Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Ten Most Underrated Countries in Western Europe

July 10, 2009
Here’s my list of the most underrated countries in Western Europe. Basically, I took away the largest, most well-known countries — England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc., and listed some of the ones that get less publicity.  Of course, no countries are “better” than any other countries – this is just a fun list, not meant to be taken too seriously.  In fact, I haven’t been to Portugal or Iceland.  I guess I just like making lists.  Also, even though I like Sweden and Scotland more than Belgium, for example, Belgium ranks higher because it’s more underrated.
  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Luxembourg
  4. Belgium
  5. Portugal
  6. Finland
  7. Holland
  8. Iceland
  9. Sweden
  10. Scotland

Dhani Tackles the Globe

April 25, 2009

“Dhani Tackles the Globe” is a TV show on the Travel Channel in which Dhani Jones, an NFL player, plays the sports of different countries to which he travels.  I really like the show because it shows an American who plays a traditionally American sport playing completely different sports, many of which neither he nor many other Americans have even heard of.  One of the great things about it is that Dhani, a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, has a respect for other cultures and the sports they play. 

Many Americans, especially members of the sports media, look down on non-American sports and ridicule them.  Not just the obscure, seemingly strange sports, but even soccer, the most popular sport in the world.  In fact, you can’t watch ESPN doing a soccer highlight without seeing the anchor making fun of the sport – it’s almost as if it’s a requirement.  They should respect the sport and the passion that millions of fans over the world have for it.  It just makes ESPN and other sports media outlets look arrogant and shortsighted. 

When the Olympics roll around, or in fact when any sport other than football, baseball, basketball, or golf is mentioned, the U.S. sports media feels obligated to either make fun of it, state how much no one cares about it, or say how much they hate it, as if they are afraid of what they are not familiar with.  This is even true for relatively mainstream sports such as soccer, tennis, hockey, boxing, bike racing, or swimming. 

Forget about getting an American sports media person to respect something more non-American such as the sports featured on the show: Muay Thai boxing (Thailand), schwingen (Switzerland), rugby (England), dragon boat racing (Singapore), hurling (Ireland), jai alai (Spain), Surf Life Saving (Australia), kickboxing (Cambodia), sailing (New Zealand), and Sambo fighting (Russia). 

But back to the show.  Jones and the show’s producers do a great job of mixing in sports, cuisine, social life, and scenery.  A couple of minor issues – Jones sometimes seems a little awkward as he forces too many jokes, and sometimes he does a little bit of friendly trash talking which doesn’t always get understood by the people in foreign countries.  I have another criticism of the show — that South America isn’t represented, and the bigger oversight is that Jones did not travel to Africa, especially since he is African-American.  But these are relatively minor complaints.  For the most part, Jones is friendly, good-humored, and most importantly, respects the sports and games they play in other countries and their cultures.  It’s good to see that from a multi-millionaire American athlete.

In Switzerland, Jones did schwingen, or Swiss folk wrestling. Something notable about Switzerland was that Dhani seemed to get a slightly cold reception by many of the people, first by the competitors and later by the crowd.  As for how he did in the sports, he sometimes looked a little lost out there, but I applaud him for taking the risk of trying something new.  He got beaten badly a few times in Swiss folk wrestling.  I missed the one on Thai boxing.  He did relatively well in rugby as you would expect, though he only got to play for a few minutes. He didn’t do very well in dragon boat racing, played passably well in hurling for a beginner, and didn’t fare much better in jai alai.

The show is a good way to get to know other countries a little bit.  It’s a different spin on the usual travel shows.  Jones also spends some time learning some of the jobs people do in other countries as well as sampling native cuisines and participating in some of the recreational activities of these countries.  He sheared sheep in Ireland, milked cows in Switzerland, and rode (and fell off a) horse in England.  You also get to see some of the scenery in places like Switzerland, which is amazing.

You have to respect Jones for what he’s doing, going outside of his specialty in a specialized world.  Most people are specialists in one or two areas, so when someone comes along who is flexible, adaptable, and versatile, people don’t know what to make of it.  They can’t imagine people doing something other than what they do all day, year after year.  

If people call themselves true sports fans, they should not mock and disrespect anything that isn’t considered a major American sport.  You may not be that interested in different sports or understand anything other than football, basketball, and baseball, but if you consider yourself a sports fan then at least respect other sports.  (This is directed at every major sportscaster or sportswriter in America).  A better attitude would also go a long way toward dispelling the notion that Americans only care about the U.S. and don’t care about or understand other cultures.  As a multi-cultural nation of immigrants, we should respect the sports and the cultures of other countries.  My favorite sports to watch are football and basketball, but I try not to make fun of other sports just because I don’t know them as well. 

Dhani has also been active in volunteering and charity work.  From the show’s website: “Dhani has received accolades for his charity work for former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Change Project and the United Nations’ World Food Program. He also represented the New York Giants at a press conference for the “Gift of New York,” a September 11 philanthropy organization designed to provide victims’ families with free access to New York’s theatrical, artistic, cultural, sports and live entertainment venues.”  

More pro athletes should take advantage of the money they have and see the world in their off seasons.


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