Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochee…

So, down in Georgia, there’s a river called the Chattahoochee. According to Alan Jackson, it gets hotter than a hoochee coochee and it’s a great place to learn to swim, love, and live.

Back in the 70’s, which is when I assume he’s talking about, that might have been true, but these days there’s so much industrial pollution and waste water run-off in the Chattahoochee that if it’s hot, it’s because it’s burning your skin. Atlanta pumps a lot of waste into the river, ruining it for all of the cities downstream.

Chattahoochee River, River Walk, Phenix City side.
Chattahoochee River, River Walk, Phenix City side.

That hasn’t stopped both Columbus (on the Georgia side of the river) and Phenix City (on the Alabama side of the river) from both trying to develop the area. One of their projects is a river walk. I remember when the Columbus government first started building the river walk back in the mid 90’s. If I remember right, I did a March of Dimes event there when I was a sophomore in high school. It was pretty nice. The view was good. Even going back there now, after having seen the skylines of so many cities in and outside the US, it’s still good, though that may be partly the nostalgia.

Blown dam on the Chattahoochee River
Blown dam on the Chattahoochee River

The other project that Columbus is working on is something to do with white water rafting. The city government has this idea in their head that if they build it, ‘they’ will come, in the hundreds of thousands, so, sure enough, several historic dams that were built to power factories that used to operate along the waterfront were blown open to create a ‘white water’ effect in the river. Personally, I think it looks more like a ‘lazy river’ ride at a theme park, way too tame for someone seeking a real white water thrill, but maybe they haven’t opened up all the dams yet.

My wife and I went down the Phenix City riverwalk with my dad and he was telling us about how the city made a big deal out of blowing the dam we happened to be looking at, at the time. It was televised and people were expecting a large explosion, but it wasn’t really anything special. I still wish I’d been there to see it, but mostly because I’d have been interested to see what was at the bottom of the river. I bet they pulled a lot of neat stuff out of there.

Covered over square tunnels visible in far walls.
Covered over square tunnels visible in far walls.

Across the river from where we were, for example, there was a wall built of large square stones that was previously submerged. In the side of that wall there were square tunnels running back into the bank. I wonder what’s in there? Was it used fro waste run-off or sewage? The way it was built, with two walls in terraced set-up, it seemed like there used to be a road down there.

Old factories and a power station (small building 1/4 from the right)
Old factories and a power station (small building 1/4 from the right)

Anyway, there’s a lot of history in that area. One of the last major wars of the Civil War was fought in Phenix City. Columbus used to produce most of the boots and swords for the Confederate Army. Columbus was also the end of the line for river cargo from the Gulf of Mexico, since it sits on the fall line. Now, those old factories are being converted into expensive lofts and the river is being turned into a commercialized tourist attraction (which will probably fail due to health concerns), but at least the river has a bit more character now. I wish I could get down in there with a metal detector…

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning / Columbus, Georgia

While my wife and I were down in Georgia, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to not show her around Fort Benning. I did my basic training there in 1998, after all, on Sand Hill at 2/54 (2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment). After spending some time driving around Sand Hill, getting lost, using my phone to consult Google Maps and then finding our way back to the highway, we got over to the National Infantry Museum. Technically, it’s not on Fort Benning; it’s just out the gate in Columbus, Georgia.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.
The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.

I wasn’t really expecting much when we drove up to the parking lot. I’d heard good things about the NIM but I remembered how decrepit the old museum building was. I’d only gone there once when it happened to be closed and spent my time outside looking at the tanks. From the moment we walked up to the building entrance, though, I could tell the planners had put quite a bit of effort into making the NIM a place worth visiting.

Statue at the front of the National Infantry Museum
Statue at the front of the National Infantry Museum

There was no fee to get in. That was a bit of a surprise. I guess I’m used to New York City, where every museum and art gallery wants to push you to the brink of poverty with their entrance prices, though those prices are usually just recommended donations, meaning you can give less and still get in. Anyway, there were donation boxes scattered around the lobby and we gave about ten bucks.

Information marker stone in front of the eight historic battle recreations.
Information marker stone in front of the eight historic battle recreations.

The most visually appealing part of the museum is the ramp that stands directly ahead of the entrance. It takes you up through recreated scenes of eight famous battles that were decisively won by the infantry, from Redoubt #10 in the American Revolution to WWs I and II and up to the recent invasion of Iraq in 2003 (of which I was a part). There’s no Natural History Museum or any serious art galleries in Columbus, but having a military history museum available must be nice, especially considering that quite a few people in the area are military or military dependents (wife/husband/kids). While we were looking at the recreations, a man was walking up the ramp with what I assume were his sons, telling them about the battles and why they were significant. The kids looked really impressed. I wonder why it is that war is always such a hook for people (especially kids) when studying history?

Behind the ramp of the eight historic battles was an area that had a lot of photos and videos about drill sergeants and infantry training on Fort Benning, called OSUT now, which stands for One Station Unit Training. Unlike other job specialties in the military, infantryman do all of their training in one spot, from beginning to end as one unit. For example, I wasn’t infantry, so while I did my basic training in an infantry training battalion on Fort Benning, I did my advanced training at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Statue of mother and child left behind by soldier at war.
Statue of mother and child left behind by soldier at war at the entrance to a small gallery about soldier’s families during deployments.

After you finish looking at the training stuff, you can go down to the lower level and look at thematic galleries that address different periods, wars, or theaters of war. Those were pretty cool. There were a lot more artifacts there than I expected, the most surprising of which to me was Hermann Goering’s Nazi baton.

Hermann Goering's Nazi Baton, crusted in diamonds.
Hermann Goering’s Nazi Baton, crusted in diamonds, presented by Adolph Hitler in February, 1938.

The baton made me think about how these days you can’t keep anything you find on the battlefield. Now they call them “war trophies” and a soldier can face legal action under the military justice system for sending that type of stuff home. I don’t know why. If you’re going to ask soldiers to do something stupid for ambiguous reasons, you ought to at least let them keep a souvenir. Not that I think wholesale looting should be allowed, either, though. I suppose the problem of where to draw the line led them to think it would be better to ban it all together.

Mock trench
Mock trench

My favorite parts of the display were the mock trench from the trench warfare in World War I and the explanations of how the 3rd Infantry Division got its motto: “Rock of the Marne”. I was in a unit attached to the 3rd ID during my first enlistment and while I was in Iraq. At Fort Stewart, Georgia, where the 3rd ID used to be based out of, we’d sing the Dog Faced Soldier song every morning before PT, and Rock of the Marne was a go-to phrase when greeting officers (ex: “Rock of the Marne, sir.”)

Captured artifacts from the Philippines Insurrection and Moro Wars in the late 19th / early 20th century.
Captured artifacts from the Philippines Insurrection and Moro Wars in the late 19th / early 20th century.

I also enjoyed seeing the stuff from the war between America and the Philippines, which mostly revolved around fighting the tribes in Mindanao who refused to be subjugated. The information placards there indicated that the US eventually won that fight, though my wife disagreed and said that’s wrong, that those people were never conquered; they resisted the Spanish, the Japanese, the US, and even the national Philippines government. I think just recently the Philippines government had to grant them limited autonomy to get them to stop blowing stuff up.

A POW - MIA memorial outside the NIM.
A POW – MIA memorial outside the NIM.

A family member told me that a person could probably look through the entire place in about 4 hours, but I have to disagree. If we stopped to read and look at each exhibit thoroughly, we could easily spend two days there and not get bored. When we went, two of the galleries, the ones for the earliest periods of US history, weren’t even open yet. That would make the trip even longer. We wished we had more time to enjoy the museum, but we’d only set aside one afternoon of our vacation for the museum. We’ll have to go back again next time.

The Great Cat Reunion and Christmas in Georgia

View from plane window.
The view from the plane window en route from New York City’s LGA to Atlanta’s Hartford Airport.

For the week of Christmas, my wife and I flew down to Georgia to visit relatives. It was the first time I’d been there in about two years. It was really nice to get out of the city, see my family and relax. Going around town, looking at the places I went to school, the places I used to hang out, and sharing those memories with my wife was a good experience for both of us. She left feeling like she knew me better and I came away from the trip feeling a bit more grounded. Going to college and taking heavy course-loads with only short breaks between (I’ve been cramming in Summer and Winter classes as well) had me feeling like I was mentally flying off the rails for a while there. I’m also not taking a class this Winter. That’s mostly because I have Grand Jury Duty but I don’t think I would have taken a course anyway. I just need time to let everything I’ve learned sink in, and time to just unwind.

Highway signs in Alabama. Some of my family lives over there too, right on the border with Georgia.
Highway signs in Alabama. Some of my family lives over there too, right on the border with Georgia.
The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.
The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.

While we were in Georgia, my wife and I visited Sand Hill on Fort Benning, where I did my basic combat training back in 1998. We also went to the National Infantry museum. I’ll be posting about those experiences over the next couple of days. I can’t believe how much Sand Hill has changed, or how nice the Infantry Museum turned out to be. I was expecting something, but not something that well put together. It’s the Army, after all!

Carting our cats over to my mom's apartment.
Carting our cats over to my mom’s apartment.

Anyway, before we left for Georgia, we had one small issue we had to take care of: the cats. Dapper and Thumper probably wouldn’t have wanted to fly with us to Georgia, even if it had been affordable, not to mention the fact that I don’t think my family would want cats running around their houses anyway. So, they had to stay at my mom’s place with their long-lost sister, Marble. They hadn’t seen each other in about six months and Thumper hasn’t gotten along with Marble since I left the Philippines with Marble instead of her back in 2010 and she had to sit there for a year waiting on me to bring her to NYC. I think she got jealous!

Marble, pissed off about unwanted house guests.
Marble, pissed off about unwanted house guests.
Dapper, taking up a position on the high ground.
Dapper, taking up a position on the high ground.
Thumper, in solitary confinement because she likes to fight.
Thumper, in solitary confinement because she likes to fight.

So, throwing them all back together for a week was probably not the best idea, but cat-sitting is so expensive these days, and I trust family more than I trust a pet-sitting service anyway. I figured they’d be ok. Everything seemed to have gone ok, anyway. Bringing them back was entertaining. We had to wrap the carrier up in blankets because it was about 24 degrees outside that night with a brisk wind. When we exited my mom’s building, one of our cats gave this horrified meow when she felt the breeze. Then she buried herself in blankets!

I hope everyone had as good a time over the holidays as we did, and that everyone’s year is off to a good start!

Two Quiet Weeks in Georgia

My blog has been pretty quiet lately, and that’s because I’ve been down in Georgia visiting family.  It’s nice and quiet there, so quiet in fact that the advertisements in the newspaper are sometimes thicker than the newspaper itself.  So… that doesn’t leave much to talk about.  The paper even covered the disappearance of a Ronald McDonald statue, though that is kinda funny.  Somewhere in Columbus, Ronald McDonald is always sitting on a couch, ready to hang out with the person that stole him from a McDonald’s bench.

That’s not to say nothing interesting happened though.  Well, interesting to me at least!

Super WalMart is huge!

We did a lot of shopping!  We did so much shopping, in fact, that I had to pack a box to mail back to NYC.  Thankfully, the shipping cost was less than the checked baggage fee on Delta and it showed up the day after I got back to NY, spending only two days in transit.

Dunkin Donuts ground coffee.

We also did a lot of grocery shopping for big family dinners.  While browsing the shelves I kept finding new stuff that I hadn’t seen before, like Dunkin Donuts having their own line of ground coffee.  I also got excited about stuff I hadn’t eaten since before I left the US, like Toaster Strudels and Fudge Shoppe cookies.

Kadie the cow in Columbus, Georgia.

I finally got a picture with Kadie the cow.  This giant cow used to sit in front of the Kinnett Dairy plant, which has since gone out of business and been replaced by a Best Buy.  The original plan was to remove the cow, but it had been there for so long that the plan caused an uproar in the town and it was allowed to remain standing.  There used to be a baby cow next to it, which is why there are those extra blocks stuck in the ground.  The baby cow was stolen, returned, and is now supposedly in storage somewhere.

Old toys from when I was a kid.

I saw this red box and the wooden toys that were inside it for the first time in years.  That red box is at least 21 years old.  I thought it had been thrown out a long time ago.  The wooden blocks have marbles inside and you have to twist and turn them to get them to come out.

This yard needed some serious work!

I did a lot of yard work.  Raking up these leaves took about 6 hours over the course of two days.  It was hard work, but in a way it was also relaxing.

A real cat named Garfield.

I met a cat named Garfield that thought the perfect place to sleep at night was right on top of my chest, and would purr until I fell asleep.

I had a good time doing a whole lot of nothing on this trip, aside from the shopping I mentioned.  It was all about hanging out with family and relaxing before coming back to NYC to get back to work.  Now that I am back in NY, I have a bunch of errands to take care of and then it’s time to start a new job.

It’s also time to start really blogging about NY!  So, look for that in upcoming posts.

Re-used Commercial Soda Bottles, Philippines Style

Re-used coke bottles in the US, Philippines style.

This is a photo I forgot to add onto the end of yesterday’s post.  I found these in The Fresh Market.  If you look at the Sprite bottles and the Coke Light bottle, you’ll notice there are white rings around them in the middle and at the bottom.  The reason they have those rings is because the bottles have been reused.

I don’t know how they do it exactly in Mexico, but bottles in the Philippines look exactly the same way if you buy them from the many ‘sari-sari’ stores, which are mini-convenience stores.  The factory ships out bottles of drinks and the shop owner either makes you stand at the store and finish it, or pours the drink into a plastic bag, sticks a straw in it, and hands it to you.  This is because the bottles have a deposit on them that they can’t get back until they ship them back to the factory when the truck next arrives.

So, the empty bottles go back to the plant, run through the machines, are refilled and sent back out.  Being run through the factory over and over is what gives them the distinctive white rings.  So, if you’re ever in a 3rd world country and you see that on the bottles, keep that in mind.  It’s not unsafe to consume, or at least I never got sick from it, but I did one time find a candy wrapper inside the bottle, luckily before I had taken a drink from it.

As for why they’re selling them here in the US at an upscale grocery chain, I have no clue.  I can only guess that it appeals to some people’s sense of living more simply, though the fact they’re getting imported bottles of cheap soda from a poor country at a high price in a high end grocery store is a bit … ridiculous.

The Fresh Market in Columbus, Georgia

After doing quite a bit of shopping in cramped, sometimes dingy Asian grocery stores, or in wet markets, it was a treat to shop in The Fresh Market.  Granted, it’s more of an upscale grocery store, but that will just help to highlight the difference between what you usually see in Singapore and the Philippines, and what’s available in the US.

Fresh Market

The first thing I saw when walking into the grocery store were these humongous apples:

Red Apples

The interior of the store is well decorated and there’s a pleasant aroma of cinnamon and other spices.

Fresh Market Interior

Fresh Market Interior

The fruits and vegetables in The Fresh Market are really awesome looking:

Bright Red Tomatoes

Notice how red the tomatoes are.  When I went to Asia I couldn’t figure out why the tomatoes there always had more of a yellowish green look to them, instead of the read I was used to.  I later found out that tomatoes in the US are artificially ripened using methane gas.  Even knowing that, there’s something comforting about seeing bright red, luscious tomatoes.  The ones in Asia always looked like they hadn’t been left on the vine long enough to finish growing.

Fresh baked pies:


They all looked delicious, and I really love pumpkin pies and pecan pies, but we picked up one that I hadn’t heard of before: praline peach pie.  It’s delicious!

The cuts of meat on display looked incredible:

Country Style Sausage

Ya, with all this good food, I’m gonna start looking like a pig if I’m not careful.

A whole wall of spices:

Mixed nuts:

The Fresh Market is clean, smells nice, everything is in order and it’s quiet inside.  Most importantly, it has plenty of space.  In Asian markets and grocery stores, as in most other areas, you’re constantly jostling around and past people to get to what you need.  Shopping there is an ordeal that has to be endured, but in grocery stores in the US there’s enough space to take your time to find what you want, to enjoy the experience, and you enjoy looking around.  Also, though this doesn’t usually apply to grocery stores, there aren’t jackasses hovering over your shoulder constantly trying to push you to buy something.  I hate that!

This level of spaciousness is something that’s more available in Georgia than New York City, because there are far more people in the city, obviously.  Even there, though, stores often have more space to accommodate people.

Visiting The Fresh Market was a fun experience.