Finding the Extra in the Ordinary

Growing up I was always scared. Didn’t really know why. I just was. Maybe it was the white kid-black neighborhood story. Maybe it was the traumatic stories my family had shared with me growing up. Or maybe I was just a wimp. 

In a large tree on the property I grew up in, my father built a three-story tree house. Not sure whether the house helped cultivate my imagination or whether my imagination simply used it as fuel. Either way, the tree house made it easy for me to stay tucked away in our property and rarely venture out into the neighborhood. Basically, at a young age I feared traveling. 

Considering the amount of countries I’ve traveled to by my current age I find that beginning strangely… 


Now that I have returned to my old neighborhood to live and am free from the fear of traveling I have found countless wonders and beauty painted across historic East Oak Lane. From charming houses to striking back streets, there is no end to the extraordinary. 

I believe this is the case with ALL places. If we step outside our fear and really look at the world around us, wherever that may be, than we will be able to find the extra in the ordinary. 

Won’t you join me? 


The Freckled Traveler Returns… Just in Time

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.”

What if the quote ended there?

What if Rocky Balboa had walked away after stating just how difficult life can be? 

It would be soooooo depressing. 

If that was all life was than it WOULD be depressing. But that’s only half of reality. There’s another side.

In creating this world God allows it to be difficult. He allows it to be hard. A lot of the times we are the ones making it hard but it remains hard nonetheless. Life is tough. We know this. 

Moving home has been tough. Joyous but tough. Politically, socially, mentally, physically. It’s tough on all sides. We were thrust back into the complicated mix of so many issues and conflicts – familial, local, national. Living abroad allows you to insulate yourself in a way. You can pick and choose your difficulties like you would the platters at an Abu Dhabi Friday brunch.  But when you get home you find that the problems don’t avoid you. They punch you right in the face. And they do it again and again and again. Soon enough you begin to wonder the same thing that many people ask you when you moved home, “Why did you come back?!!!?”

And the next question that arises in your mind is usually, “Do I really want to deal with all of this? Shouldn’t I just go back to where it was easy?” 

But that doesn’t solve anything. 

Avoiding the issues also stops us from realizing the other half of God’s reality…

That there is hope. 

Much like Rocky’s words, life starts with truth but finishes with hope if you have enough faith and perseverance. That faith is a choice. And life is all about choices. I chose to move back to Philadelphia. Back to the USA. We moved back to be near family, yes, but that’s not all. 

We moved back because when we turn on the news or listen to the struggles our friends, family, and neighbors face, we want to fight. We want to step into the ring and go to battle. We have faith that our perseverance and our struggle is not in vain. 

Living abroad, when someone asked me where I’m from, I would proudly say Philly. The city of cheesesteaks and Rocky. A city of fighters. A city full of people who take Rocky’s words to heart. Because in the end…

“It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

London – A Marching Town

The crowd of men stormed past the bar. Was it a mob? It looked like a mob? There were police men following them. It must be a mob? 

It all happened so quickly. One minute we were eating lunch at The Sugarloaf Pub, the next we were shielding our little one as men ran frantically into and out of the establishment. What was all this chaos about? But just before I constructed a barrier of wooden tables and chairs the storm of men subsided and calm restored itself to the small English street. 

“What was all that about?!?” I asked the barman. 

“Footballers against extremism march”, he replied. 

A march?! How exciting! 

“They’re marching from London Bridge to Trafalgar Square and back again.” 

It started to click. 

I looked back into my memories of the last few chaotic moments and things started to clarify. The men were walking with excitement yes, but not of an ill sort. And the policemen were gentle escorts, walking calmly at the back of the group, ensuring safe passage. As for the men running frantically into and out of the bar? 

They were running to the bathroom. Marching gets certain things moving. 

I hadn’t seen a march in well over four years, not since I moved to the UAE. Marches were unheard of there. 

Part of it was that most people were content. They had jobs and purpose and provisions. Another part was that the leaders of the UAE made wise choices. But mostly, Abu Dhabi’s streets just weren’t that walkable. 

Yes, you could walk in Abu Dhabi, but it wasn’t easy. Large highways and eight lane city roads made biking or walking anywhere a challenge. The streets were large, not intimate, and they were also major thoroughfares. If you closed one road down you would have to go miles around to get where you needed to go. 

It’s one of those intangibles. Something that draws you into a place. A city where you can walk everywhere invites exploration. London invites an adventurers mind. They even advertise many walking tours. The Charles Dickens walking tour. Jack the Ripper walking tour. Southwark walking tour. The Michael Jackson Moon-walking tour. Ok the last one I made up. But nonetheless, London is a walkable city. 

That’s why it shouldn’t be strange to see a group of men gather together to walk from one end of London to the other in support of a cause they believe. When you care about something, you want to take to the streets, and London makes it easy to take to its streets, whatever the “why” for walking. 

Kuala Lumpur = 2 towers+2 parks+1 famous cartoonist

Looking up at the two spires towering into the sky, I was more drawn to the bridge halfway up which connected them. The building was impressive, but it wasn’t magical – as the name “patronus” towers would suggest. The real name was Petronas, as in Petronas Oil and Gas Malaysia.

What WAS magical was the park found just behind. It’s rolling hills and varied foliage led one to believe they had just stepped through the wardrobe into the jungles of Malaysia. Then the thunder rolled in and the sudden downpour drove us under a nearby pavilion where we were able to watch and smell the park come alive, while the city faded out of view.

The next day welcomed another Malaysian landscape, only this time it was through the eyes of one who lived the jungle life. We met him at the museum. It had only been open two days. We were its 25th visitor. The Cartoon and Comic Museum was tucked away in the folds of the Botanical Gardens. It felt special.

img_9346The walls of the museum were covered in work of local comics, cartoonists, and illustrators. Some drawings depicted political satire, others seemed to represent the 60s itself – feathered bangs and big collars. The cartoons that intrigued me most were also the most jubilant. Their subject was of a little naked boy playing childish games with palm fronds and wicker baskets. Even more intriguing was that the little naked boy was standing next to me.

His name was Lat, he was in his mid-fifties, and they were his cartoons. Lat is a pretty big deal in Malaysia. So much so that upon arriving home to Abu Dhabi, a friend of mine from Malaysia was in utter disbelief that I had met him. His drawings were a big deal too. They struck a chord with many of his fellow Malaysians. They had grown up in the houses depicted in his drawings. They had lived the cartoon.

With each of his storied descriptions, the pictures began to take shape in my mind. The naked baby being whipped around on a palm frond by his older brother wasnt just a comic, it was real. Lat grew up in a different Malaysia than the one we had toured the past two days. The pictures he drew weren’t of skyscrapers and mega malls but of small wooden Malay huts which were built on stilts to avoid both weather and wildlife. He wasn’t even 60 and his life had become an exhibit in a museum. It was fascinating to hear him speak of the changes.

We wandered out into the botanical gardens in awe of the beautiful story we had just heard. We marveled at this garden oasis in the midst of a booming city in a small corner of Southeast Asia. How strange it must be to grow up in a world that disappears right before your eyes. To draw your life in passing and then to watch it poster the walls of a museum, giving perspective to passing tourists. Surreal.

We walked the winding paths of the park, pondering the city, a mix of old and new, hibiscus and highrises. I for one favored the former.

As we prepared to leave the park I tilted my head and looked at the horizon everso. At the right angle the trees seemed to hide the unfinished business of man. The construction and the traffic and the bustling cars were shielded, and what your eyes were left with were two towers and creation itself.

That was Kuala Lumpur.

Dry Shoulders and Warm Hearts: Day 3 in Vietnam 

The rain fell in droves and we had not yet purchased our conical hats. The rain we expected. This was ‘Nam. I’ve seen Forest Gump. However, the fact that we had lasted 4 days without buying the prototypical hats worn by Vietnamese rice farmers?

 That was shocking. 

We had gone in search of a lunch spot, to satisfy both our hunger and our need to be out of the rain. When we saw the small house with its tiny table and chain link fence for a wall we almost walked by – thankfully, for our heads and our hearts, we didn’t. 

The “Restaurant” had two options: 

1) Chicken and Rice

2) Noodles and Pork

The venerable old woman got up from her bed inside her house, where she was watching television on a set bought in the 60’s, and greeted us warmly. Despite the lack of options it still took us a moment to decide what we would have. Should we get two chicken and one pork, or one chicken and two pork? Maybe they should have just had one item on the menu. 

When our host delivered the plates  we carved into them, marveling at the flavor and at our humble surroundings. Only in a small village like Hoi An, could you experience such contrast. We soaked it in as we sat in our small plastic red chairs. 

During our meal, the man of the house had stayed put in his chair mere feet away, carefully guarding their table of wares and… hats!!!

As the rain was still falling, we jumped at the chance to retain our dryness as well as a keepsake from such an experience. Of course, we purchased the largest hat he had. If not for the novelty than simply to keep our shoulders dry. In the end, we walked away with a dry upper torso and an extremely warm feeling, thanks in full to the unlikely restaurant and its two gracious hosts. 

A Funny Sense of Fun – The Complete Abu Dhabi Mall Experience

“Only two kinds of creatures have fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you sir are neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.”

“No. Its going to be fun.”

“… you have a funny sense of fun.”

Lawrence’s response to his friend Dryden, who opposed his upcoming voyage into the deserts of Arabia.

Lawrence of Arabia

IMG_1109It is getting to be that time of year in Abu Dhabi. The outdoor areas are ridding themselves of people as the air turns into nauseating waves of heat. Backs and arms begin to stick to anything not ice itself, while the majority of the UAE resort to a slow shuffle between air-conditioned stores, cars, houses, and malls. Malls in particular become the only source for social interaction.

So whether you live in Abu Dhabi, the surrounding area, or would simply like to peer into a different world – a ‘Mad Max’ian world where life and death directly correlate to the amount of time out-of-doors – then read on… and learn about where “creatures” go to have fun in the desert.

  1. Dalma Mall

We start our Mall tour just east of Abu Dhabi, on the road to Al Ain you’ll find Dalma Mall. Bookstore, Adventure playground for children, and two Starbucks, with a plan to build fourteen more if my sources are correct, and that’s just the first floor. There’re two more floors!

  1. Marina Mall

It has an ice-skating rink and a bulbous tower with a beautiful view of the water and a rotating restaurant. The restaurant doesn’t rotate too fast so don’t worry, unless you like to run around it in the opposite direction hoping for time to reverse. Then, you simply get asked to leave.

  1. Al Raha Mall

They just built a walkway so you can get across the highway to access it. As soon as they build a sidewalk to get to the walkway this place is going to explode with business. It also has a music shop with witty salesmen who, if asked advice about fixing a guitar, might respond with, “Get a new one.” I nearly confused it for a monastery with the wisdom spewing from its lips.

  1. Abu Dhabi Mall

Probably the most fun mall in Abu Dhabi to get lost in. You can walk into the mall via 15 different passages and never ever know where you are. Psst! There’s a secret passage through the second floor of the Co-Operative Hypermarket which takes you right through the mystical forest of pink grandma sweaters.

  1. YAS Mall

Abu Dhabi’s newest mall. This place has everything! Japanese puffy jackets. Ferrari race cars. Trees that aren’t outside. And those are just things on the wall of the Cheesecake Factory!!!! The only downer is that they don’t let you go back into the factory’s workshop to see what magic they use for their deserts. I for one equate it those Keebler elves in a tree. Delicious. The mall’s nice too. Last time I visited, there was a man playing his guitar like a drum. Maybe he too had met our wise guitar friends from Al Raha Mall.

  1. Al Wahda Mall

They just added an extension. Now my wife has even more of a reason to say she got lost in the confusion and bought six dresses and three pairs of shoes before she realized where she was.

  1. Boutik Mall

It’s name says it all. Cute and petite. It makes you want to find a manicurist and cuddle up. If you don’t mind the smell of nail polish remover, that is.

  1. Madinat Zayed

A bit on the antique side of malls but it has a gold souk. Gold souk? It’s like what the old west would’ve looked like if the Kardashians had built a time machine and brought all their celebrity friends to hang out for a few decades. Der’s gold in dem der mall!!!

  1. Nation Tower

It’s new, and while few, the stores are quite posh. Precisely why I haven’t been there. Who wants to be posh? Also, my bum knee was acting up last time I attempted going. Parkour is not for everyone.

  1. The Galleria Mall

The nicest mall I’ve never bought something in. Window browsing is a must though.

  1. Paragon Bay Mall

It’s not quite finished, but it has shwarama.

  1. Al Bateen Mall

Put four shops together and place the word mall on the marquee. Genius! They also have shwarama.

  1. Hamdan Center

The Guinness book of world records should send someone here to find the largest collection of partially broken bronze compasses. They might even throw in a “World’s Widest Selection of White Flip Flops” award to boot.

  1. Mushrif Mall

Somehow, the light you feel coming through it’s relaxed dome ceiling does not inspire your skin to peel off your body and run for shade. It is cool spot to people watch, as are all of these malls, but this in particular because it is quite squar-ish and you can see everyone, and I do mean everyone.

  1. Khaladiyah Mall

It’s long! It’s strong! …and it also has shwarama. Cheap designer clothes too. I personally bought a nice pair of skintight swim trunks for the summer season. Get your Instagram ready, fam!

  1. Deerfield’s Townsquare

I have been to Paris and I’ve been to Rome. While Deerfield’s is neither, they certainly made a nice attempt with its powerful structure and vaulted ceilings.

  1. Bawabat al Sharq

It’s located in an area called Sir Bani Yas. Anything with the prefix Sir in front of it must be worth seeing, so naturally, I haven’t been there. It’s the dang bum knee again. Parkour!!!

  1. Souk Qaryat al Beri

You can find an artisan Arabic sculpture, a hand-woven scarf from Syria, and a Cherry Jubilee Fudge Sundae from Baskin Robbins’ all within a 10-foot diameter of one another, what’s not to love.

  1. World Trade Center & Souq

By far, my favorite mall. Not because of the PF Chang’s, or the piano staircase which I most likely broke. It’s not because of the comfortably quiet theater, or the classic Arabian souq they’ve flawlessly engineered. It is not even the rooftop gardens and restaurants that remind you of an M.C. Escher painting. It is unequivocally, and unabashedly perfect. Why?

Because it has a Shake Shack. Mmmmmm. Burgers.

Although, I did see one had opened up in Dalma Mall. Tie!!!

There you have it. Abu Dhabi malls in a nutshell. Whatever your appetite, there is no getting around them. In an area of the world where temperatures can reach upwards of 50 degrees Celsius, fun at this time of year, is most definitely an indoor experience. I may not have liked malls when I moved here, and they are still not a regular hangout of mine, but they are part of the landscape in the UAE, and you grow accustomed. So much like Lawrence of Arabia, it seems that I too have developed “a funny sense of fun.”

Have you?

Have I forgotten a worthy mall candidate? Let me know. Comment below.