Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

While in Berlin, I venture out of the city and visit another concentration camp, Sachsenhausen. This time, despite being prepared for what to expect and what to feel, the experience was still equally chilling and disturbing. The camp, which was used for mostly political prisoners, had a similar structure and daily routine to that in Dachau, but the simple idea that this concentration camp model was repeated and spread throughout Germany and Eastern Europe is powerfully frightening in itself. The systematic nature of the Nazi regime in everything they accomplished from their rise to power to their execution of their enemies makes me think of them as more robotic than human.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

As I have been visiting these many cities, my pace is usually quick and my energy high, but I find that when I stepped through the gates of these two concentration camps, my pace slowed considerably as I struggled to comprehend everything that had occurred on the ground below my feet only 70 years ago.

Hue, Vietnam

The Imperial City, Hue’s main attraction, reminded me of a beaten up Beijing Forbidden City. It’s grandeur, size and elaborate architecture were obvious despite the natural disasters and bombs that have left this great relic only a fraction what it might be. Between 1802 and 1945, the Imperial City was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Front gates of Imperial City

After a visit to the forbidden city, I walked the smaller, less touristy streets, and took a short ride on a boat down the Song Huong (Perfume River).

Perfume River

On a different note, the mix of influences from French to Chinese was clear from the variation in architecture around the city.  This photo is the view from my bedroom window.

Hue bedroom view

Tulamben and the USAT Liberty

Tulamben is a small town in Bali built around a “major” highway, and the town extends about one kilometer. The air is quiet and still and yet there is still an excitement in the town for scuba diving. People come here from all over, and especially Australia, to dive. While in Tulamben, I learned to dive with an Australian family, I had breakfast every day with a nice couple from Sweden, and I bumped into the same German group of girls a couple times on the town’s only street. Although only there for five days, maybe because of the smallness of the town and maybe because of the friendliness of the people, I truly felt at home. I met a local named Gada from a restaurant called Sandya that had free wifi, so I usually ended my days here, whether for dinner, dessert, or just a drink. I made friends with one of the dive masters, Ketut, from Tulamben Wreck Diving and we spent an afternoon together touring around the local area on his motorbike.

big fish

Side Note: Birth order in Bali determines one’s first name. Wayan is the name of the firstborn child, Made for the second, Nyomar for the third, Ketut for the fourth, and then start back at Wayan or at least a derivative of Wayan. This, predictably, can make things a bit complicated because it means that more than 1 out of 4 Balinese will be named Wayan. The first person I met at Tulamben Wreck Divers was Big Made (pronounced “Ma-day”), then there was Boss Wayan, Dive Instructor Wayan, Dive Master Made, Ubud hotel Staffer Made, Ubud Hotel Manager Wayan, and so on. Adding adjectives before and after their names becomes critical.

a-ok diving
Swimming with the fishes

Back to the town of Tulamben, it became a Scuba divers destination because of the sunken ship, the USAT Liberty. Although USAT might sound like some standardized admissions test or aptitude test, it actually stands for United States Army Transport. The ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during World War II in 1942. Later, in 1963, a volcanic eruption moved the ship off the beach and into the water where it is now a popular dive site. Although I didn’t find any treasure, diving in and around the wreckage is awe-inspiring as coral and sea life has attached itself to almost every available surface. Big fish, small fish, red fish, blue fish, and more. I’d be more specific with the fish names and less like Dr. Seuss, but I honestly don’t know which fish is which.


Before leaving his apartment in Shanghai, Kai and I made a plan to meet up at the Hangzhou train station and commit to a 24-hour adventure to Moganshan, a mountain top village that’s only a bus ride away. Before the Cultural Revolution, Moganshan was filled with foreigners, and there is still evidence through the style of the remaining houses. Many ventured out to this retreat location when Shanghai became consumed by heat and they needed an escape to a cooler, fresh-aired, natural resort. Now, although it still attracts many people during the hotter months of the year, it is only a fraction of what it used to be. But its natural beauty still remains and is recognizable as the bamboo forests from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

moganshan bamboo

Before leaving Shanghai, Kai gave me a book to read by Mark Kitto titled “China Cuckoo: How I lost a fortune and found a life in China.” This book was a first person account of what Mark went through and how he eventually ended up running a coffee shop atop Moganshan. Knowing that I would have the opportunity to both spend time at The Lodge, as he calls it, and meet both him and his wife Joanna were both contributors to my excitement level for this adventure. Continuing to read their story while sipping tea at The Lodge really made the narrative come alive, as one might imagine. But not only did the book describe how they got there, it helped paint a picture of a foreigner’s life in China, the difficulties they faced, how the Chinese government operates, and despite it all, how a foreigner might still want to make China his home. I highly recommend the read.

moganshan view

My story at Moganshan involves several great hikes and a small hole-in-the-wall guest house that Kai was able to navigate us towards using his Chinese. The guest house even came with room service, although this was probably because there was limited seating elsewhere. We had some of the host’s self-proclaimed delicious food and some Moganshan Spring Beer, with the beer’s main redeeming quality being that it was still hydrating because it was so light. We sat around our bed stand, bundled in many layers of clothes, and laughed our way through dinner.

The next day after a blue-sky morning hike through the hills of Moganshan, we ate a lunch and spent several hours resting at The Lodge. Listening to Paul Simon lightly playing throughout the bar while writing down some of my trip’s adventures so that I would be sure to remember them was a perfect ending to our stay in Moganshan.

moganshan lodge1

Fun fact: Moganshan is named after the first names of Mo Ye and her husband Gan Jiang, and the word “shan” just means mountain. There are many variations to the story of Mo and Gan, but the basics are that they were sword makers, who were commissioned by the Emperor to make the sharpest sword they could. After delivering the sword, they would be killed so that no one else could come into possession of an equally sharp weapon. Here is a photo of Kai and I in front of a statue honoring Mo and Gan.

moganshan statue

Ni Hao

Having had very limited exposure to China or Chinese culture, I regrettably admit that I only knew China through my Chinese friends and Chinese food. I was also aware that Chinese food in California is not what I might find in China. It was probably a highly Americanized version of Chinese food, which although still delicious, it lacks some authenticity.

Recently, the cliché that has come to surround China is that China is the future. Its economy, its language and its international influence continue to grow every year. When thinking of studying a new language, many people told me that I should consider Mandarin because it is the language of the future. With well over a billion residents, the Chinese have the first ingredient to propagating any language, a large Mandarin-speaking population.

China also has its long and storied past, which can start as far back as Homo erectus more than a million years ago if we choose to start there. Closer to 2100 BC is when the dynasties begin with the Xia, Shang, and Zhou. Coming from a country that has limited recorded history before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1942 and really before the Plymouth Colony started in 1620, going all the way back to 2100 BC produces such significance and grandeur that I am unaccustomed to. Through its five millennia of existence, China’s history is filled with wars, emperors, invasions, rebellions, revolutions, invention, art, natural disasters, foreign rule, and modernization.

I look forward to leaning about a small piece of that throughout my visit.