown on TV later that evening.

I, of course, wanted to see that movie, but I thought it would be difficult to persuade my grandfather to skip the news at 9:00 PM and instead watch “Destroy All Monsters” with “Gojira” (ゴジラ) aka “Godzilla” in the lead role over on the other of Sweden’s two channels.

When I came home in the afternoon with my blue gym bag over my shoulder, I went straight to my grandfather’s study to check which tv shows he had marked for the evening. To my delight, I saw that “Destroy All Monsters” was circled several times, and that the news show “Aktuellt” was even crossed out!

It was later that Friday evening that my then seventy-something grandfather Eskil and I were introduced to Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Angilas, Minya, and Spiega. And to the city of Tokyo and the mighty Mount Fuji, where part of the film’s exciting plot unfolded.

Here in Okinawa, we don’t hear sirens from police or fire trucks as much as we did in Tokyo last week. But there and then, I often associated those alarming sounds with the old Godzilla movies. And above all, to that very first one that my grandfather and I watched together on the outskirts of Trollhättan back in the early 1970s.

Last Sunset in Naha Okinawa

Okinawa. Thursday. Evening. Joyess.

It’s our last evening in Naha. Tomorrow we head to Moon Beach in northern Okinawa. I will probably miss our amazing corner room (#912) at this hotel more than Naha itself. I must remind myself always to request a corner room in the future.

Strata Hotel is the 22nd or 23rd hotel we have stayed at in 2023, and we have at least 4 hotels left before the year is over. That count includes the hotel nights in the converted movie theatre Draken (Dragon) in Gothenburg over the Christmas holidays. I haven’t celebrated Christmas in Gothenburg since the pandemic. I haven’t been to Draken since Ben-Hur played there in 1978.

To travel is to live. To live is to travel.

Now, after turning 60, there is nothing more important to me than to continue traveling and challenging myself by letting serendipity guide me more often than a map.

Tired after a day of aimless wandering through Naha, we decided to skip eating dinner at a restaurant and instead have a picnic in our beautiful hotel room.

After happy hour in the rooftop bar as Naha bathed in a golden glow from the very last rays of the day, we took the elevator to the ninth floor and laid out several beautifully packed sets of store-bought sushi.

Not entirely surprisingly, the fish turned out to taste significantly better than what we are served by the cheerful Vietnamese folks at our local sushi joint in Västra Hamnen. Whether Japanese food is best cooked by Japanese people in Japan, I’ll leave unsaid.

Just after the last nigiri piece and maki roll were eaten, Elle called from Barcelona. Our hearts filled with love as we talked about how cozy it’s going to be to celebrate Christmas together in Gothenburg. After that call but only for the second time during this lengthy trip, I felt a bit homesick.

The Mazemen Maharoba Noodle Experience

After some deliberation and exploring other options, we finally decided to have dinner last night at a place about a block from bustling Kokusai Street (the main tourist street here in Naha) and close to our hotel called Mazemen Mahoroba.The Mazemen Maharoba Noodle Experience Receipt

From the moment we stepped into this small, rustic place, I immediately noticed that the owner, sporting a knitted hat, radiated a passion for his restaurant. It was evident that he and his team were committed to delivering an exceptional dining experience, promising us one of those truly memorable meals.

What sets Mazemen Mahoroba apart from all the other places we’ve eaten at so far is not just the extraordinarily tasty noodles with a smooth and satisfying texture, paired with a seafood broth rich in umami (making every bite a burst of delectable goodness).

It’s also the laid-back ambiance, excellent service, and reasonable prices. Mazemen Mahoroba is a must-visit destination for noodle enthusiasts and discerning diners alike. I’ve included the receipt from yesterday’s wonderful dining experience to show just how affordable this place is. But not just there. Right now, Japan is one of the most affordable countries in Asia, especially in the get-the-most-bang-for-your-buck category. High quality all-around, great food, friendly folks, super-interesting culture and excellent weather.

Juggling in Tokyo

Here are a few clips that Charlotte helped me film around Tokyo as I continue the surprisingly steep learning curve of juggling three balls. We’re now in Okinawa, the main island in the south of Japan where the weather and temperature are most comfortable. Should be able to manage a few juggling sessions here as well. That is unless Supreme Leader Kim over the pond in the oxymoronically named The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea doesn’t decide to annihilate us while launching another missile. We had just barely eaten dinner last night when we were warned via an SMS (in Japanese) that such a missile was expected to be hurled into the heavens by DRNK. Stay tuned…

Mount Fuji & Enoshima

Tokyo. Japan. Evening. Dark (again).

I’m writing this from a minimalist folding table at one end of our tiny but brilliantly designed hotel room. A half-eaten, triangular-shaped egg and tuna sandwich lies untouched on the right side of the computer’s slightly crumbly keyboard.

I just bought the aforementioned, beautifully packaged sandwich at our nearest Lawson (a more luxurious, cleaner, and neater variant of 7/11), where the friendly staff now seems to recognize us after our daily visits. Right now, both Charlotte and I are exhausted and have stocked up for a cozy Sunday evening here in our “incubator” on the 10th floor.

We were provided with plenty of sunshine today and it warmed our cheeks as we walked along the coast in Kanagawa. Kanagawa is probably best known for the woodcut with the great wave by the artist Hokusai.

With us for most of today’s adventure, almost like a painted backdrop, was the iconic Mt. Fuji.

When the commuter train we took from Tokyo Station rolled into the city of Fujisawa after just 40 minutes of travel, we walked with eager steps through the pedestrian street and quickly over the bridge to the island of Enoshima.

Once we had climbed the 254 steep steps to the island’s highest temple area and taken the elevator to the top deck of the observation tower, we were rewarded with a classic view: the sea in the foreground and the almost unbelievably symmetrical, snow-covered Mt. Fuji in the background.

I think we fell in love with Tokyo in 2006 when we were here to shoot and gather impressions for half a dozen travel articles and guides about the Japanese capital for several Swedish travel magazines.

I vividly remember that we scuttled between Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ginza, Asakusa, and Roppongi to gather impressions and visual material. We almost had to buy extra luggage space to bring all the inspiration with us after that visit!

The relationship with Tokyo was strengthened on our next visit in 2015, and now the feelings have come to life again… because just like almost 17 years ago, Tokyo is still incredibly awesome!

The city is grand and small-scale at the same time and always, always interesting: conventional-futuristic, ultra-commercial-meditative, minimalist-extravagant, and decently-perverse. A wonderful contradiction that gripped us then and still hasn’t let go.

Here, I can hardly put my phone down before it goes up again to film or shoot something that has caught my interest. Incidentally, this is the first time I’m in Japan without bringing any other camera than the one in my year-old phone.

Tokyo is still clean, fresh, well-organized, and extremely easy to navigate. Tokyoites are still friendly, polite, and considerate. Not all the new skyscrapers and high-rises are beautiful, but nothing in the city environment or anything else has been left to chance. Everything has its place, and public communication is rather overt than risking being misunderstood. Everything works!

Sure, the Japanese are only marginally better than Thais at stringing external power lines, and the noise level in the subway is sometimes a bit too high. But everything else works so unbelievably well – trains are on time, the mobile data network is super fast, the food is delightfully good and relatively cheap, and you never need to worry about being robbed, assaulted, or deceived.

The weather this November Sunday reminded us of a beautiful Swedish early summer day. After a couple of months of intense heat in Vietnam, it has been really great with Tokyo’s cooler autumn climate. Soon, we’re heading to the country’s southern islands with diving, surfing, and other activities on the agenda.


Delightful Day in Tokyo
Here are a few shots from yesterday’s terrific experiences in Tokyo. We had cool and mostly sunny weather as we traversed this great city, revisiting some old favorites and discovering a few totally new places. Spent most of the afternoon in Kappabashi, probably my favorite street in all of Asia with its restaurant supply stores (as The Bowery used to be like in NYC), artisanally crafted fake food and cozy side street Isakayas. Ended up eating dinner tonight at a place where we were the only foreigners, which is always a good sign. Tokyo is surprisingly affordable and definitely a lot less expensive to enjoy than anywhere I’ve been in Sweden these days. Which is something I never thought I would be able to write home about.

The Incredibly Delicious Lawson Egg Salad Sandwich in Tokyo

We arrived early this morning at Narita International Airport outside of Tokyo, Japan. Since the Vietjet night flight from Saigon/HCMC wasn’t full, both Charlotte and I were able to grab and sleep (fetal position) in a three-seat space.

After checking in at our hotel and getting over the fact that our room is just marginally larger than our bathroom in Malmö, we headed to the nearest convenience store, a Lawson, where we bought all kinds of food to try out.

Top of my list was the above egg salad sandwich that Anthony Bourdain recommended during one of his show’s episodes filmed here in Japan. Unsurprisingly, it was really good. Tonight we’re having sushi with our travel buddy Erik at Sushi-Go-Round deep inside Tokyo Station.

Smiles of Asia

Here’s one of my favorite street portraits from Vietnam. When I think of Asia, especially Southeast Asia, which I have been visiting regularly since 1988, I think of how often one is greeted with an infectious smile here. The street life, with its pungent smells, the deafening cacophony of relentless traffic and the dense population, keep me coming back for more. But it’s also all the smiling people I meet and greet on the streets of Bangkok, Singapore, Saigon and Luang Prabang.

Ho Chi Minh City

Here’s a timelapse I compiled from clips mostly taken from our hotel room. Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is intense. It’s fluid, though. Coming from the relative calm of Da Nang, it takes some time to get used to. Crossing major streets and boulevards is an endeavor with very little wiggle room for hesitation.

I like HCMC more and more. There’s a lot of interesting street life to see here. I only wish I had visited already back in the 1980s before the city’s ongoing transition to a metropolis began.

Ben Thanh Market
Just back from Afternoon Tea on the 12th floor. We’ve now switched hotels and districts in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m glad to be in Downtown now. It’s busier here, but also more interesting than in the quieter Thao Dien neighborhood.

From one of the windows in our new room on the seventh floor of the extraordinary Silverland Hotel, which from the inside looks like a futuristic, luxurious spaceship, we can see the sprawling Bến Thành Market, one of Saigon’s most famous bazaars.

Lest I forget: we ate a delicious lunch at a cool restaurant called Propaganda, which one of the reception staff recommended to us. Kudos for that.

Elle’s 23rd!

Tuesday. Evening. Saigon. Grateful.

Today is our daughter Elle’s 23rd birthday, and because I’m a sensitive dude, I always become a bit more sentimental on November 7th. When I think about how privileged I am to have such a wonderful individual in my life, which in itself is proof that I didn’t completely fail as her father, I become simultaneously teary-eyed and proud.

In a considerably darker place, deep within my soul, I wish that my parents were alive now so that they could see with their own eyes how I, of course, together with the incredibly kind and stable Charlotte, broke the curse they left behind.

Naturally, we are extremely happy and proud of Elle’s ongoing academic achievements and her evolving creative spirit. But it’s her generosity, empathy, and humor that make us feel especially happy today. And grateful.

Congratulations, Elle!

Love you!

Ho Chi Minh City

Here’s a view of Ho Chi Minh City and the colorfully lit skyscraper, Landmark 81 to the right. We’re staying a night at a sparsely furnished “aparthotel” near the Saigon River and moving to a proper hotel tomorrow in Thao Dien (District 2). Humidity here in southern Vietnam feels like it’s off the charts, at least when compared with Da Nang where the evenings were beginning to provide much cooler and more comfortable temperatures.

Giant Jellyfish

Saturday. Evening. Da Nang. Dark.

Just like last weekend, Charlotte and I took a 10k walk on the beach on this beautifully sunny Saturday. We saw a gigantic jellyfish that had washed up on the shore. It literally lay there like a huge blob of jelly. Tried to feel sorry for it, but couldn’t. I had never seen such a large jellyfish before. Charlotte said it was one of the poisonous kinds.

Today’s stroll was the last for this revisit to Da Nang. Of all the things we’ve enjoyed during our over a month-long stay here, I will probably miss My Khe Beach the most. But soon, we’ll get to experience entirely new beaches… By the way, it’s my 80th day of sobriety. Feels good. One day at a time, right?

Bars, Juggling & Dry Vegan Food

Wednesday. Evening. Da Nang. Content.

Woke up reasonably well-rested this morning. Brushed my teeth, got dressed, and stumbled out of the hotel, slowly making my way to the gym seven, eight blocks westward. Along the way, I passed a couple of bars that were still open. Some of the patrons looked to be my age. Phew.

I checked into “My An Sports Center” at 06:05 and warmed up with a long run on the treadmill. A few stations and some weightlifting later, I began the highlight of my morning: juggling.

I’m gradually getting the hang of coordinating hands, eyes, and my tiny, morning-weary brain cells. Quite fascinating that I can still learn something entirely new. Didn’t break any records today, but now I can easily manage 15 and sometimes even 20 throws in a row.

On my way home from the gym, I noticed that the aforementioned bars had closed. Two gray-haired guests were fast asleep, snoring loudly on a scruffy concrete bench on the sidewalk in front of one of the bars.

The sun was already scorching hot, and I thought about how sweaty it would soon get for the old dudes once the sun had gained a little height.

Mrs. Raboff treated me to dinner. We take turns inviting each other to lunch and dinner, more or less every other meal. It’s everyday luxury and generosity, evenly divided between the two of us.

We ate at a vegan place. Healthy and fairly tasty, albeit a bit on the dry side. For the first time since we left Malmö, at the end of September, I missed our kitchen and my own cooking…

Santa Surfer vs Silver Surfer
Charlotte Raboff took this photo on Sunday but had a hard time deciding on which caption to add to it. It was either Santa Surfer or Silver Surfer, both relating to that I’m currently letting all my hair grow.  ‍♂️‍♀️

Tyko and Mathew

Today is my 75th day of sobriety. It’s not worth celebrating, I know. But when I heard of Mathew Perry’s sudden curtain call, I was hit harder than I initially thought I would be.

Perry’s struggle with addiction, which I can personally relate to on a few levels, his overdose, and apparent suicide in a hot tub, are very similar circumstances to how my younger brother Tyko’s life suddenly ended.

Like Mathew Perry, my brother was also an addict. But instead of pain pills, he was so addicted to carrying around negative thoughts and dreadfully dark memories, that they forced Tyko to abuse anything that would help him get through painful days and sleepless nights.

One evening, he too decided that his pain and suffering were beyond what he could handle. And just like so many other abysmally sad people, on the night that he decided to end it all, Tyko had concluded that there was no other way to get off the emotionally volatile roller-coaster he had been strapped to for so many years.

Saturday Evening in Da Nang
Saturday. Evening. Da Nang. Satiated.

Yet another day comes to a close here in Farawayland, following a sweaty continuation of my escape from the autumn of my years.

This sun-drenched Saturday began with a long and occasionally scorching walk along Da Nang’s incredibly beautiful beach.

I was reminded that the Pacific Ocean does indeed start somewhere beyond the Philippines, the closest land to our east. Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch.

The goal of today’s morning stroll was Marble Mountain, where the number of visitors present there as early as 9 a.m. today suggested that it’s clearly one of Da Nang’s genuinely popular attractions. But despite the name, we found no marble, and we didn’t exactly ascend a mountain, either.

Marble Mountain is more like an atoll stranded on land a long time ago. To reach the top and enjoy the wonderful panoramic view of the area, we took one of the two sauna-hot elevators for 110,000 Dong ($4.50).

Now that I think about it, we did actually see a few marble Buddhas on Marble Mountain. But perhaps the most interesting of the excursion was how the price of a plastic bottle of water related to our altitude.

At sea level (by the aforementioned elevator), a 0.5L bottle cost about 50 cents. Midway, it increased to 70, and at the top of the atoll, that price doubled. However, as with most things in Vietnam, there’s usually some room for negotiation. And as always, I feel a bit guilty for haggling, which the vendors take advantage of without mercy.

We took the same beach stroll back along the water’s edge, but now with the sun at our backs, which I still feel the warmth of as I write this.

In total, we passed a maximum of four others during our beachscapade. It’s apparently still low season here right now, and having such a long and beautiful beach almost entirely to ourselves was both marvelous and somewhat eerie.

Where is everybody?

Sometime tonight, our local mobile plan will expire. For a couple of hours this evening, we tried to extend it at a few different mobile shops. But our attempt led to absolutely nothing.

Tired and hungry, we settled heavily onto a padded bench at the back of Isakaya Man, a scruffy Japanese bodega two blocks from our hotel.

In came tempura, in came eight pieces of spicy tuna nigiri, in came a steaming plate of edamame, in came eight pieces of salmon avocado nigiri. A couple of cool Sapporos for Charlotte and two cold Schweppes sodas for me. Burp!

Tonight, it was my turn to foot the bill, and for the umpteenth time, I thought the amount was wrong, that the server had forgotten to add something. But no. I paid 365,000 Dong ($15) and then had a flashback that took me back to Ventimiglia, to Rome, to Brindisi, and when I was a multi-millionaire in Lire and as rich as Scrooge in Drachma while on Kos, Corfu, and Mykonos.

It’s undeniably a great feeling to be able to spoil oneself here, especially now when the Swedish crown is embarrassingly weak. It might take a freshly charged defibrillator to counter the shock once we’re back at the checkout counter of our local market in a few weeks.

Yes, I had yet another creamy Coconut Coffee to cap off this day. After all, it’s Saturday night and a full moon. No, I probably won’t be falling asleep early tonight, either.

Photo: Charlotte Raboff

Long Beach Walk To Marble Mountain

Shot this on the way back from our long (12k) beach walk to and from Marble Mountain. We started around eight this morning and though it was already toasty and sweaty, the heat wasn’t unbearable. The mountain, which was more like an atoll than a proper mountain, offered stunning views of Da Nang and several beautiful old Buddhist shrines and statues of the Buddha.

Indian Dinner at Patakka

Still in awe of how improved My An Beach is compared with 2019. Back then, we alternated between two, maybe three different restaurants with decent food. Today, there are at least a dozen places. One of the best so far is Patakka, a beautifully decorated Indian restaurant a few doors down from our hotel. The owners, a sweet Indian couple from the UK, guided us through their menu’s various options, and, then while we waited for our delicious meal to arrive, they shared their inspiring story about how they ended up in Da Nang which you can read about by visiting their website here.

Dipping into Fanaticism

I captured this scene during a press trip to Israel at Qasr el Yahud, near the city of Jericho, along the Jordan River, where Christians believe John the Baptist baptized Jesus roughly two millennia ago.

During my visit, hundreds of Christian fundamentalists from the southern United States queued up eagerly to be baptized by enthusiastic pastors or priests. They were dressed in white for the occasion and waited with anticipation to be submerged in the river. Some were even jumping up and down in line, ecstatic for their near “salvation.”

The level of fanaticism I witnessed there was only matched by what I would see and experience a day later at HaKotel HaMa’aravi (also known as the Western Wall) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the holy mosque, both located in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The experience by the river was, to say the least, a peculiar and somewhat frightening one. After a few minutes, the shouting and the speaking in tongues (glossolaliaI became overwhelming, and I felt it was time to leave the frenzied ceremony.

To exit the baptism area, I first had to walk through an enormous souvenir shop filled with all sorts of religious memorabilia, including bottles of holy water, a wide range of crucifixes, and several racks of T-shirts adorned with colorful Jesus illustrations and Bible verses printed in bold.

The perverse level of commercialism made the experience even more absurd, if that’s even possible. To claim that this visit heightened my skepticism about religion and religiosity would be a considerable understatement.

The escalating conflict in Gaza has left me exceptionally distressed today. When I consider the potential powder keg that the situation represents, nothing else seems particularly comforting or even relevant.

I usually find some kind of solace in the thought that misery has always been a part of our world and that stepping away from the news for a while can improve my mental and emotional well-being.

But today, it’s challenging to do even that.

Why is there so much hatred among us humans? How can other animals live in a relatively symbiotic peace with each other, even across species, while we, humans, can’t seem to manage it?

The simple answer is glaringly apparent: religion.

How can belief in ancient fables, stories, and imaginative tales be so potent that it drives people to commit acts of violence, including rape, murder, arson, and the destruction of lives of those who don’t believe in the same ancient fables, stories, and imaginative tales?

The more complex answer involves a combination of power, tribalism, and territory. The hypnotic force of religion compels people to accept and defend violence as a means to assert claims over ancient holy places and territories. It’s utterly mad.

It’s profoundly disheartening that we haven’t evolved beyond this trivial, childish behavior. We are like children in a sandbox, except instead of playing happily with plastic shovels and colorful buckets, we wield guns, grenades, and rockets to annihilate one another.

In my view, religion is undeniably the most repugnant of all human inventions, followed by Swedish blood pudding, black soup, and surströmming.

Saigon & The Forgotten Key

Sunday evening. Da Nang. Humid.

Despite having forgotten which door it locked and unlocked, I kept an old key on my keyring for a long time. My hope was probably that I would someday remember why I kept it, but like so much else we carry around throughout our lives, it just hung around.

After about five years of key amnesia, I took it off the ring and placed it among the other homeless, abandoned keys in a crumpled plastic bag deep in a kitchen drawer we rarely open.

It was when my friends Annika and Smilla and I were on our merry way to the beach the other day that I remembered which door that old key likely opened.

After nearly a month here on the coast, we’ll soon be leaving Da Nang. It’s not often that we can say this about places we’ve visited before, but most things here in My Khe Beach have improved significantly since the fall of 2019. There are now several really good restaurants and at least a dozen well-stocked convenience stores, all with a decent range of foodstuff.

The most important change is that the neighborhood now has plenty of cafes with tasty food on their menus as well as comfortable seating and a stable internet connection. It’s in those places that we digital nomads work during our travels.

It’s going to be fun getting to know Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s largest city. As usual, it will almost certainly take one or two days before we find our way around. But Charlotte and I know already that we´ll quickly establish a reasonably structured daily routine in the nine-million-strong city of Ho Chi Minh

Speaking of Ho Chi Minh.

It seems that most Vietnamese still call the city Saigon, the name that lingers in common parlance from the time when a large part of the countries in Southeast Asia were lumped together, given the collective name “Indochina,” and ruled until 1954 with an iron fist by the French colonial power

Even though probably somewhat politically incorrect, I prefer the name Saigon. Perhaps because it reminds me of the classic film “The Quiet American” with Michael Caine and Do Thi Hai Yen that plays out in Saigon. But the name also makes me think of a very special period in my life.

During the years 1991-1995, I lived in the Medieval city of Visby on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. In the early days, I attended an art school and worked weekends tending bars and playing music at several restaurants and nightclubs in Visby.

For two years, I rented a charming little stone house (a former brewery) near Nordergravar from an old UN pilot named Lars Gibson, and his lovely wife, the artist Ann-Marie Gibson. During my years in Visby, I lived at several other addresses, mostly within the ancient wall.

I think it was the summer of 1994, the year a Swedish trio with the imaginative acronym GES had a national hit with the World Cup song “When we dig for gold in the USA”.

That summer brought a remarkable heatwave that lasted at least during a part of the soccer tournament in America.

Our sweat poured as chef Lillis and I served guests at Donners Brunn’s packed outdoor terrace with spicy, woked food and cold drinks. Together we cheered on the Swedish national team, which eventually brought well-deserved bronze medals back to Sweden.

If my memory serves me correctly, which it can very well fail to do now at the beginning of my seventh decade, it was a little later that summer that rumors circulated about a speakeasy that had opened on Strandgatan, next to the nightclub “Bur” where I sometimes stood in the DJ booth and played hits and house beats from scratched CDs until the early hours of the summer night.

When Smilla, Annika, and I were sitting on the beach the other afternoon, we talked about their trip and the fact that we would also be spending some time in Ho Chi Minh. Which was about when Annika remembered that the speakeasy on Strandgatan in Visby was actually called “Saigon.”

Stepping through the door at Saigon was like literally leaving the Middle Ages behind and being transported about 40 years back in time, right into a rowdy and smoky scene from Coppola’s epic film “Apocalypse Now.

I seem to recall an old Willys Jeep (covered in camouflage net) just inside Saigon and vinyl singles spinning from a period-appropriate playlist, including “Purple Haze,” “Fortunate Son,” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” playing deafeningly loud.

What I remember best from Saigon was how the launch was so brilliantly minimalist. Word of its existence spread quickly through the grapevine, not least because the only way to get into Saigon was if you were among the chosen few who had been provided with a door key, or if you were part of a group of guest where someone had one.

What I remember least is who gave me the key to Saigon. Regardless, I think it may still be among the pile of old keys in the aforementioned kitchen drawer.

A few weeks ago, we visited the Ho Chi Minh Museum here in Da Nang. It was in this city that the United States officially entered the Vietnam War when 3,500 Marines landed along the beach to defend an American airbase inland.

While a large part of the museum’s space illuminated the significance of Ho Chi Minh (“Uncle Ho”) and periods of his life, there was also a sizable collection of American war machines on display that had been confiscated during the conflict.

There is a similar but even larger war museum in Saigon, but I don’t know if I can be bothered to visit it. It feels like I fill my quota of war and misery these days just by opening and scrolling through online newspapers…

Photo: Matts René.

Da Nang & Riksgränsen
Here’s the view from a nearby hotel’s rooftop pool that I took a look at a few days ago. We’re still in the midst of monsoon season but we’ve just enjoyed a couple of days when it hasn’t been raining torrentially all the time.

I even got to spend a couple of hours in the waves early this afternoon. It looks like it might rain again later this afternoon.

Our friends, mother, and daughter Annika and Smilla, are visiting us in Da Nang for a couple of days after their stay in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.

I’ve known Annika since the spring of 1989 when we both worked in the bar “Grönan” at the exotic ski resort Riksgränsen in Lapland. While I only lasted about five seasons, Annika kept on working and living there for quite some time after I’d moved south.

We both love reminiscing about those younger years and like so many others who worked at Riksgränsen, that period of our lives continues to have a special place in our hearts. Chatting about those times while on a beach in Da Nang was, to say the least, contrasty.

A Post World War II Reckoning

Sunday. Evening. Da Nang. Drizzle.

On June 6, 1942, barely half a year after the Japanese Air Force left Pearl Harbor in a hellish inferno, my father was drafted into the U.S. Army with serial number 13073307 stamped on his shiny Dog Tag.

After a few months of boot camp in Baltimore, Maryland, the 21-year-old Private Ernest Raboff was shipped to Europe. For the rest of World War II, my father was a war reporter for “Stars and Stripes,” the U.S. Armed Forces’ daily newspaper.

On August 24, several weeks after D-Day, Paris was liberated from the German occupation. Among the 800,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers, not to forget the French resistance “Free French 2nd Armored Division,” was also a skinny journalist from Philadelphia, Private Ernest Raboff.

My father stayed in Europe after the end of the war, and in the spring of 1946, he sat with some friends in the bar at Café de Flore in Paris. On a barstool a little further away sat a couple of young Swedish women who had recently arrived in town.

Just like many other Swedes after the war, the girls had traveled from Sweden to Paris to be inspired by the various creative expressions of French culture. Perhaps they were also looking to meet a handsome partner in uniform.

Before the evening was over at Café de Flore, one of the girls and my father had taken a liking to each other, and eventually, they became a couple.

After some time in Paris, the newly engaged traveled to the Swedish capital and lived there for a few years. In Stockholm, my father wrote a lot of poetry, perhaps to process all that he had seen and experienced during the war. In 1950, N.O. Mauritzons published his poetry collection, “The Bridge Across Turbulent Times.”

A few days ago, I received an unusual email from an American woman. In the email, I learned that she was in the process of going through her deceased brother’s estate in the house where he had lived in New Hampshire.

Among her brother’s belongings was a collection of books from the time when their mother, Countess Nahida de Comminges (1864-1960), had lived in an apartment just a few blocks from Café de Flore in Paris.

Among all the books was the poetry collection, “The Bridge Across Turbulent Times.” The book was dedicated to the Countess and signed by my father.

The Countess’s granddaughter, the woman who contacted me the other day, and who is also named Nahida, wondered if I wanted her to send my father’s book to me.

Why am I mentioning all this?

Well, because this story nicely highlights why I am so obsessed with making books. A book is a bit like a message in a bottle. Suddenly, it appears on some unknown beach, discovered by some unknown person.

Right now, I am working on a book about what it’s like to turn 60. Yes, about everything that entails both emotionally and physically. It’s as difficult as it gets but no less exciting to sort thoughts and structure them in essay form.

Just the thought that this new book (or any of the others) will continue to live on long after my time on this planet is kinda cool.

Think about it; someone in the future might contact Elle’s children or grandchildren and wonder if they are possibly related to the author of a book they found in a creaky drawer, on a dusty bookshelf, or in a moving box that was never unpacked. That thought warms the soul.

It also makes me want to continue making more books!

Post Surf Rant

I enjoyed an excellent session in the waves yesterday afternoon. However, today, I find myself obsessively compelled to ventilate a long-smoldering frustration, ignited by the many conflicts our troubled planet faces. Not to mention the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas, which unfolded just this past weekend.

To me, it is clear to see that this is predominantly about the pursuit of financial gain, political prestige, the fear of defeat, and a readiness to sacrifice all in the name of religious victory.

But what victory can possibly come from this new chapter? Death with the elevated, albeit by most scholars considered misinterpreted, the promise of martyrdom?

In my worldview, as an atheist, I see the hallmarks of deceit and subterfuge whenever and wherever religion has entangled its tentacles.

Much like with modern wars, religion frequently assumes the appearance of a smart, logical scheme, often orchestrated by individuals with dubious motives, unbridled ambitions, and a sole objective— preserving or augmenting power and influence on their followers.

Religion stands as a finely crafted hoax, a kind of insurance for the afterlife where premiums are paid in faith, the most cryptic of currencies, in a series of installments from birth to grave.

Similarly, religion bears a striking resemblance to the military-industrial complex, another interest group that gravitates towards death and ruthlessly exploits the gullible and the vulnerable. Like religion, the military-industrial complex and its army of lobbyists, estrange non-believers, exacerbate conflicts, and allure nations into engaging in outright warfare as well as “special military operation.”

It’s nothing short of despicable.

Whenever there’s an absurd amount of armed conflicts, I find myself thinking about human evolution. Despite our sophistication, in language, education, technology and medicine and an overall refinement of our tools—once blunt, now gleaming—we appear to be caught in a quicksand of primitiveness.

In matters of basic humanitarian values, we are hostages of the past, still resembling our ancient, tribal selves. Our tendencies still lean heavily towards barbarity, anger, jealousy, envy, and a relentless preoccupation with rivalry.

Worse yet, we still seem beholden to self-aggrandizing, menacing men.

And speaking of men, why is it that famed entrepreneurs like Bezos, Musk, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and other evident megalomaniacs are hailed as geniuses of such cosmic proportions?

If indeed they were all that, I cannot help but wonder why their brilliance is channeled towards endeavors that are so ephemeral and trivial. Why do they not prioritize tackling genuine, life-threatening concerns rather than focus so incessantly on inventing solutions for problems that we don’t really have?

Imagine directing these dudes’ intellect towards the cessation of global conflicts, the quelling of the relentless tide of pollution choking our planet, or against famine and diseases.

Yet instead, we find ourselves beguiled by the tantalizing promise of voyages to distant planets and eventually the colonization of our solar system.

One can’t help but ponder why our fascination remains so unabated, despite the fact that these brilliant individuals are doing little more than dig a deeper landfill into which we’re all destined to fall

In what way, I wonder, will electric cars, faster deliveries, and shiny new smartphones address the pressing challenges that confront us?

I have an old childhood friend who hails from Los Angeles but has lived for many decades in beautiful Haifa. Her concern for her country’s future and, above all, the safety of her family are both valid and understandable.

It’s 2023 and we should long ago have transcended these recurring tragedies that create such worries and so much stress.

The media can only handle singular conflict at any given time. Presently, the age-old conflict between Israel and Palestine occupies center stage.

But by this time next week, the media will have redirected our focus elsewhere. This is the modus operandi of sensational journalism, where the sale of advertising (eyeballs) trumps everything. Meanwhile, my drink begs for a refill, and I’m still at a loss when it comes to selecting tonight’s Netflix entertainment.

The world, with its myriad of challenges, will clearly continue to spin while I deliberate.

Writing Space

I am easily distracted and this seems to be getting worse as I get older. This is not just a little ironic as I’m currently writing a book about how life changes when you’re over sixty and how easily distracted I’ve become.

When I’m sitting and writing in a busy café, like the one above where I was earlier today for several hours, there’s always a plethora of potential distractions (guests, music, food, staff). Yet oddly enough, I found that I was still actually able to focus on writing there – even for stretches that are several minutes long.

Wait, only for several minutes, you ask?

Well, yeah, as what I’m writing constantly takes me places that need to be investigated, researched and cross-referenced before being added to the book’s pages. At some point within the next two months, I’ll be able to spend most of my time editing, which I’m very much looking forward to.

Resurfaced Repriced

In an effort to make the book more affordable (and boost sales), I’ve re-priced the Re:Surfaced book. It’s still the same 200+ page collection of unique images from surfaces captured in 23 cities on 3 continents.

Order my book from Amazon’s international site here and from the Swedish Amazon store here.

Check out my other books here.

Japanese Nori Bowl

Here’s the yummylicious Sunday eveniung dinner I had at our favorite restaurant in Da Nang at the plant-based, health-focused Roots:

Japanese Nori Bowl: veggie nori roll, wakame, edamame, shiso, grated dikon, pickled ginger, turmeric tofu, mushroom, pumpkin seeds, cucumber, sesame, garlic black rice with ginger & sesame dressing.

Ho Chi Minh Museum Da Nang

I photographed this old US warplane the other day at the Ho Chi Minh Museum here in Da Nang. The museum is a tribute to the life and achievements of Ho Chi Minh, affectionately known as “Uncle Ho”. The museum serves as a window into his life, pursuits, and contributions he made to the struggle for Vietnamese independence.

Beyond its historical significance, the museum is really gorgeous and blends traditional Vietnamese architectural elements into its design and is surrounded by lush gardens that enhance the overall ambiance. Highly recommend a visit.

Back to our Roots

We’re once again finding our way into an everyday groove here in Vietnam. Just a few short steps from our hotel we found a laundry service and there’s a plethora of restaurants within a five minute walk that serve delicious and affordable meals from almost any conceivable cuisine.

If I had to bet, I’d wager that our combined expenditure for food and beverages doesn’t exceed SEK 200/USD$18 per day. And I am confident that if we only ate at local Vietnamese restaurants and didn’t splurge on fancy coffee, we’d easily get by on half that much.

Our favorite dinnertime place today, as back in 2019, is the plant-based eatery Roots. So far, we’ve not found a better alternative where the food is so consistently well-made and tasty.

Wherever we travel, I rely on Charlotte’s ability to hone in and suss out which cafés that offer a) stable and fast Internet connection, b) good food/coffee and c) reasonably comfortable seating.

Like most days back when we were here in 2019, between 6:00-7:00 am this morning, I practiced Tai-Chi and Qigong together with Garry and his regulars on the beach. Then I headed to the My An Sports Center for a 1000 meter swim.

After getting in my morning exercise, I’ll spend most of this Sunday writing and editing a chapter in my book. That is, unless we decide to go to Da Nang’s war museum which we missed last time around.

My Khe Beach

We always visit a few rooftop bars and restaurants when were in Asia. There’s just so many of them and most offer irresistible vantage points in every direction.

I took the above photograph late in the afternoon yesterday from a hotel’s rooftop bar housed in one of many spectacular skyscrapers along My Khe Beach.