Monday, May 30, 2016

Hong Kong Airport 1515

I'm in Hong Kong, waiting for the Airport Express to take me home.

This will be my last post with Lily's phone. It worked a lot better than I thought it would. I thought I would just use the phone to call Lily every night and leave it in the hotel during the day, but I carried it around with me practically everywhere. I can see why they call it a smart phone. I can almost see why people like them so much, but I still think you should pay more attention to the world around you than to some phone in your hand.

I saw some amazing things in Israel, but the biggest surprise was that everyone else was also looking at the history. I'm sure all those people had phones, but those phones were less important than the history. Maybe that only works in Israel. It's certainly not true in Hong Kong. Go to any historic site in Hong Kong and most of the people there are staring at their phones.

The new technology can do some incredible things, but it's still just a tool. I can't think of any tool I want to stare at all day. I'll stick to my old phone.

Tel Aviv 2015

I'm at the airport. My flight leaves in 2 hours, but I got here far too early because everyone says you have to get to the airport early because the security is so strict. It's definitely different, but it didn't take any longer than any other airport.

They have layers of security here rather than just one checkpoint like most airports. A guard talked to the taxi driver before he could even drive in. Another guard looked at my passport and asked me a few questions before I could check in. The questions are simple – where are you from, where are you going, what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow – but it's how you answer that matters. These are well trained security personnel and it shows. This is not the TSA.

After a few questions, I was pointed to one of several different lines. I don't know what determines which line everyone goes in, but I was in the fast line. I don't think they want you to know. They like to mix it up around here and keep people on their toes.

Checking in was normal, except that I had a conversation with the woman who gave me my boarding pass. Usually they just stare at their computers and grunt. The biggest difference in Israel is that security personnel talk to everyone.

The fun part was the pressure chamber x-ray machine. You put your bags in and if there's anything explosive inside, the machine detonates it right then & there. No fuss, no muss. No one's bag exploded while I was there. If you don't have anything explosive, it's just like any x-ray machine.

I don't know why all airports don't do this. Well, I do. Money. Those machines can't be cheap. It's cheaper to have a bunch of high school dropouts feel you up and tell everyone to throw their drinks & shampoo away. While Israel has genuine security who talk to every single person in the airport and watch how they respond, the United States tells everyone to take off their shoes and do a bunch of things that don't make anyone safer. The American checkpoints are less secure, more obtrusive and take far longer. Everyone knows it's broken, but fixing it requires a dozen different committees to all agree, and you can't get more than two Americans to agree on anything once it becomes a political topic.

After the last checkpoint, I was in the departure area with too much time on my hands. This airport is a shopping mall, just like every other airport, but the last thing I need is a 2 gallon bottle of duty free perfume. I might get a snack before the flight, but hopefully I'll mostly sleep on the plane.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 2315

This was an unusual day. I woke up in Tel Aviv, said goodbye to that city, went to Jerusalem and now I'm saying goodbye to this city. And it all happened during Shabbat, when everything feels unusual anyway.

Shabbat is over and Jerusalem is awake again. But it's getting late, so everything's winding down. Everything will be open & alive tomorrow, but that's when I'm leaving. I don't want to leave, but I have to. I've loved every minute in this country, but I have a life at home. The people here have been welcoming & friendly, but they're not my people. My people are in China, of all places. Life follows its own path.

I'm really going to miss this city. It's been good to me and it really is a magical place. I've always heard people say great things about Jerusalem, but I just thought it was some old historic city in the desert. It's not actually in any desert and it's a million times more than some old ruin.

My flight leaves late tomorrow, so I'll have plenty of time to look around and say goodbye to this beautiful city.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 1545

I'm back in Jerusalem. I'm at the same hotel, looking at the same view out the window. I'm in a different room, but facing the same direction.

It started to rain in Jerusalem as soon as I left, but it's back to sunny & warm now. The funny part is, it looks like it might rain in Tel Aviv right now, but it was bone dry the entire time I was there. Wherever I go in this country, it's sunny & hot. It only cools off when I go somewhere else.

We're doing my very last scene today. That's the only reason I'm back in Jerusalem. That's the only reason I'm still in the country. They kept me around for one little scene with a few lines of dialogue. It should be a quick shoot and then I'm done. The rest of the cast & crew still have work to do, but this is it for me.

Tel Aviv Hotel 2315

It's amazing how much you can do in a single day when you don't have to go to work.

I spent the morning rollerblading through Yarkon Park. The dancers I met yesterday do rollerblade tours in different parts of the city on different days. Today was Yarkon Park. I'd already explored the opening and poked around a little, but my new lesbian friends took me in deeper than I ever knew I could get.

We skated the entire length of the park, mostly sticking by the river and passing playgrounds, far more trees than I expected and a restaurant or two. The park has a zoo, basketball courts, a baseball diamond, several fountains, places to rent paddle boats, an amphitheater, a large public square, places to rent bicycles, a lake next to the river and a playground with a huge wooden jungle gym. It's a much bigger park than it looks from any of the entrances.

One of the open fields was where Elton John played last night. It looked very different the next day. They are not completely finished tearing everything down, but they're getting close. Someone said that he's playing Russia tomorrow, so adding more dates here was probably never an option. This might also be the same field where Paul McCartney played when he came here.

We went into the park's tropical garden, which is like a tiny rainforest, with all kinds of birds and tropical plants that don't grow in the rest of the park. We also went into the rock garden, which is much larger. It looks like a small desert in the middle of the park. The funny part is, the rainforest and desert are next to each other. And it's all in a city park right next to the Mediterranean.

Every Friday before Shabbat, there's a huge farmer's market at the Tel Aviv Port. It's kind of like Mahane Yehuda before Shabbat, but the farmer's market is new and mostly indoors. Mahane Yehuda is the best place for spices, bread and cheese. The farmer's market had plenty of bread and cheese, but it was mostly prepared foods, like potato salad, egg salad, desserts and pasta dishes. Mahane Yehuda is for grandmothers. The farmer's market is for yuppies. They feel very different, but I liked them both. One was old Jerusalem. The other was new Tel Aviv.

From the farmer's market, I got some fresh fruit and bread and some old cheese. There was nothing fancy or five star about it. Each component was delicious on its own, but everything worked well together.

This was one of the best meals in Israel so far. When you travel, you go to a lot of restaurants. At least I do. Some restaurants are great. Some are terrible. Most are somewhere in between. You never really know what it's going to be like unless you've been there before. Sometimes a picnic with fresh local food is the best.

This is my last night in Tel Aviv, so I saw my last sunset over the Mediterranean. It looked pretty much the same as the first, but beautiful enough to watch every day. I suppose if I lived here, I'd stop watching sooner or later, but I'm only here for a few days. So a sunset over the Mediterranean is going to impress me every day. We don't get anything like it in Hong Kong.

Shabbat began at sunset, but I didn't notice. In Jerusalem, you know when it's Shabbat. The city just stops. It's a little eerie at first when you watch a city with a million people just close up shop and go home. Large public squares that usually have crowds of people hanging out are suddenly empty. In Tel Aviv, I couldn't tell the difference. A few restaurants and stores were closed, but most of the places I went were still open. There were as many people out and about on Friday night as there were on Thursday night.

Just after sunset, my new friends took me to a drum circle on the beach. I think it might be the hippiest thing I've ever experienced. There was drumming, dancing and what quickly became a large bonfire. We started with about a dozen people that eventually grew to at least 50. People just wandered in from all directions and joined us. Most of them brought their own drums, but there were plenty of loaners. There were a lot of bongos and congas, a few banadir, some claves, tabla, a cabasa or two, timbales, a couple of marching band bass drums and some snares. I was using someone's West African djembe. Those without drums danced around the fire.

Is it legal to have a drum circle on the beach? I don't see why not. Is it legal to build such a large bonfire on the beach? Maybe not. Is it legal to pass around funny smelling cigarettes? I'm guessing no. But I never saw any police on that beach. Had the police broken us up, I would have been safe. It's none of my business what kind of drugs other people take, but I keep all of it out of my body.

After the drum circle broke up on its own, some of us went to Polly, a pub on Rothschild Boulevard, not too far from Catit. This is one of those local neighborhood places where everyone knows each other. I'm not big on pubs, but I guess sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

There's another drum circle every Friday before Shabbat at a place called Drummer's Beach near the Dolphinarium. It's not connected to the drum circle I went to. Mine started at sunset and went into the night. Theirs ends at sunset, so I assume it starts sometime in the afternoon. It's supposed to be very famous, but I never heard about it until today.

Dinner was at a place called the Tasting Room, which is mostly for tasting wines from Israel and all over the world, but they also have a full kitchen. After a few sample glasses, I think I started to taste the difference between wineries. Or at least I told myself I could taste the difference. I was mostly there for the food. Since I don't know anything about wine, I assume French is the best, but the two best glasses I had were from Israel and South Africa.

They had fancy chefs who made exactly the kind of fancy antipasti you'd expect at a wine tasting room. They had a wide variety of cheese and some outstanding toasted sourdough bread with diced vegetables and a boiled egg on top. The rye bruschetta with tomatoes, olives and balsamic vinegar was my favorite.

I'm looking forward to going back to Jerusalem, but I'm going to miss Tel Aviv. They're two very different cities. I wouldn't be surprised if they were in different countries. They're like New York and Los Angeles. I've met a few people in one city who would never want to live in the other. I like them both.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Tel Aviv Hotel 0745

When I woke up yesterday, I had no idea what I was going to do that day. I'm in a new city, so I just wandered around. Sometimes you have the most amazing days when you least expect them.

I spent most of the morning and afternoon wandering south, eating snacks and looking at architecture. I explored Neve Tzedek, a traditional neighborhood with yet another performing arts center. It's pretty obvious that Tel Aviv is a city that cares about art.

I walked around the American-German Colony, which has a similar history as the German Colony in Jerusalem, but is nothing like it today. Jerusalem's German Colony is a trendy shopping neighborhood. Tel Aviv's American-German Colony is an old neighborhood with preserved houses and churches from the last two centuries. There's also another performing arts center.

Then the day really got interesting.

I met some dancers at the Suzanne Dellal Center. We talked about things to do in Tel Aviv, and it turns out they have plenty. We pretty much scheduled my entire Friday, but they also had something for Thursday night. They had an extra ticket to a concert they were going to and asked if I wanted to go along. Without knowing anything about the concert, I said yes. I'm here to explore and part of exploring means taking whatever opportunities pop up.

We went to Yarkon Park, which I only saw a tiny fraction of on one of my morning runs. At the park, in the middle of a big field, a full concert was set up. There were more people than I expected. I thought it was going to be a small show with a local band and their handful of fans or some kind of lesbian concert. Since the dancers are lesbian, I thought it might be a lesbian concert, whatever that means. It didn't take me very long to figure out that we were going to see Elton John. I didn't even know he was in the country, but judging from the reactions of the crowd, he's very popular here.

The seating was strange, but it was a great show. Since it was out in the park rather than in a stadium, seating was actually standing. There were bleachers with seats, but those were farther away from the stage and off to the sides. They were the worst seats in the house. We were standing relatively close to the stage. It's hard to say what row we were in since it was essentially a mosh pit, but there were far more people behind us than in front of us. I read that there were 40,000 people in the audience. I can believe that.

The park turned out to be a great place for a concert. Since it started just after sunset, we could all see the faint glow of dusk behind the stage. The sky was dark most of the night, but during the first song, there was a nice mix of blue and orange with a couple of tiny clouds right above the stage. It was the kind of thing you don't get in a stadium. With the palm trees around the stage and twinkling city lights in the distance, this might have been the most beautiful rock concert I've ever been to. It was a little warm outside, especially with 40,000 people huddled together, but at least it wasn't August.

I don't know what it looked like from the back, but near the front, we had a large center screen and two giant video screens on either side of the stage. The screens were probably very helpful to the people in the back. It looked like they were far away. We were close enough that I mostly just watched everyone on stage. Someone said it was his “original band”, but I don't know what that means or who was ever in any of his bands.

He did a few songs from his new album, but it was mostly the '70s, classic songs. There was a lot of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Caribou, Honky Château, Madman Across the Water. Maybe that's not so great for the hardcore fans who want to hear more Peachtree Road and Reg Strikes Back, but for people like me, it was great. I recognized most of the songs, except the new album.

After the concert, we went to Bakala, a crowded little Mediterranean restaurant on Dizengoff. This is one of those places where friends meet to hang out, but there was a wide variety of Israeli salads. Even if everything isn't the best, there are so many different options that you have to like something.

Another difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is that Tel Aviv is truly a 24 hour city. It's not just bars and seedy looking places where you really don't know what's going on inside that stay open late. There are a million places to unwind after an Elton John concert. There is almost as much to do at midnight as there is at noon. Jerusalem, on the other hand, goes to bed early.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tel Aviv 1400

I'm at the Azrieli Center, Tel Aviv's most famous shopping mall. Tel Aviv has a lot of shopping malls, so it must take some effort to be the most famous.

I don't care about shopping malls. I grew up next to several malls, including the oldest mall in the United States and the largest mall in North America. I live in Hong Kong, which is basically a giant shopping mall. The last thing I want to do when I go to some exotic land is visit its malls.

But this particular mall has an observation deck on the second tallest building in the country. From it, you can see most of Tel Aviv and far into the Mediterranean. I could even see my hotel, which made sense since I can see this building from the hotel's roof.

When I leave here, I'll probably go to the Suzanne Dellal Center and see what's going on there.

Tel Aviv Hotel 0700

Yesterday was a big food day. Since I'm not working in Tel Aviv, I'm exploring and eating more than I got to in Jerusalem.

This hotel has the best hotel breakfast I've ever had anywhere in the world. I have pretty low expectations with hotel food, but this breakfast is incredible. Everything is fresh, and they have a poached egg and tomato dish called shakshuka. It goes perfectly with the fresh rye bread. Most people aren't impressed with fresh rye bread, but I live in China. There are one or two decent bakeries not too far from my apartment, but I've never seen rye. The Chinese aren't big bread eaters.

The funny part is, there's a 24 hour breakfast restaurant around the corner. I thought I would go there when I first saw it, but now that I've had the hotel breakfast, I can't imagine going anywhere else. I usually eat away from the hotel. The best cities have food all over the place, and there's more than enough food around here, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to stick with this hotel breakfast every day.

I went to the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv's answer to Mahane Yehuda. But it's more touristy. Mahane Yehuda was built for locals. I doubt there were many locals at the Carmel Market today. There was a lot of food, though. Everyone says there's a better market for spices, another market for cheese and several bakeries for bread. That's another reason Mahane Yehuda is better. It's the best place for spices, bread and cheese. Carmel is big and crowded, but it doesn't seem to be the best place for anything.

Back in Jaffa, I went to Abouelafia & Sons, considered the best bakery in the country. They are to bread what Matt's Bar is to burgers or Berthillon to ice cream. When I first went there, I had no idea how famous it is. The rugelach is pretty good and the sambousek is excellent. I'll probably go back every day. There are several bakeries closer to the hotel, but the sambousek alone is worth going the extra mile.

Dinner was at Catit, a celebrity chef restaurant near the Great Synagogue. Everyone in the place knew who the chef was – except me. I don't even remember his name. He got a standing ovation when he came out of the kitchen. I was surprised that a celebrity chef actually worked in his own restaurant.

I don't usually like pretentious restaurants, but this place was delicious. Do you need to serve mushrooms and parsnips inside of an egg shell on a plate five times larger than the food? Probably not. But it did taste good.

In between all the eating, I saw the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, a very modern and clean complex of buildings. The buildings are works of art on their own, but inside was some Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Gustav Klimt, Marc Chagall, Camille Pissarro, Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Ernst and a bunch of names I didn't recognize.

I got back to the hotel later than usual because I saw an amazing performance of Verdi's Macbeth by the Israeli Opera at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, which is right next to the Museum of Art. Vittorio Vitelli and Ira Bertman starred as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, with Gocha Datusani as Banco, Gaston Rivero as Macduff, Eitan Drori as Malcolm, conducted by Emmanuel Joel-Hornak. It made for a late night, but it was beautiful. I've only been here two days and I can already tell that the people of Tel Aviv appreciate and support the arts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tel Aviv Hotel 2230

I'm in Tel Aviv at a hotel not on but very close to the beach. The hotel is smaller than the one in Jerusalem, but more homey. They're both boutique hotels, but the Jerusalem hotel is large enough to be a business hotel. The Tel Aviv hotel is the definition of boutique. I don't know how much time I'm going to spend looking out the window, but my room has an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea.

I spent the day exploring Tel Aviv, mostly on a hotel bicycle. Jerusalem has hills all over the place, and no matter where you go, you're always going uphill. Tel Aviv is flatter than I was in jr high.

This hotel has all kinds of free extras for the guests. In addition to the bicycles, they have free drinks every evening, free snacks all day, free beach bags full of all kinds of things you might need on the beach, free wi-fi and free computers. You can't keep the computers or bicycles, but I think letting guests borrow a laptop is a great idea. I'm typing this on their computer right now. Lily's phone has been convenient, but I can type a lot faster on a real keyboard. It's nice to have a full size screen.

From what little I've seen, Tel Aviv is a great bicycle town. There's a promenade that stretches almost the entire length of all the beaches from the river to Jaffa. There's Jaffa, which is the oldest and most biblical part of the city. There's a huge park right around the corner from my hotel. And there are bicycles lanes all over the place. I've seen a few bicycle rental stations.

It seems strange to say, but this city reminds me of San Francisco, only with far fewer hills. It's a big city with all kinds of museums and performing arts, and it's a small laid back beach town at the same time. It's very liberal in a lot of ways. There are rainbow flags all over the place and it's supposed to be home to the largest gay pride parade in the Middle East. I don't know how impressive that is since most places in the Middle East openly kill you if you're openly gay. No one is afraid to be themselves here. On the Promenade, I saw two guys in hot pants and tank tops holding hands on the same street as a Muslim couple in their traditional robes and head scarves and a few Orthodox Jews in their black suits and felt hats. No one attacked anyone. They all seemed to accept the fact that the others exist and they went on with their lives. It's as if people who aren't exactly the same can live side by side in the same place. Crazy.

Tel Aviv is obviously a green city. Not only with the bicycles, but they have enormous recycle bins every few blocks. These are not simply trash cans painted a different color. They're large dumpsters exclusively for bottles and cans. It's hard enough to find a regular trash can in China, so this is impressive to me. According to what I just looked up on this computer, Israel recycles 59% of its plastic bottles. That doesn't sound high enough to me, but the United States is only at 30%.

There are solar panels everywhere. That makes perfect sense since this is a beach town on the Mediterranean, but there is ample sunlight all over this region that most people aren't using. Get high enough and you can see solar panels on every single roof here, along with a lot of rooftop vegetable gardens. It's actually illegal to not use solar powered water heaters.

I've also read that Tel Aviv has the most vegan restaurants in the world per capita. I don't know if that's true. I'd assume it's Portland or Los Angeles, but looking around, these are some healthy people. It's probably somewhere in India.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dead Sea Hotel 0915

I still have a few days before I have to be back in Jerusalem. Obviously I won't be staying at the Dead Sea all week. That would be very expensive. This is a resort hotel with spas, multiple swimming pools and all kinds of outdoor resort activities. In Jerusalem, it was a boutique hotel that probably isn't too expensive. No swimming pool, unfortunately, but a nice hotel.

So I'm going to Tel Aviv. I'd love to stay in Jerusalem for an extra week, but the opportunity to go to Tel Aviv is right in front of me, so I'm taking it. I'll have to go back to Jerusalem, but the two cities are pretty close to each other. There are buses that go back & forth all day.

The weather is supposed to be the same there as it is here. That's easy enough to believe since it's been sunny & hot every minute I've been in the country. But as soon as I left Jerusalem, it started to rain. It never looked like it was even close to raining while I was there, and it will be back to sunny & hot before I return.

I'm not checking out of the Dead Sea hotel until the absolute last minute. I'm looking forward to Tel Aviv, but I want to soak in as much of the lake as I can. I don't really know what Tel Aviv even looks like, but I know the Dead Sea is too beautiful to leave.

Dead Sea Hotel 2115

I'm at a beautiful hotel on the beautiful Dead Sea. It doesn't have the most inviting name, but it's a huge blue lake in the middle of all those desert colors, with a few date palms here & there. I saw a few sights on the way and floated in the lake a couple of times, and I'm pretty sure I'll go back in the water from time to time.

You don't swim in the Dead Sea. You can try, but it's not going to happen. You float in the Dead Sea, like it or not. You can't sink even if you want to. It would take a very strong swimmer to force yourself underwater. Everything about it is different. With all the salt & minerals, the water doesn't really feel like water. At least not the kind of clean lake water I'm used to.

One of the benefits of being so low below sea level is that it's hard to get sunburned. That's great news for people like me. I can float all day in the Dead Sea and the minerals will actually help my skin. If I swam all day in Lake Superior, I'd come our redder than the salmon.

The biggest and most important detour on the way to the Dead Sea is Masada, Herod's hilltop city where 960 Israeli civilians held off 15,000 Roman soldiers almost 2,000 years ago. The Romans eventually took the city, but they never captured any Israelis. Masada is almost like the Alamo, but with spectacular views of the Dead Sea. Kind of like this:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 2345

I'm pretty much done shooting my part. I have one more quick scene, but it's nothing. If I get fired right now, it won't make any difference. Nothing would have to be reshot.

I'm going to the Dead Sea tomorrow. I didn't know if I'd have enough time before I came here, but the second I learned that I'd have a few days off, I knew where I wanted to go. I've always loved lakes and this one is unique.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Set 1015

This is my last real day on this movie. I'm doing a small scene later on, but my character doesn't even need to be in it. They could have saved a lot of money by simply cutting me out of the scene and telling me to go home tomorrow. But I'm not going to tell them that. There's no way they don't already know.

Today is one of those days on set where the actors wait around a lot. Each setup takes time. The director & DP talk about the shot, which they've undoubtedly already talked about before showing up today. The DP tells the gaffer and grips where to put everything. It looks like these people know what they're doing, but this part always takes a while.

When all the equipment is where it's supposed to be, the boom operator and sound mixer check their earphones. The director tells the actors what to do and finally, after waiting anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, the camera rolls for a few minutes. Then we either do it again, most likely, or take another break and start all over with the next shot.

In the theater, you work out all the technical details in rehearsal. Come showtime, you just get out there and go. It's a much faster pace with more action, which is a little ironic since most movies are edited to seem faster. To me, it's easier to play the character all at once. It's like telling a story from beginning to middle to end. When shooting a movie, you tell the story completely out of sequence. Your character can go to school today, die tomorrow, get married the next day and be born the day after that. It's up to the editor to put all the pieces in place. In a movie, you start and stop so often, it's easy to forget where your character is at any given point in time.

That's why some actors stay in character throughout the shoot, but I'd feel crazy doing that. Being in character on stage makes sense. I can't see myself walking into a produce store and saying, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears of corn.”

Jerusalem Hotel 2230

I went to Palestine today. No one really knows where Palestine is or where the borders are, but I was definitely in it. Almost everyone agrees that Jericho is in Palestine.

Between Jerusalem and Jericho, you pretty much have to stop at a few interesting spots. There's the nature reserve at Wadi Qelt and the historical St George's Monastery, which are probably in Israel. There's the Mount of Temptation, which may or may not be in Palestine. There's Qasr al Yahoud, which is probably in Palestine but the main river site is operated by Israel.

Getting into Palestine required crossing the infamous Israeli checkpoints. That was nothing like what I expected. On the news, a checkpoint is the worst form of human torture known to man. What I experienced was like crossing the border from the United States into Mexico. Maybe it's because I'm white and have an American passport. I'm sure that doesn't hurt. Maybe some people are just looking for trouble to further their agenda. Maybe it's not as black & white as Americans think.

My guide was Muslim Arab. He did a great job and I wouldn't trade him for anyone, but your guide pretty much has to be Arab. It's illegal for Jews to enter Jericho. Christians are allowed in because they make up 99% of the tourists.

St George's Monastery is a 1,500 year old Christian church built into the side of a cliff. It's supposed to be home to Elijah's cave, but a lot of people disagree with that. The Mount of Temptation is also built into a cliff, supposedly around the cave where Jesus was tempted. Today they're both working Greek Orthodox churches that are open to the public. Whether the caves are authentic or not, the skill required to build large churches into the sides of cliffs so long ago is pretty impressive.

Qasr al Yahoud is the point at the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. It's a big Christian pilgrimage site, and even though it's in Palestine, Israel controls the area. According to my Arab guide, Jordan asked Israel to control that side of the river. The last thing they want is a bunch of Palestinians crossing their border. If you've been there, you know how easy it would be to cross that point in the river. It's more like a calm stream. The way it is now, everyone at the river is a foreigner with either a visa for Israel or a visa for Jordan.

I asked a few pilgrims if they thought it should be controlled by Israel or Palestine. Most were either glad that it was Israel or didn't care either way. One guy told me none of us would be allowed in if it was Palestine. I don't know about that since I was easily allowed into Jericho and kept my head, but Israeli sites do seem more welcoming to a wider variety of people. If you're a Christian, this is an important place to go. But if it were under Palestine control, Christians would still be allowed in. Moral principles don't pay the bills. Jews aren't big Jesus fans, so I don't think keeping them out would make a difference to sales.

Getting into Jericho required passing through another checkpoint. There were plenty of people in front of us, but it moved quickly. Maybe it's all a matter of perspective. I'm used to how slowly lines move in China, so anytime I can creep forward, I see progress.

After the Israeli checkpoint, we had to pass a Palestinian checkpoint. I wasn't expecting that. You hear about Israeli checkpoints all the time and how they violate human rights. You never hear about Palestinian checkpoints. It was just as violating as the Israeli checkpoint, which was not at all, but less newsworthy for some reason. Airport security is more intrusive.

Jericho and Jerusalem are less than 20 miles apart, but they could be in different worlds. Both are very old cities, but Jericho shows it age. Jerusalem is modern and ancient at the same time. Jericho looks old and run down with graffiti on the walls and trash in the streets.

The streets of Jerusalem have Jews, Muslims, Christians, Baha'i and miscellaneous all going somewhere. It's kind of like New York in that everyone is always on the go. It's not what you'd call laid back, but it's a rainbow city with every race on the planet.

Jericho is 99% Muslim, 1% Christian and entirely Arab. No one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. I saw a lot of men standing around and smoking in the middle of the afternoon. I also saw far fewer women and children.

Economic differences aside, the people in Jericho were just as friendly as the people in Jerusalem. Everyone was happy to see me – or at least my tourist money. That might sound cynical, but the difference between someone genuinely smiling and smiling for money is pretty obvious.

More than a few people wanted to practice their English with me. Anyone who lives in China gets used to that. But in China, a lot of teenage girls and young women approach me. In Jericho, it was only older men. Most of the girls were hidden away somewhere and the younger men only looked at me the way a dog looks at bacon.

It was a good trip, but I don't know if I ever need to go back to Jericho.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 0630

I'm going to Jericho today, deep into Palestine, occupied territory, stolen land or whatever you want to call it. Jerusalem is mostly closed for Shabbat, at least until the sun goes down. Jericho should be free from Jewish laws.

Tomorrow is my last full day of filming and then I'm leaving Jerusalem. I'm coming back to do a short scene later, but I have a lot of days off, so I decided to explore more of the country. If I were smart, I would stay in Jerusalem the whole time, but I'm never going to learn everything about this place in such a short amount of time anyway. A few days somewhere else won't teach me much either, but I don't know when I'll ever come back, so maybe I should see more than just one city. No matter what, there's a big lake near here that I've always wanted to jump into.

Jerusalem Hotel 2230

Today was another long, eventful day. The dance scene went well. The director was happy with my performance. The acting looked good because I was with a great actress. Playing off better performers always improves your game.

The dancing looked good because I exceeded the director's expectations. I didn't do anything any trained dancer couldn't do with a little practice, but since he's not a dancer, he was impressed.

Despite spending the morning dancing in front of a movie camera, dinner was the most unusual part of the day for me. I had Shabbat dinner with a Muslim family. It wasn't technically Shabbat since they don't do Shabbat, but it was essentially the same thing. It was Friday dinner, which is more important to them than it sounds.

We all went to the family mosque, which was very educational. For me, at least. The service was unlike anything I've ever seen. A synagogue or Christian church service is pretty much the same. They read from different books, but half of the Christian book comes from the Jewish book. People sit in pews and listen to the preacher.

The mosque was unlike either. Everyone stood and sat on the floor and several different people spoke. Their book, of course, is very different. At the synagogue, I sat with everyone as if I was one of them. I was invited to participate, but not expected to do or understand anything since it was all in Hebrew. At the mosque, I had to stand in the back. I could watch, but I had to stay out of the way. Everyone knew I was not one of them.

The synagogue service was happy. There were bursts of laughter here and there, and everyone seemed to have a good time. The mosque service felt angry to me. I couldn't understand a word since everything was in Arabic, but my impression was that the speakers were yelling at the congregation. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Hebrew sounds happy to my ears and Arabic sounds angry. I don't know. German always sounds angry to me while Italian sounds pretty, no matter what they're actually saying.

No one anywhere in that mosque did anything to make me feel unwelcome. It might have all been psychological conditioning from only hearing negative stories on the news. But I only hear negative stories about Israel, and so far, this has been an amazingly positive trip.

After the mosque, it was dinner time. This was similar to Shabbat dinner and completely different at the same time. Both houses smelled like herbs and spices as soon as you walked in the door. Both had tables full of exceptionally fresh vegetables prepared a million different ways. Both had hummus, made from completely different recipes, each of which was infinitely better than what I make at home. If there's one thing Israelis can agree on, whether they're Jewish, Muslim, Christian, liberal, conservative, light brown or dark brown, it's that their hummus is better than mine.

Friday, May 20, 2016

On Set 0630

We're shooting my big dance scene today. This is the most important scene for my character and the most important scene for me since I was only hired because I'm a dancer.

It's not a big scene overall. It's important for my character, but means nothing to almost everyone else. It will probably be on screen no more than 5 minutes. But it's mine.

I'm a little nervous, but it shouldn't be too hard to film. We've rehearsed everything and every shot has been blocked and choreographed. From a dancing point of view, it should be easy.

Jerusalem Hotel 2230

Today has been a roller coaster. In the morning, I went to Mahane Yehuda, the best spice market in the world. After that, I went to Yad Vashem, the saddest museum in the world. Then I went to the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, maybe not the most colorful place in the world, but beautiful nonetheless.

The flowers from all over the world were nice, but all of the workshops and activities were a pleasant surprise. This is a great place for children – if you're a child, go there right now. Tell your parents I said it's ok – But I stuck to the adult activities.

There was a tiny Montmartre train that gives a tour of the gardens. That was fun, but a little unnecessary.

There was a musical tour that combined music and plants from different continents and ended in a percussion workshop, which was really unusual. Especially at a botanical garden.

There was a medicinal plant tour where everyone made sachets of different herb blends to take home. That was educational and probably better for people who have ailments for the herbs to heal.

There was a tour of crops from the Bible. The best part about that was baking our own bread in traditional ovens. They gave us some hummus to go with the bread, so that was nice. I only wish they had a class for making hummus. What I make at home is nothing like what I've been eating here. If I take anything away from this trip, it has to be a good hummus recipe.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Jerusalem 1545

I'm at Yad Vashem, the largest Holocaust memorial in the world and probably the most depressing place I've ever been.

It's important to remember what happened, maybe now more than ever, and Yad Vashem does a great job of remembering the victims as well as gentiles who risked their lives to help others, often complete strangers. But everywhere you look around the complex, you're confronted with murder, atrocity and man's inhumanity to man. The message is positive. Despite the genocide, people survived and life continued. But the Holocaust Museum is difficult to walk through and the Children's Memorial is just heartbreaking.

I can almost understand racism, as an abstract psychological theory. People in different cultures do act and look different. I grew up in Minnesota, so to me, people in California and New York are weird. Then I moved to China. California is weird, but China is like a completely different world.

If you're the kind of person who has a problem with others doing things differently, it might be easier for you to hate them. I spend some time online. Probably too much. I see a lot of people who are outraged when someone does something differently. Add different skin colors and religions and the internet would be a war zone if it wasn't online. And when your politicians tell you to hate the people who are different, that makes it easier, I suppose. That almost legitimizes your blind hatred.

But there has to be something seriously wrong with you if you want to murder people for being different. That's just insane. And killing children – tiny, innocent people who don't even know why you hate them. That's just evil.

There's a picture in the Holocaust Museum of some Nazi asshole about to shoot a mother holding her baby. He's smiling. He's going to kill this woman who's not a soldier and her baby, who's definitely not a soldier. And he's having the time of his life. And why is he killing them? Because their religion is slightly different from his.

Nazis were not monsters. They were far scarier. They were humans who voluntarily abandoned their own humanity just because their political leaders told them to. Yad Vashem does a great job in pointing out that this was not an anomaly of mythical figures rising up and killing people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nazi leaders were opportunists who took advantage of terrible economic conditions and a disaffected public. This was not an isolated incident. This was something that can easily happen again and again.

The entrance to the Children's Memorial is a like cave. It gets darker the deeper you go inside. Once you're in, it only gets a lot worse.

Jerusalem 1100

I have the day off today, so I've been wandering around, exploring the city. I went to Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem's most important spice market. It might be the best market I've ever seen. The spices alone are amazing. And the bread and the cheese. They also have a lot of flowers, but there's not much I can do with them. Bags of spices will survive the trip home.

You could easily spend all day here, tasting little sample bites from pretty much every shop. It also smells incredible. I'll definitely be going to this market again. If I lived in Jerusalem, I'd want to be as close to this market as I could get.

Jerusalem Hotel 2230

Today was the busiest day on set there ever will be. We filmed a large sequence with the entire cast and, as far as I could tell, the entire crew. We closed down the entire top floor of a hotel. It was easily the most expensive day of production. It was nothing by Hollywood $100 million blockbuster standards, but for a tiny little movie in a tiny little country, this was a pretty big day.

From an acting point of view, I had it easy. Other characters are always the stars. My character was mostly in the background. I was an extra with a few lines of dialogue. And I loved watching every minute of it. I got to watch everyone perform without worrying about my character.

Most days on set are a lot of sitting around and waiting. Today, we had a tight schedule, so everyone moved at full speed. There were fewer breaks since the director had everyone divided into teams. While some of the crew was setting up the next shot over there, the rest of the crew was shooting over here. Instead of waiting around for the next shot, the actors had to rush from one set to the next. It was almost like working on stage. I loved it. Some of the movie actors weren't as happy. They're used to a slower pace.

My big scene of the day was complaining how stuffy & traditional people are in Jerusalem. My character, an American, wants to party and have a good time, but can't find any action. It's kind of funny that I'm playing a loud American who just wants to get laid.

The great thing is that there's no sex scene anywhere in this movie. When I read the script, I was amazed that there was nothing about anybody taking off any clothes. There are several actresses from whom the studio would require at least partial nudity if this were an American production. If this were HBO, everyone would get naked. But this is a small independent movie very far from Hollywood. They care more about the story than using naked women to sell tickets.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 2045

I saw pretty much most of the Old City today. It really helps to go with someone who knows their way around.

We went to the Western Wall, where my guide explained what everyone was doing. I already knew the praying part, but the history is far longer and more complicated than I realized.

We walked the Via Dolorosa and he showed me around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a lot bigger and more intricate than what I saw the first time. It's a maze within the maze.

My guide explained the Stone of Anointing, Catholicon and Aedicule, and took me up the narrow steps to Calvary and down to the chapels, including Mary Magdalene, St Helena and the Armenian chapel.

The line to get into the Aedicule was pretty short, so we went inside. If you're raised a Christian, that's something you really have to do, no matter how you feel about it all today. Even if you're not a Christian, it's the tomb of Jesus Christ, arguably the most influential figure in the history of the world. There's no real reason not to go in and take a peek.

The best part about exploring the Old City with a local was going to the Temple Mount. Getting in is more complicated than going to the other big holy sites. Every religion controls their own sites here and the Muslims are far more strict. We just walked right up to Christian and Jewish sites, no questions asked. The Temple Mount requires a security check and is only open at certain times.

It was worth it. You can't go inside any of the buildings if you're not Muslim, but you can walk around and get the closest possible view of the Dome of the Rock. It's an amazing looking building up close. The attention to detail with all of the hand painted tiles is incredible. The history isn't as long as the Western Wall, but it's definitely complicated.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 0600

I'm going to take a tour of the Old City today. I've already been there, but I'm sure I didn't see most of it. It's a great place to wander around and get lost, but you can see a lot more with someone who knows what they're doing. It's a large maze. If you want to check out every corner, you have to know how to get there.

Monday, May 16, 2016

On Set 1800

I went to a very nice Georgian restaurant for lunch. It's called Racha and it's just across Jaffa Street from my hotel, near Zion Square. I was a little concerned about where to find food before I came here, but now I see it everywhere. Jerusalem is a big city full of people who love to eat.

I had some badrijani, pkhali, lobiani and all kinds of condiments I've never heard of before. I don't know anything about Georgian restaurants, but this one was pretty good. There was a lot of dill, mint, marjoram and thyme in everything, and that's fine with me.

Right now I'm at a house where we're filming an interior scene. It's a very different atmosphere from the park scenes. Everyone is more relaxed and we all seem to be moving at a slower pace. I don't know who owns the house, but I get the impression that we could stay here all night if we wanted to. The park was a public place that was very much open when we were there. I don't think we have the budget to close down a park. I don't even know if we were authorized to be there.

On Set 1200

We're still on location, still shooting. It's only been 6 hours, so I can't complain yet. All the waiting around makes it seem longer. I don't really know what the crew does with all their wires and big boxes, but it looks like exterior shots are more work than interior.

We're at a park that's right next to another park. They're close to each other, but look very different. One park has a lot of walking paths surrounded by trees. Our park has a rolling water fountain and is across the street from the Old City. You can't see the Old City from the first park because of the trees, but you can definitely see it from this park. There's a giant wall right here. It's hard to miss.

It looks like they're setting up for some kind of show outside the wall. I bet it's not going to be Roger Waters.

On Set 0930

We're still on location. We just did a couple of quick scenes. One was establishing shots of everyone walking around the area and the other was dialogue between a few characters. I had a few lines, but no big Shakespearean soliloquy.

The walking shots were a lot more complicated than I expected. You'd think the actors just walk wherever they're supposed to go and the camera follows them. You'd be wrong. A simple shot of people walking from here to there requires detailed choreography between the crew, actors and director. That takes blocking, rehearsing and a few takes in our case. Just to walk from here to there.

The dialogue scene was easier technically, but there was more human error. I made my share of mistakes, but I wasn't the only one, thankfully. It's not too late to replace me, so I might want to do a better job.

On Set 0530

I've spent years railing against people living life with their faces in their phones instead of experiencing the world around them. Right now, I'm sitting with my face in a phone.

In my defense, I'm sitting in a makeup chair in a small trailer with nothing to look at except my reflection in the mirror. I suppose staring at the phone is better than staring at myself.

We're shooting outdoors today, so hair and makeup have to be adjusted for exterior scenes. I never knew it made any difference. Apparently, since they use different lights outdoors, we also need different makeup. I just woke up and I've already learned something new today.

Jerusalem Hotel 2330

Some of the cast & crew went out to dinner and they invited me, which is pretty cool when you consider I'm little more than a glorified extra. Inviting weary travelers to dinner seems to be a real thing here.

We went to Zabotinski, a Spanish restaurant a few blocks from my hotel. I could walk to it in 5 minutes and I never even knew that street existed. I'm starting to realize how little I know the neighborhood, let alone the rest of the city.

The food was good, but this was the kind of place that thrives on its ambience. It was alive, and I think people go there more to feel good than to eat. And to drink.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Set 1600

We're on another break. We take a lot of breaks. Not because of any union rules. I have no idea what the rules are around here. We take breaks while the crew sets up the next shot. We're only shooting two scenes, but it's scheduled to take all day. Some of that time is actual filming. Most is moving around equipment for the next shot and dealing with technical issues. Some of it is makeup and wardrobe.

Right now, I'm about 40 years old. Or at least my character is. I've got a few wrinkles glued to my face and I'm wearing a slightly graying wig. Everyone else is older, too. There are prosthetic bald heads and gray wigs all over the place. Some of us are aging better than others.

This scene takes place 20 years after the scene we shot this morning. They're at opposite ends of the movie, but we're shooting them on the same day because they're in the same location and they're supposed to look similar. That makes it more interesting, from my point of view. I get to watch the actors change how they approach their characters in a day. To the audience, there will be a whole movie between the scenes. For us, it's all together.

On Set 1030

I'm sitting in a house somewhere in Jerusalem. We're using a real house instead of a sound stage because that's how we roll around here. I think it's mostly cheaper to use real locations.

We're doing a scene where everybody's talking about this & that. It's kind of tedious, really. We get a shot of people talking and then take a break while the crew sets up the next shot. Then we get another shot of people talking before taking another break while the crew moves everything around for the next shot.

This is a tiny independent movie, but a single scene can still take all day to shoot. If this were a big comic book blockbuster, one scene could take several days.

There's not a lot to do in between shots. I could study my lines, but I have almost none in this scene. I wanted to call Lily, but she's at work. I have her phone in my hand, so now I'm typing this.

I don't have much to do in this scene, so I'm mostly just watching everyone else's performance. It's interesting how some actors turn on & off for the camera while others stay in character all day. This is very different from the theater. The crew works hard while the actors sit around and then the crew sits around while the actors work.

And now I have to go. Some women have to play with my hair.

Jerusalem Hotel 2230

I had my first real rehearsal today. It was mostly blocking a scene that takes place in a dance studio, but I also had to do some dancing.

It's a short and easy dance scene, but they still have to choreograph everything with the camera and lights. Blocking the scene took several hours. Who knows how long it will take to actually film. That's another day. The scene will probably be on screen for 3 or 4 minutes.

Fortunately, this is a small production. If we had a bigger budget, there would have been more cameras, more equipment and more people. That would have only taken more time. If it were a Hollywood production, everything would be done on computers by a large team of animators a few months from now.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Israel Museum 1430

I'm at the Israel Museum, the country's largest museum and home to a world class collection of paintings, sculptures, photography, archeology, the oldest bible in the world, the oldest sculpture in the world and all of the usual educational buildings. The Children's Wing is the best museum for children I've ever seen.

It's still Shabbat until sundown, so it's not crowded here at all. There are a lot of soldiers, but it's their day off too, and they get in for free.

So far, I've seen art by Rembrandt, van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Pissarro, Chagall, Goya, Cézanne, Gauguin and Kandinsky.

Most of the art is indoors, but there's also a large art garden and a scale model of Jerusalem's Old City from the year 66, featuring the Second Temple. Whoever made it did a pretty good job.

It looks something like this:

Jerusalem Hotel 2200

I met most of the cast today. We had a quick table read and then everyone left to get ready for their big Shabbat dinner. Most of the dialogue is in Hebrew, so I couldn't understand a word of it, but it felt like I was in a room with some really good actors.

I had Shabbat dinner with a local family. They graciously invited me into their home to share their holiday. I learned a lot about their customs. Now instead of knowing almost nothing, I know slightly more than nothing. It was an amazing experience. And the food was outstanding. Easily the best meal I've had in Jerusalem so far.

Shabbat is the day of rest, but it's a lot more than that. It's a spiritual holiday and one of the Ten Commandments. I went to a family synagogue where I watched a surprisingly short service, all in Hebrew. It was all Greek to me, but they could not have been friendlier.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 2045

Today was the end of Israel's Independence Day. It started at sundown yesterday and ended at sundown today. I missed most of the festivities, and it's technically over now, but people still seem to be in a party mood. It will be interesting to see how different the city is when the holiday's over.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Jerusalem Old City 1400

I'm sitting on a stone step in the Old City of Jerusalem looking at a church built 1,600 years ago while typing on a phone built in 2015.

I just went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I'm at the parvis with a stone wall at my back and the church right in front of me.

I guess the camera works.

I saw the Western Wall earlier.

Jerusalem Hotel 0200

I know I said I wasn't going to post every little thing, but I feel like I should mention that I'm safe & sound at the hotel. Nothing bad happened, unless you count the fact that I haven't slept since yesterday – whenever that was.

All I can really focus on right now is the hotel bed. It's calling out to me like a donut to a fat kid. Or a donut to me, quite frankly. I'd post a picture of Homer Simpson drooling, but it's way past my bed time.

Tel Aviv 0130

I'm in a dark car driving on a dark road in the middle of what looks like nowhere in a strange country I don't really know anything about. If this were a horror movie, I'd be a little concerned right now. But the music on the radio sounds pretty friendly.

I'm not going to post every single thing I do on this trip, but my driver doesn't speak English and I can't see anything out the windows. Lily's phone is still new to me, so I'm still playing with it. I'm also kind of impressed that everything works on a dark road in the middle of nowhere. My phone would have lost the signal as soon as the plane took off from Hong Kong.

Tel Aviv 0100

I'm at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. After a long and cramped flight, going through passport control was a welcome relief. This airport isn't as military as people told me it would be. There's plenty of obvious security – and more subtle security, I'm sure – but that's a good thing.

There's supposed to be someone waiting to drive me to the hotel in Jerusalem. All I have to do is find him.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hong Kong Airport 1530

They're starting to board the flight. I suppose it's time to get off the phone like everyone else in Hong Kong and start paying attention to the world around me. Is that allowed these days?

Next stop, Israel. Or in the middle of the ocean. Did they ever find that Malaysian Airlines flight?

Hong Kong Airport 1415

My flight leaves at 4:30 and it's just after 2 right now. I went to the airport entirely too early because everyone says it's harder to get through El Al security. It isn't.

I've been to Hong Kong Airport a million times. Going through El Al is definitely different. They have their own system apart from everything else, but it's easy. I suppose it helped that I don't act suspicious and no one ever looks at me and sees a threat.

Hong Kong 1300

I'm still in Hong Kong, so I don't have anything to report. I'm just testing Lily's phone. It looks like it's working.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Jerusalem Live

I'm not the most dedicated blogger in the world. I don't know if anyone is anymore since blogs are mostly dead, but even before everyone went to Facebook, this blog was never a priority in my life.

When I take a trip somewhere, I'll usually mention it after I get back. That makes the most sense to me since I can't describe the trip before it happens. Sometimes I'll post pictures, sometimes I won't. It got harder to post pictures after Blogger was bought out by Google. I read somewhere that Google does whatever they can to force people to use their browser. Apparently, it's much easier to post pictures if you use Chrome. But I'm not changing browsers yet again just because some corporation tells me to.

Another thing that changed since I started this blog is phones. It's only been a few years, but they can do a lot more now than they used to. I don't know what percentage of people use their phones to go online more than their computers, but I know that almost everyone I see walking the streets of Hong Kong has a phone in their face.

My phone was built in 2009. It's not what you'd call a smart phone. It can't go online and it's not much of a computer replacement. It can send and receive calls, which is what I want my phone to do. I've never felt the need to replace it. If I want to go online, I use my computer.

For the Jerusalem trip, I'll be borrowing Lily's modern computer phone. She wants me to be able to keep in constant contact with her, as well as look at maps and look up information that I could never do on my phone.

With her phone, I can blog about the trip while it's happening. I don't know how much I will, though. I assume I'll be busy working and seeing the sights. Having the technology to blog before I get home won't make the blog a higher priority. But maybe I'll be able to post pictures. I have to figure out how to use her phone first.

I'm leaving Wednesday, so this will either be the last blog post until I start reporting live from the field, or this will be the last post until I get back. We will have to wait and see which.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It's Everywhere You Want to Be

I finally got my work visa for Jerusalem. It was a little complicated, but the production company did most of the hard parts. I have some experience with work visas, so I can safely say that Israel isn't the hardest or easiest.

I had a work visa for France last year. That was much easier. All I had to do was sign a piece of paper and give them a passport picture. My employer did everything else.

For Israel, I had to give them two pictures and sign more than a few pieces of paper, one of which was a sworn declaration that I would not attempt to overthrow the government or convert anyone's religion. I also agreed not to commit any crimes in the country. That struck me as weird. I understand the part about proselytizing. Some countries are tired of Christians coming in and telling everybody how to think. But asking criminals if they're going to commit crimes is kind of stupid. How many of them say yes?

I had to get a medical exam, but that was pretty easy. The Israeli consulate has a list of hospitals they work with, and it was just a basic physical. The government of Israel now knows what I weigh and that I have mildly low blood pressure. I can live with that.

The most annoying part about getting the visa was having my fingerprints taken. I didn't like it. Where I come from, you do that to criminals. I have yet to commit a single crime in the state of Israel. My own government doesn't even have my fingerprints. Now if I want to become an international jewel thief, I have to make sure I avoid Israel.

I live in Hong Kong on a work visa. That one is the most complicated. China is famous for its bureaucracy, and getting visas is no exception. Ironically, getting a visitor visa for the Mainland is pretty easy. At least it is if you already have a work visa for Hong Kong.

I'm going to Jerusalem next week. Now that I have the visa, all I have to do is sit back and wait. And maybe study the script from time to time.