World Karaoke Tour

Country no. 37 on my World Karaoke Tour: slinging songs in Singapore

singapore slingThe New Year’s Eve just past was my worst NYE ever; but I had a pretty good New Year’s night on January 1.

Singapore presents a spectacular fireworks show over Marina Bay on New Year’s Eve. But due to the medical condition that I discuss here, I wasn’t up for jostling among the throngs of people that typically amass at such pyrotechnics displays, or for then facing a potentially lengthy and arduous journey back to my hotel (like the time the time on New Year’s Eve in Lisbon when I waited over three hours in the taxi queue for transportation back to my hotel after watching that city’s ring-in-the-new-year fireworks over the Tagus River). Nor did I wish to attend an expensive party from which I could view the fireworks (or which required attire that I hadn’t brought with me from New York). So I decided that I would commemorate the arrival of 2015 in Singapore with a night of karaoke! But my plans were, as they say, overtaken by events. Continue reading

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Country no. 36 on my World Karaoke Tour: one night in Bangkok

10499337_746925358710124_2554592821382471102_oFor my Thai karaoke debut in Bangkok, the obvious choice for my song selection was “One Night in Bangkok,” Murray Head’s worldwide top-five hit from the Broadway musical, Chess. Prior to my foray to Southeast Asia, I spent weeks practicing the song. There was only one problem: the karaoke bar in Bangkok turned out not to have that song available. Yes, the karaoke bar in Bangkok. As I’ll cover in future installments on my recently concluded vacation, the vast majority of karaoke establishments in East Asia offer singing opportunities solely in the form of “karaoke box,” a style that features private rooms that customers rent with their friends or family members. For an exorbitant hourly rate, the patrons in the private chamber sing to each other during their allotted time. (A number of venues in New York City also offer private rooms for karaoke.) But as you know, karaoke for me is all about the performance, and I insist on singing in public in front of an audience of strangers. Karaoke box is not for me. Luckily, the amazing front desk staff at my Bangkok hotel, the Grand Eastin, located for me a restaurant called Sabaijai Kebtawan that specializes in seafood, and — more importantly — where I was able to perform on a stage in my accustomed manner on a Sunday night. With those plans set, I had every expectation that the Land of Smiles (as Bangkok is commonly referred to) would live up to its sobriquet. But then my smile turned upside down. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 55: the house that Thomas Jefferson built

Cheers on a Sunday afternoon. Just 3 days now until I leave for Rome, the latest stop on my World Karaoke Tour! But first things first; I have this week’s featured photo to share with you.

Today’s image comes from Charlottesville, Virginia, a town about 116 miles southwest of Washington, DC. Charlottesville is best known for being the home of the University of Virginia (UVA), which was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson — the third President of the United States, and a great polymath. Also in Charlottesville, Jefferson built a remarkable house, which he called Monticello. (Technically, the Monticello name, which means “little hill” in Italian,” refers to the entire 5,000 acre plantation on which the house originally stood. Today, the property includes 2,500 or so of the original acres)

Typical of Jefferson’s genius, he was self-taught in architecture, and he modeled the design of his home after drawings by the great Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio. (In turn, Palladio had been heavily influenced by the architecture of ancient Rome, and the design of Monticello is considered a superb example of the Classical Revival style.) Monticello was completed in 1809, after 40 years of planning and construction. Here’s what the end result looks like:

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This photo was taken during my visit to Charlottesville in June 2008. As you can see, the property has been exceptionally well maintained and preserved by the private foundation that runs it. Monticello, together with the nearby UVA campus, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. By the way, you can also take a tour of the house’s interior.

Do you like visiting historic homes?

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L.A. story, part 2: cities of the dead in the City of Angels

P1040854A common pastime for tourists in Los Angeles is to drive past the homes of celebrities. One of my cherished activities during my own trips to L.A.. has involved a twist on that concept: visiting the current residences of people who are rich, famous — and dead. As you might expect given the association of the city with show business, several area cemeteries include large concentrations of former stars from the entertainment field. I’ve been to two of those cemeteries so far: Forest Lawn, which is located in the town of Glendale; and Hollywood Forever, which as its name implies is situated in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.

This post is a sequel of sorts to my article from December 2012 about offbeat attractions that I found in Los Angeles. Below, in part 2 of the series, I recount my excursions to a pair of the L.A. area’s “cemeteries to the stars.” As those visits took place in 2012 and 2013, it has obviously taken me a while to get around to writing about them. However, be warned: death waits for no man. Continue reading

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Places that captured my heart: the top 5 cities that I long to return to

8079727_mWhen I venture forth from my home base of New York City, I tend to prioritize visiting destinations that I’ve never been to before. It’s my goal to explore as many different places on the planet as I can (and, along the way, to sing karaoke wherever in the world I can find it). If I had my druthers, I would travel as often as possible to the spots that I most enjoyed in the past, while constantly adding new locales to my itinerary. Due to time constraints, however, first-time destinations tend to win out when I’m planning my next holiday. There are few overseas cities that I end up getting to more than once. But some metropolises have made such an impression on me that I’m fervently hoping to find a way to spend more time in them. This post is about the five global cities that I would most like to return to.

Note that in compiling this list, my focus was on international travel, and accordingly I only considered cities outside my native United States. I’m certainly always up for going back to American locations such as San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami Beach, and Seattle; but that’s a discussion for another day.

This post was written in response to a challenge by Arnab of the blog Travel Andy. Anyway, here are my top 5!
Continue reading

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Country no. 35 on my World Karaoke Tour: singing in the Dominican Republic’s oldest karaoke bar

dominican_flagFrom swashbuckling pirates to beaches gleaming with white sand, the Caribbean is replete with both dramatic history and natural beauty. Yet until this year, my world travels had never taken me anywhere in that 1 million square mile region. For shame! Finally, during Memorial Day weekend in 2014, I made my long-overdue first foray to a Caribbean destination: Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. And it was there that the country often abbreviated to “DR” became the most recent addition to my World Karaoke Tour.

Getting to the DR proved a more arduous journey than expected for a trip that only involved a four-hour flight. My departure out of JFK International Airport on Friday night, May 23 was delayed — first due to thunderstorms passing through the New York City area, and then due to the need to wait for the pilots of my aircraft to arrive at the airport. You see, due to the initial weather-related delay, the crew that had originally been assigned to my flight would have exceeded the FAA’s permissible limit of working hours for one day if they had gone ahead and piloted the plane. So my fellow passengers and I from JetBlue Flight 810 had to wait for a new captain and first officer to make their way to JFK. As a result, my flight, originally scheduled to depart at 9:00 pm, didn’t end up pushing back from the gate until close to midnight. We landed in Santo Domingo at about 4:00 a.m., and I finally got checked in to my hotel at about 5:30 a.m.

Of course, the important thing was that now I had arrived; and the next night I would be able to do some karaoke!

Karaoke: chanting in Kantabar

The venue for my Dominican singing debut was a tavern called Kantabar. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Steven (who owns it) and Anais (who manages it), Kantabar was the very first karaoke venue in the Dominican Republic. It’s been in operation for some 20 years now. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 49: an elegant arch on the Mississippi

Happy Sunday! Last night I applied online for a Cambodian entry visa. I’m now just three months away from visiting Angkor Wat!

Today’s featured image, which comes from St. Louis, Missouri, is of a landmark that’s much more modern than a 12th-century temple complex. St. Louis’s iconic structure is the Gateway Arch, the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Completed in 1965 and rising from the west bank of the Mississippi River, this stainless steel-clad arch was conceived by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. Although it was controversial when chosen as the winning entry in a design competition, in my opinion the shape of this monument (mathematically described as a catenary curve) has proven to be graceful and timeless. Here’s a view of the Gateway Arch, together with the downtown St. Louis skyline, as seen from across the mighty Mississippi.

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This photo was taken during my visit to St. Louis in July 2014. By the way, you can go to an observation desk at the top of the 630-foot-high arch. That’s an experience in itself, as it involves riding a special elevator system that was ingeniously engineered to ascend in a curve.

Do you like the appearance of the Gateway Arch?

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Country no. 33 on my World Karaoke Tour: sinking my teeth into India

hbomb in delhiTwo days before I flew to India, I had a wisdom tooth removed in New York City. That emergency dental procedure was obviously unanticipated during the time, months earlier, when I was making the travel arrangements for my 2 1/2 week trip to India and Sri Lanka. When I arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in the Indian capital of New Delhi, I was still suffering intermittent mouth pain (and the soreness would continue to crop up periodically for the rest of the trip). Because I was recovering from oral surgery, and because there are certain precautions that any traveller to India is advised to take, I was carrying a small pharmacy around in my daypack: painkillers; an antibiotic to protect against the risk of infection; anti-malaria pills that my travel doctor had prescribed for me; and Cipro, another antibiotic that I would take if I were to contract the intestinal ailment that’s affectionately known as “Delhi Belly.” (Spoiler alert: I did indeed succumb to Delhi Belly before the trip was over.) But the presence of an open wound in my mouth didn’t prevent me from singing karaoke at my earliest opportunity after landing in a new country! Additionally, one of my trademarks when travelling is to seek out quirky museums; and I found a suitably offbeat one in Delhi.

(A note for my fellow geography geeks: Before I knew any better, I used the terms “New Delhi” and “Delhi” interchangeably. That usage was in error. New Delhi is actually a section of the much larger megalopolis of Delhi. New Delhi’s population is a mere 300,000, give or take, while the complete expanse of Delhi (which is also known as the National Capital Territory of India) harbors nearly 18 million residents at last count. However, New Delhi alone is the capital of the nation and contains all of the governmental institutions. Both the karaoke bar and the museum that are discussed below are located in New Delhi.)

Karaoke: Bringing the sounds of Billy Joel to India

My Indian karaoke debut took place at a joint called Harry’s Karaoke Lounge Bar. Harry’s is on an upper level of a sprawling shopping mall, and while the rest of the mall was deserted on a Sunday night, Harry’s was hopping. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 48: French colonial architecture in Panama City

Hello everyone! Less than three weeks from today, I will be auditioning for the television quiz show “Jeopardy!” That audition will take place in central Pennsylvania. However, today’s featured image comes from a place that’s much more distant from my home base of New York; it takes us to Panama City, Panama.

In that capital city’s historic district known as the casco viejo (old city), you’ll find some French colonial architecture. Yes, I said French, not Spanish. 🙂 It’s a legacy of the era in the 19th century when France had undertaken to build what eventually became the Panama Canal. (The French ultimately pulled out of the project, and construction of the canal was taken over by the United States under the energetic leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt.)

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With details such as wrought-iron balconies, these buildings are more than a little reminiscent of New Orleans’s French Quarter. This photo was taken during my visit to Peru and Panama in November and December, 2013. By the way, Panama City was also the location where I had my all-time greatest karaoke experience!

Do you like European colonial architecture?

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You can go home again: Revisiting my early childhood in Cleveland

10356504_mThe distance between New York City and Cleveland, Ohio is a mere 405 miles, as the crow flies. But when I journeyed between those two cities last month, I traversed more than the space between them on the map. I also went back in time.

In July 1973, when I was three years old, my family moved from Champaign, Illinois to University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. There we remained for approximately two and one-half years. In January 1976, about two months shy of my sixth birthday, we relocated to New Jersey. I would grow up in the New Jersey town of West Orange (graduating from West Orange High School), and would attend university and law school in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC, respectively. Then I would settle in New York City, where I’ve resided ever since. For over 38 and one-half years after my family left Cleveland, I didn’t return there.

On a weekend in August 2014, I finally made it back to “the Cleve.” Before that weekend was out, not only would I have a fun time exploring the city; but I would make it to my childhood home in University Heights! Needless to say, karaoke would be involved in the festivities as well. 🙂 Continue reading

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Karaoke in Ireland: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Me with Jimmy JoyceAlthough I’ve sung karaoke in 35 countries as of this writing, there’s a handful of nations that I’ve visited without singing while inside their borders. Perhaps the most surprising place to end up on that short list is Ireland. I mean, it’s a fun country, right? Not to mention that it’s a land with a rich musical heritage. But that musical tradition doesn’t yet seem to have translated into abundance of karaoke — at least in the capital city of Dublin, which is the only Irish locale that I’ve visited to date. Although I’ve now been to Dublin on two separate occasions — most recently, at the start of 2014 — I have yet to sing into a microphone on Irish soil. Many of my posts on this blog concern the circumstances of how particular countries were added to my World Karaoke Tour; however, this article will recount how Ireland failed to become a part of the tour.

Visit no. 1: the early ’90s

Over 20 years ago, Ireland became the third foreign country in which I ever set foot (after the United Kingdom and Canada). That trip occurred between late December 1991 and January 1992, as I rang in the New Year in Dublin. Two indications of just how long ago we’re talking about: I hadn’t yet even entered law school, and Bill Clinton had yet to be become President of the United States. (My enrollment in Georgetown Law, and Clinton’s first Presidential election victory, would both occur during the ensuing twelve months.)

Back then, karaoke wasn’t really a thing yet in most parts of the world outside of East Asia. I myself had just taken up karaoke singing during the preceding year while living in New Jersey; and my aspirations to go global with my new avocation lay many years in the future. Looking back from 2014, I have no idea whether any karaoke venues even existed in Ireland in the early 1990s; but in any event, I made no attempt to search for any during my initial visit to that country. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 46: a space shuttle in Los Angeles

As I write this, I’m on a plane from Cancun to Chicago, on my way back to New York. I just spent the weekend at TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange), an amazing conference where travel bloggers connect with the travel industry and with each other. But that long weekend in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was only one of several fun journeys I’ve been on in recent months. For example, a couple of weekends earlier, I made my seventh visit to Los Angeles.

A highlight of this particular trip to Southern California was seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavour. One of three surviving space shuttles that have flown into space, it is now on display at the California Science Center:

endeavour

The other space shuttles (Discovery and Atlantis) are on display in Chantilly, Virginia and Cape Canaveral, Florida, respectively. In addition, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a prototype that did not actually slip the surly bonds of Earth’s atmosphere, can be visited in New York City. I previously checked out the Enterprise in August 2012.

Would you like to go into outer space?

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Touring the Panama Canal

This year marks the centennial of the Panama Canal. With its opening in 1914, seagoing transit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was radically transformed. Before “the trench” was dug, ships seeking to cross the Americas needed to circumnavigate South America — a time-consuming journey of 8,000 or so miles that included the rounding of that continent at the treacherous Cape Horn. The canal, however, is just 48.2 miles long and can be traversed in complete safety in 10 hours or less. It was a stupendous achievement, and in 1994 the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized it as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. (The other works named to that list include the Channel Tunnel; the CN Tower; the Empire State Building; the Golden Gate Bridge; the Itaipu Dam; and the Netherlands North Sea Protection Work.) In November 2013, I experienced this modern wonder firsthand. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, Week 41: a Mediterranean villa in Miami

Happy Friday! This week I obtained my Electronic Travel Authorization for Sri Lanka, which will officially permit me to enter that country during my planned visit to India and Sri Lanka this spring. I’m still working on obtaining my entry visa for India; the application process for that document is much more complicated.

Our featured image this week comes from a city much closer to home for me: Miami, Florida. In Miami you can find a remarkable Mediterranean Revival villa that was built in the early 20th century. It’s called Vizcaya Villa.

The villa at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

The house was built for James Deering, a wealthy industrialist. It was actually used as his winter residence; he already had homes in New York, Chicago, and Paris. Inside are numerous furnishings imported from Europe, some of which were centuries old when acquired. Today the villa is part of a complex called Vizcaya Museum & Gardens that offers public tours. In addition to the house itself, the estate includes some elaborate formal gardens that are also well worth checking out.

This photo was taken during my visit to Miami and Miami Beach last weekend.

Would you like to have a winter home like this?

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Country no. 32: a man, a plan, a karaoke bar in Panama

My singing appearance on a Friday night in Panama City was probably my most enjoyable evening in the history of my World Karaoke Tour. Yes, it may even have surpassed the amazing times I’ve had behind the microphone in such cities as Paris and Frankfurt. 🙂 Here’s how it went down:

I’d flown from New York to Peru on Copa Airlines, the flag carrier of Panama, and in fact had a layover in Panama City’s airport when I initially flew to Lima. For the return leg of my trip, I’d decided that rather than just change planes in Panama again, I would take advantage of the opportunity to spend a weekend in Panama City. Among other things, I was eager to take a boat ride on the Panama Canal, one of the engineering marvels of modern times.

Another consideration, of course, was that a multi-day stay would make make it possible for me to do some singing while on Panamanian soil. 🙂 Peru had just become the 31st country in which I’ve sung, and now it was time to increase the total to 32! I didn’t waste any time taking care of business; on my very first night in Panama, I went to a karaoke bar called The Green Room in Panama City. Continue reading

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