Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

Top SOTMs From The World Tour

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

934631_894563031536_987718179_nThe messages I heard from my SOTM subjects during my trip around the world fell into various categories.

Some were of hope, of ambition, of a wish for a better world. Others of advice, wisdom passed between generations. Sometimes they were a desire for loved ones not to follow the same path as the person who spoke to them.

Some were just plain sad. Others, hilarious. But they showed how much fun it is, how difficult it can be and how fragile a thing it is to be alive and around others.

I’m pleased that I got the breadth I was looking for in my subjects. I visited townships in South Africa, wealthy apartments in Dubai, a Korean school for girls, Japanese guest houses and the Australian outback, among so many other places. I found people willing to share their stories in all of them.

As difficult a task as it’s been to make such choices, here are some of my favourite SOTMs from the trip that circled the globe which I undertook from June 2013 to May 2014, across 20 countries, capturing hundreds of people’s stories along the way.

There are many more that are similarly great, and my original plan of choosing a top 10 was soon abandoned. So this isn’t a definitive list, and there are many gems from the tour not seen here but visible on the SOTM site. Just browse the map, or for World Tour in the site’s search engine, to see them all.

Click on any of the images here to see their page on the Someone Once Told Me website and, where appropriate, their translation pictures.

09022014I spotted Boy in Manila’s North Cemetery in the Philippine capital. I was taken with how he looked, just as he was, with the tomb where he lived in the background. So that’s exactly where I took his photograph.

His friend, who was ill himself, once told him: “Stop Smoking And Drinking

01052014I met Timmy in Club Charles, a hipstery bar in Baltimore, USA. Film director John Waters was also in there, as apparently it’s one of his favourite bars.

After his photo, Timmy told me a story of how he wanted to be prom king, and how his girlfriend provided a twist to his quite gripping tale.

The whole time I was wondering how come he was talking about a girlfriend, because he was clearly a gay man.

Afterwards he explained how he now had a wonderful boyfriend, and it all made sense again.

01012014I’m a big fan of proverbs. They’re very much in the same vein as Someone Once Told Me quotes, and this one is a sort of proverb, excitingly in Khmer.

Malin told me in Phnom Penh how her Cambodian father once told her: “Don’t Live Like A Snake, Don’t Die Like A Frog” What excellent advice.

01032014Lisa chose to share a fable that she heard from a Kenyan conservationist. Again, fables are just up the SOTM street, being passed on through the generations and lodging in memories along the way.

We met at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Lisa plans to do her bit for conservation, and got inspiration from this phrase which is a wonderful lesson about doing what you can, no matter how little influence it will have.

I later learned that Mandela never visited the university, even though it had been named after him – but then, many things are named after him and he probably didn’t have time to see them all.

04092013Mel’s story is one of love, coming from the mouth of her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Mel clearly didn’t like being in front of the camera, but I’m really glad she agreed to pose by the sea in Sliema, Malta.

Her grandmother once told her: “You Are Beautiful”

05092013Miu’s story, captured in Kyoto, Japan, is one of a passion for education, a parent’s desire for their children to be educated. Her mother, tight for money, would tell her: “I’ll Buy You Any Books You Want”

06042014Israel’s story is a lesson worth remembering. A financial expert, he explained to me in New Orleans, USA that a client of his taught him how whatever you save for, whatever you plan for, something will always crop up and need money to be spent on it.

So get used to it, because that’s just life.

07062014Matt once talked to a homeless guy in the States, who told him this.

I told him I agreed, how it was a great and upbeat phrase, not one you’d think someone who’s homeless would come up with.

“Thanks,” Matt said. “Can I interest you in a ‘Best Day Of My Life, No Big Deal‘ wristband?’

That was in January 2014, in Manila, Philippines. I’m still wearing it now.

08072013Aldo is a brave soul, because he’s the goalkeeper for San Marino, an international football team which doesn’t have many players to choose from, on account of the nation having some 30,000 inhabitants. He once let in eight goals against England and, famously, 13 against Germany.

However, he also once stood between the sticks against the might of the Italian national side, who peppered his goal with shots. He let in four but it should have been much more, if it weren’t for his cat-like performance that day.

After the game, a fan tweeted him a message that literally translated as: “You Played Incredible”

08102013This is a cute story, told by the adventurous and not a little handsome Cameron. But it also features a wriggling baby crocodile in Darwin, Australia, so simply had to make this list.

10022014Aruna has a beautiful tale of how her father cheered her up, by sending her this message on a postcard when she was a lonely teenager. She posed on the Thai island of Koh Lanta with a little help from her son Shaan, who’s holding the postcard in question.

The phrase means: “The Good That One Does Has No Immediate Recompense: It Will Come By & Of Itself”

11092013I met two women in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth called Mama Gladys. Both looked after children, one in an orphanage, the other a creche. The latter is the Mama Gladys that you see above.

She runs a creche in Walmer township, a rather tough place. She said she was concerned about the welfare of some of the local children, so she began a place where their parents could leave them when they went to work, or were just unable to look after them.

Her quote, written in Xhosa, means: “The Creche Is The Good Idea” which one of her friends told her, when encouraging her to start the venture up.

But something remarkable happened when I was perched on a rickety chair, taking two photographs of Mama Gladys – one in Xhosa, the other in English – and her wriggling charges.

She dug a mobile out of her considerable bosom, took a call, then tucked the device away again, revealing softly that her sister in law had died.

You can see the difference in her expression in the two photos on the SOTM site.

14072013Fabio Lamborghini is the definition of charisma, as you might expect from the nephew of Ferrucio, the inventor of the supercar which still bears his surname today.

Fabio said his Italian uncle once told him: “Fabio, The First Secret For Getting Money Is To Economise. Don’t Spend Too Much. Remember!”

Fabio didn’t seem to see much irony in his millionaire uncle, who made cars that only the super-rich can afford, telling his family to watch their spending.

He also said he took one of the Lamborghinis out each weekend.

Me: “Do you drive fast?”

Fabio: “Yeeeees.”

Me: “What do the local police think about that?”

Fabio: “Nooooo, they are very happy. Sometimes I give them the keys to one of the cars and tell them to borrow it for the weekend. So they are happy.”

Everyone’s a winner here, clearly.

16082013This one gets on the list because Michele, a bar owner in the tiny town of Bagno di Romagna in Emilia Romagna, Italy, once heard soldiers from the French Foreign Legion singing it in Albania. And I love that.

It means: “Doubt Maybe… Give Up Never”

16122013Not only do I totally agree with this, it also contains Benedicta’s dazzling smile and a view of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The line at the top of the pad, above the ‘n’ in ‘things’ is a hair pin, because the page ripped. It wasn’t one of mine.

17022014I wrote about Pete soon after I’d met him in Hong Kong. He went from compering at a comedy club and rolling out the laughs for the entire audience, to weeping in my arms an hour or so later, after recounting the story of his dead mother. One of my most remarkable SOTM experiences.

20082013First time in Austra, and Vienna. There I met a rocket scientist, Ryan – another first. Turns out he was once told this, as well. Brilliant.

21082013Not only a great quote, this sums up the Google generation and yet,  according to Julika, it came from a Latin teacher who looked like Julius Caesar. I was pleased to get a slightly different view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. Her SOTM reads: “You Don’t Have To Know Everything – You Just Have To Know Where To Find The Answers!”

26112013Duncan is dsylexic and wanted his SOTM, taken at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to be written in his own way. So that’s what we did. An admirable chap. His SOTM says: “You Can’t Use Your Disability As An Excus”

28082013I took this picture of Doris at the Missionvale Care Centre, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Life there is tough, with high rates of unemployment, extreme poverty and widespread HIV infection.

So it was heartbreaking to hear Doris’ story, which clearly made a hard life even tougher. Her SOTM says: “Your Husband Went To Transkei” He left without a word and Doris doesn’t know why.

29082013Atakan was told: “Don’t Even Trust Your Father!” by his father as he was leaving home to travel to Istanbul for university.

What I like about it is that afterwards, Atakan told me fathers and sons have a close relationship in Turkey. His story demonstrated this.

10092013Another one from Missionvale Care Centre, a place I can’t get out of my head.

Linda, who helps run the place, said a handymen called Bishop was working hard one day, and when she asked him why he told her this. These pots are in the centre’s garden and commemorate people who have helped the place with their work, but who have now passed away.

Some months after this photo, Bishop, who showed me around the township on foot so I could photograph it, caught pneumonia and died. So his name will be on a pot now, I think. A really sad end to a powerful story, but I will cherish my afternoon wandering around Missionvale township, with Bishop, for the rest of my life.

31102013Sally was a shy girl, as were all her classmates. But I got a number of them to think of SOTM stories. This one was my favourite.

My love of proverbs means that I was always going to be charmed by this phrase, which is apparently such an old expression in Korea that Sally actually wrote it in Chinese characters.

It means: “After A Typhoon There Are Pears To Gather Up”

I like it so much I even use that quote myself, which is perfectly in the spirit of SOTM, of course.

It has been a blessing to have learned so much from so many fine people around the world.

SOTM World Tour – East Coast USA

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

The planning for the SOTM World Tour had always been done with chasing the sun in mind.

Kate and I had therefore enjoyed months of sun in many countries, including a record heat wave in Japan of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But ever since we entered the US, over on the west coast, we’d been seeing reports of this year’s lingering winter storms hitting the very places we were eventually going to reach.

And so we braced ourselves for an Arctic blast when we headed to Washington D.C. We weren’t disappointed.

We were staying with my excellent chums, the gorgeous Chelsey and dashing John, who are soon to tie the knot themselves. I was delighted to learn that they had a dog, a rather large hound called Tallulah.

You can see John and me shivering in this photo along with The Goat, as I affectionately named Tallulah. This is on account of how she likes to eat most things, including laptops.

Incidentally we got to DC via a very comfortable Amtrak train ride. I rather liked the shot I grabbed of our chop-choo with my iPhone as it pulled into the station.

And when we were in DC, I was reminded of how awesome its subway train stations are. Unless you’re Zoe Barnes (for those who’ve seen House of Cards).

Seeing as the weather was so freezing, we decided to hit up some of the remarkable museums that DC has to offer. In the National Museum of American History you can see Miss Piggy herself. Kermit is also on the premises but he wasn’t on display during our visit, sadly.

Also on show were Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. Confusing everyone with the nature of their friendship since 1969.

A personal favourite of mine – the Cookie Monster. He too dated from 1969 and looked a bit worse for wear. All those cookies play havoc with your fur, clearly.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like the Swedish chef? I met two charming Swedish sisters in Koh Chang earlier on this trip, and asked if they knew the Swedish chef personally. They didn’t find it as funny as I thought they would.

Now then, this simply blew me away. This is the original Wright Brothers flying machine, which made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight in 1903.

The canopy was replaced in 1985, but otherwise this is the actual aircraft that changed the world, forever. It was an overwhelming sight.

This is another jaw-dropping exhibit at the museum – a section of the diner counter from Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina where black diners sat at a whites-only section.

This, and many other protests like it, led to the store dropping its policy of segregation. Amazing and terrifying to think America had this policy within living memory, when almost all of the rest of the world had long since dropped apartheid-style policies in their governments. As for their societies, that’s another matter.

But reminders like the Greensboro counter makes Obama’s election as president even more welcome.

Speaking of Barack, we popped round to the White House to find, to my delight, that it was living up to its name on account of all the wintry weather. Last time I was here, in 2009, it was sunny and hot, so this was a great contrast for my photographs.

1965019_10154005278715241_324059401_nHere’s a photo from my previous visit to DC. Don’t ask.

During that last trip I was lucky enough to meet Chelsey (seen on the far right) and take her SOTM. She invited Kate and me to stay with her and her fiancé John (on the far left).

We had a fruitful SOTM meet up in Acre 121, the bar that John runs, and met smashing types like Glinda and Maynard who run the Travelationship website.

1982046_10153977085495241_1369452790_nHere’s a couple of SOTMs that I took at this splendid gathering. As always, click on the SOTM images to see their pages on the main website.


12052014And this is Kate’s childhood friend Alexa, who now does political stuff in the capital.

12042014I also enjoyed a couple of slices at Dangerously Delicious Pies while in town. The guy who served us looked like the bloke off LMFAO, amusingly.

We also popped into Ben’s Chili Bowl, one of DC’s most famous culinary spots.

I enjoyed one of the establishment’s half smokes, a hotdog with a blend of pork and beef. Named after Bill Cosby, who’s quite partial to them, apparently.

There’s a sign up in the joint that says only he and President Obama can eat there for free. I realised at one point that when Obama won his first election, he came here for a meet and greet, and I was sat right where he stood to shake hands with the staff. Also, I was photobombed by some bird who looks familiar.

So after bidding DC a fond farewell, we headed for an overnight stop off in Baltimore, where my excellent friend Elissa, a long-time supporter of SOTM, offered to put us up and gather a few friends for me to photograph.

Turns out her apartment overlooks Greenmount Cemetery, which has a number of notable eternal residents. None more notorious, though, than John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Abraham Lincoln.

1185283_10153972686245241_456779371_nThis is the Booth family plot. Wilkes’s grave appears to be the headstone closest to the camera. It’s the only one that’s unmarked.

Elissa explained that people leave a one cent coin, known as a penny, on Wilkes’s grave because it has Lincoln’s head on it. So that’s exactly what Kate and I did.

Thanks once again, thanks to Elissa’s efforts, a few people were rounded up for a SOTM meetup that night. I got several smashing shots from smashing people. Here’s a couple of them.

01052014Also during the meet up bar, Club Charles, I bumped into movie director John Waters, who I interviewed in 2010 for the BBC.

I asked if he remembered me from the interview, and he said: “Gosh, I’ve done a million of those.” But he chatted briefly and was still as nice as when I met him the first time.

Early the next morning we took a bus to Philadelphia, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go because I’m a huge fan of Rocky, which is set in this city.

We were staying with Kate’s friends this time, Kelly and Dave, who were superb hosts and much fun. Kelly patiently drove us around to see a few sites from the Rocky movies.

First stop, the area where Rocky jumped benches in front of Independence Hall. The hall itself is hugely interesting inside, for it’s where a few disgruntled types decided to sever the Colonies from Britain over a few misunderstandings. Or something like that…

Not-so-fun fact: it was freezing cold and I was quite stiff, but after posing briefly for this photo, the back of my left leg ached all day. When I get back to London life, I’m hitting the yoga again. Hard.

These are the famous steps that Rocky runs up several times in the series of films. They officially belong to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but I’m glad that they’re widely known as the Rocky Steps.

In fact, several people I met in Philly told me, in all sincerity, how the Italian Stallion is regarded as a god, as almost a real person in the city. He’s much loved and clips from the movies are played at major sporting events for Philadelphia’s teams.

This makes me very happy.

The view from the top of the Rocky Steps.

Kate, Kelly and I ran up the steps. Had to be done. It really did.

Also, this is something that I’ve really always wanted to do – pose with the statue of Rocky, which featured in Rocky III. A real highlight of my life, let me tell you.

This is Pat’s King of Steaks, famous for its cheesesteaks, and also where Rocky stood in the first movie. He was given $500 by his loan shark boss to help with training expenses.

1976987_10154005258470241_1891352800_nA plaque marks the spot where Rocky stood in that scene, demonstrating again how important a figure he is to the people of this city.

And if they’re good enough for Rocky…


Dave and I were stunned to learn that neither Kelly nor Kate had ever seen Rocky. So that night Dave put the movie on, and it seemed to go down well with the ladies. One day, only five more to go.

Finally, Kelly took us to Elfreth’s Alley. This sounds like a euphemism from an episode of Blackadder, but actually it’s the oldest residential street in America. To my glee, I noted the old school Union Flag hanging up there.

It’s probably for educational purposes, but I secretly hoped someone British had bought the property and hung the flag to irk the locals.

10153682_10154005261420241_1314690556_nIt was a great spot for Kelly’s own SOTM.

02062014That’s it for this time – after Philly, Kate and I travelled to New York and Boston for a low-key period on the trip, staying with Kate’s family. I’ll pick up our travels again when back in Europe, starting with a travel conference in Germany.