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. 


From Zayed to Zayed: Everything Comes Full Square in the Final Days of Abu Dhabi

The darkness behind Sheikh Zayed Stadium made the lights streaming from the top of the colonnade that much more dazzling. Maybe it just felt that way because it was the final time I’d see it.

Four years ago I had looked up at those same lights in confusion as I tried to find a way into the stadium. Gaelic Football season was about to start and that night was the first practice. Lucky for me a friendly lad named Gary Tracey invited me into his car and we swung around the other side into the back gate, and into a world of football I’d never before experienced. 

I thought back to that night with fondness. How different of a man I was. I had just gotten to Abu Dhabi not a few days prior and already I was wandering around roman-esque structures in search of a game I had no reason playing. Everything was new and exciting. I was a single man with few cares and a myriad of opportunities. The adventure had just begun. 

Now, close to four years later I stand in a similar situation. In the twilight of one adventure and on the cusp of a new one. By happenstance we were placed in an apartment building for our last week in the UAE that stands not 500 meters from the stadium and fields where I spent so much time. 

What a perfect way to end our time here. Sometimes it felt like my life was a quadrangle rotating simply between the four points of home, work, church, and the football pitches. And now, with work at an end, the apartment cleaned and cleared, and the last church service attended, I stand at the final point once again. God is quite a poet. 

The UAE was unified by Sheikh Zayed. The Emiratis refer to him as Father Zayed, in honor of his unifying vision and charismatic leadership that brought together a group of Bedouin tribes in the Arabian peninsula and turned them into the United Arab Emirates. How poetic it is that this stadium, named after him, in a place called Zayed Sports City, which was the initial spark that connected me to my first group in Abu Dhabi, would also hold my final moments as well. 

That spark has led to a lightning storm of change within me and those around me. Relationships. School events. Service to my church community. Awards. Championships. Honors. Milestones. Marriages. Births. Deaths. 


All of which began in the shadow of Sheikh Zayed. 

But with all things, good and bad, they must come to an end. My time in the UAE is over. The next chapter about to begin. 

It has been a thrilling adventure. I am blessed to have lived it. I am blessed to have been a blessing to others. However, there is one final moment I long for. As my flight leaves the runway this evening and I look out over the lights of Abu Dhabi one last time, I hope to hear the small whisper in the silence of my soul…

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 

P. S. The adventure continues… in the next coming weeks stayed tuned for posts on my experiences while My family and I travel through the U.K. and Ireland. Also stayed tuned for the FreckledTraveler’s insights and adventures in the good ole USA. 

The Weirdest Meal You Never Ordered – Brunch in Abu Dhabi 

It was nice to be one of those people for a change. You know the ones. They come out around 12 pm every Friday. Standing by the street with one arm raised toward the sky. Its almost as if in triumph, like they know the victory to come. They are adorned in bright colors and decadent jewelry, to match the feast in which they are preparing.

They are, of course, the brunch goers. Or for the sake of shear mummery, the Brunchians. And this Friday, we were one of them.

With a 7-month-old infant, any excursion out into the world is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Sitting still and allowing us to eat more than 5 bites of our dinner is an accomplishment worth celebrating. This day, however… we had booked the nanny.

Brunchians unite!

Brunches in Abu Dhabi vary in duration and cuisine but they all have one thing in common. IMG_9669Food. And lots of it. Some specialize in seafood, some Mexican, some are meat lovers’ dreams and veggie lovers’ nightmares. Many offer a wide mix. And mix is what people do.

They are a lot like a buffet, except these tend to have a chef standing there for every food. Lobster tail… YOU get a chef! Sushi station… YOU get a chef! Ice cream dipped in nitrous… YOU GET A CHEF!

It’s a lot like Oprah (minus the cars).

What is fascinating is how all of those things are combined in one meal… and on one plate usually. People throw out any regard for what does or does not mix to satisfy their numerous and decadent cravings.

Jerry Seinfeld describes this eclectic buffet mentality perfectly in a recent comedy set on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

The momentary result of such decadence is a very content palate. The final result of willingly sacrificing your digestive system to such vast arrays of flavors might not be so pleasant. But in the end, sometimes you have to throw it all on the plate and simply join the Brunchians.



Light Up the Lanterns – Last Night in Vietnam in 3 Minutes (Video Tour)

Vietnam holds a special place in my heart. That is largely in part to the enchanting old world feel of a small town called Hoi An in the center of the country. That small town is made even more charming at night when they light up the many colorful lanterns that adorn the facades of the small two story river cafes and stores. What you end up with is this…

Care to read about some more of my Vietnam adventures?  Read on here.

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.

You Need to See It to Believe It: Day 5 and 6 in Vietnam


People & Places

Miscellaneous Mayhem

The Vietnamese are Trying to Steal My Child: Day 4 in Vietnam

Her seasoned hands reached for the child longingly. Her wrinkled mouth opened wide in what was meant to be a smile, demonstrating her rotten teeth. She clapped loudly for the baby’s attention, as if the loud sound would disarm the mother of her apprehensions. 

Worst case scenario was she picked up Eva and tossed her into the nearby canal. Morbid yes. But these are the thoughts of a new parent venturing through the small streets of central Vietnam with a six-month-old baby. 

Best case scenario? 

Jury’s still out on a best case. 

The story is a familiar one.  Restaurant, cafe, or random dark alley, everyone wants to steal our child. I gather it is mostly because our daughter is cute as a button and smiles at everyone with a pulse. They all have their reasons. Some have been more forthcoming in their motive. 

“She has face of foreigner.”, said one cafe owner. “She have white face.”

Thank you… I guess. 

Others say she reminds them of their children. One said that, even though moments before they had said they don’t have any children. Language barrier maybe? One grandma suggested her grandson and Eva get married. 

There has been upwards  of 40 different people whom we have met that have either held or tried to hold our child. It has pushed us, far more than the smells or spices we’ve encountered so far.  It has forced us to think deeply about our child’s needs and our own fears as parents. Traveling pushes people to grow. Traveling with a child in SE Asia should be no different. 

Who is this man?

Through it all, with any and all of these accounts, it has been a lesson in two things…

1. Community

The majority of the people we’ve met have the most genuine and heartfelt desires in wanting to hold our child. They see this precious little girl and it evokes the fondest of emotions. 

Compassion. Joy. Love. 

These are all emotions based out of their ideas of community. They have the perspective that your child is everyone’s child. That for the  benefit of the babe and the parents they each have a role in loving and caring for the whole family. 

They tell us to cover her head as we walk down the street if the sun comes out. They hold her to give mom and dad a break for a bit. Or they want to show to everyone around the beautiful joy of life so evident in a newborn baby’s eyes. They care for her as if she were theirs, because in part, she is. The second she enters their world she has become part of their community. It’s a beautiful thing. 

2. Relaxation

While we love the idea of community it is also scary. Very scary. Willingly handing your child to someone you met minutes before takes a mountain of courage. It also takes a motherly intuition that I do not possess. For this I defer to the wife in all aspects of Vietnamese community child sharing. 

In the end though, the more arms that hold our child the more relaxed we have become. Our assurance in Gods protection and the people’s overall desire to keep our child safe and cared for has grown immensely in the last week. 

My own mother speaks much of how relaxed she was with me, the ninth child, compared with the apprehensions she had with her firstborn child. Being relaxed takes time. It takes small steps of courage to find the patience and peace necessary to put the ‘joy and love of your life’ into a stranger’s arms. It also takes a strong wife who will not hesitate to say ‘No, thank you’, if she doesn’t feel comfortable with someone holding her baby – like she did with the rotten tooth woman at the beginning of this post. 

Whether it is community or comfort, traveling with our child has been immeasurably joyful. And so far, we’re pretty sure no one has tried to steal our child… yet.