Mission Improbable – The Trouble with Traveling to Improve your Country

From February to June 1787, with all of his necessities packed in a single trunk, Thomas Jefferson traveled “incognito” by coach, barge, and sometimes mule across most of France and Northern Italy. Reading the extensive diary he kept of the trip, one encounters many passages like the following.

In the boudoir at Chanteloup is an ingenious contrivance to hide the projecting steps of a staircase. Three steps were of necessity to project into the boudoir. They therefore made triangular steps, and, instead of resting on the floor as usual, they are made fast at their broad end to the stair door, swinging out and in with that. When shut, it runs them under the other steps. When open, it brings them out to their proper place.

jefferson1787I don’t quote this because it was Jefferson’s most electrifying prose; it’s not, and to be fair, he never intended to publish it. What is striking about the diary is what it says about Jefferson’s sense of the grand purpose of travel, evidenced by the wealth of detail describing everything from soil types, methods of grape cultivation, the relationship of social conditions to regional crops, and sketches of practical contraptions like the one above. Every page reveals a man bent on devouring as much practical information as he could with an eye toward using it to improve both himself and his country on his eventual return to Virginia. In addition to scouting markets and securing contacts for American agricultural producers (his primary duties as a minister), he brought back with him new varieties of plants, architectural designs and ideas he would later implement, plans for technological devices, and an unparalleled expertise in European wines and viticulture. Not too shabby for an 18th century backpacker.

Despite competing with the leisure travel industry for our hearts and minds, the idea of traveling to improve one’s country is still discussed today, though it more often falls under the purview of travel scribes than presidential hopefuls. One of the most vocal and visible contemporary champions of what you might call national-improvement travel is the writer and entrepreneur Rick Steves. In his recent book, Travel as a Political Act, Steves explains the book’s eponymous theme thus:

When we return home, we can put what we’ve learned – our newly acquired broader perspective – to work as citizens of a great nation confronted with unprecedented challenges. And when we do that, we make travel a political act.

steves wine

Rick Steves, travel writer and man of a sober age.

Steves’s notion that travel can improve one’s country echoes Jefferson, who wrote to his nephew in 1787 that “men of a sober age” could travel to “gather knowledge, which they may apply usefully for their country.” There is however an important difference between them: The country Jefferson came home to was agrarian, weak, and relatively undeveloped, so many of his observations found an appreciative audience among a people who felt they had something to learn from Europe. In contrast, Rick Steves has to chip away against the popular conceit that America is exceptional and has little to learn from Europe – least of all the French, whose label as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” has been un-ironically accepted as the last word on France by the millions of FOX viewers who never quite grasped that learning international studies from Homer Simpson is a bit like learning feminism from Archie Bunker.

Attractive Expressive Young Mixed Race Female Student Sitting and Talking with Girlfriend Outside on Bench.

So like, oh my god, I have to tell you about this thing they use in Europe called the metric system…

But like Jefferson, Rick Steves is also a man fired with missionary zeal. In the book, he writes cogently about successful heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland, Sweden’s commonsense approach to underage drinking, the liberal stance toward prostitution in the Netherlands, and several other battle-tested European social policy triumphs. This is well and good until one recalls that Europe is no longer some distant land from which letters take weeks to arrive and none but seamen, diplomats, or the very rich will ever see in person, which points up another difference between Jefferson’s time and our own: the traveler coming back from Europe today isn’t really telling people much that they haven’t already heard.

So if we know about these things, why don’t we implement all these great ideas? Part of the answer lies in yet another important difference between the worlds of Jefferson and Steves: today’s traveler is sharing his European insights with countrymen who are too often hypersensitive to criticism (Love it or leave it!) and who seldom give a hot damn what Europeans do, think, or say. While some of Jefferson’s contemporaries may have replicated the “ingenious contrivance” he observed in the boudoir, today the phrase “solution X has worked in country Y” is rarely the premier feature of a persuasive discourse or a winning debate.


Reality star Sarah Palin gazes vigilantly at Russia.

You don’t even have to look as far as Europe to overlook an idea. Case in point, socialized medicine in Canada. You can be for it or against it – and I frankly don’t care which – but one thing that should be very clear by now is that its implementation doesn’t lead down the dreaded “slippery slope” to inevitable and abject totalitarianism, as many Americans strangely imagine despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For some Americans this is as easy to debunk as literally looking out the window (there goes Sarah Palin’s excuse), yet to point out that Canada has socialized medicine but no dictatorship is to be cheeky or obtuse, not a Jeffersonian visionary.

No doubt mindful of these obnoxious tendencies, Steves is obliged to draw doomed analogies between constructive personal criticism and criticism of one’s equally beloved country:

I enjoy bettering myself by observing others. And I appreciate constructive criticism from caring friends. In the same spirit, I enjoy learning about my society by observing other societies and challenging myself to be broad-minded when it comes to international issues.

I’d be out of my depth to deal with the question of whether the average person strives to better themselves, but even among people who do, embracing criticism is a leap that many still don’t make. Whatever the reason for that, it leads me back to some of the grand claims that are occasionally made in praise of travel, namely, the idea that the inevitable consequence of travel is growth, openness, or some other species of personal improvement. While it appears to make intuitive sense, the continuing struggles of people like Rick Steves to invite their fellow Americans to engage in transformative introspection or to brook well-intentioned and thoughtful criticism suggests to me that there are in fact prerequisites to this happy side-effect – call it ugly-american-thumbhumility or openness if you like – and that travel does not necessarily teach us those things. Traveling certainly affords the opportunity to learn, but in order to learn something it seems we must first acknowledge that we have something to learn in the first place. Without that mindset, the opportunity is wasted, as evidenced by every self-assured ding-dong, dipshit, and dunderhead who strapped on a backpack and came back with his ignorance intact.

I’m not saying that travel has not cracked open a stubborn nut here and there and managed to ram home an uninvited truth; that happens, though it strikes me as less common. It’s also not hard to find examples of travel gurus (Steves is one) advising us to open our minds prior to traveling in order to get something out of the experience, a tacit acknowledgment that we become travelers by becoming open, but that we can’t count on it happening the other way around.

If our goal is to better our country, is there still a point to purposeful travel, or is bettering ourselves the best we can do? And if openness is the main requirement to do that, does travel have any role in that at all?

The big question seems to be: how do you learn openness?  I don’t really know, but I’m pretty sure that if you’re headed into a boudoir in Chanteloup, you want to be ready for anything.


Hello there, sailor.

Editor’s note: this piece recently appeared on Outside Looking In.

Korea Through the Eyes of Foreigners (through the Eyes of Koreans)

By John Bocskay

I came across in my news readings today a story about this survey by a group called the Corea Image Communication Institute, and the results are interesting for the little bit of light they shed on the gap that still exists between what Koreans think will interest foreigners and what foreigners actually find interesting about Korea. The survey “asked 308 Koreans what aspects of Korea they felt most pride in and 232 foreigners what they enjoyed most while visiting.”

This bit caught my eye:


Personally I think this kicks the shit out of Skinfood and Tony Moly.

“For shopping spots, 45.8 percent of Koreans said they would introduce tourists to traditional marketplaces, while 42.67 percent of foreigners said they would prefer the more contemporary road shops and shopping streets, possibly due to the fact that English communication is easier in downtown areas.” 

It’s possible that English is more widely spoken in downtown areas, though the old folks at Kukjae Shijang or Dongdaemun Market seldom fail to get their point across with whatever level of English they have at their command. I couldn’t help but wonder whether one reason for the discrepancy is simply that many people are just more interested in contemporary Korea than they are in the traditional stuff.


Yeah, that’s great, but I don’t see anything that looks like a Pina Colada.

This finding also jibes with something I’ve often noted in the classroom. Over the years, I’ve had adult students plan an imaginary 2-day itinerary for a foreign friend who is visiting Korea for the first time. Some suggestions, like mask dances, temple tours, and palaces are common. You might be surprised at how many of them have included conference centers, shipyards, and automobile assembly plants on the must-see list. Who knows what our hypothetical tourist thinks about all that, but those are not really the things that leap to mind when I’m doing the 2-day tourist thing.

It’s natural to want to showcase great achievements and traditional heritage, but tourism planners do well to acknowledge things that travelers actually want to do (sauna, anyone?), as opposed to what the bigwigs would like them to experience. Surveys like this are certainly a step in the right direction, because as anyone who lives here knows, there are many features of modern Korea that are pretty cool.

Case in point: food. Regarding the popularity of fast food delivery service (over 50%), the article had this to say:


No thanks.

The fact that the singer Psy portrayed Korea’s delivery food culture in his internationally-watched music videos may have contributed to its popularity,” said the CICI in a press release.

Thanks Psy! And here I thought that was just because late-night food delivery is just utterly brilliant.

Actually, I do think it’s brilliant, which is why I like it. When I read things like this, I catch a faint whiff of the old insecurity that makes it hard for some Koreans to believe that without a spokesman or an aggressive (and occasionally hokey) ad campaign the world will be unaware that there’s a lot about modern Korea that’s not only cool but speaks for itself.

Maybe that’s reading too much into this (I’m sure you will correct me in the comments section), but I also note that Koreans are sometimes caught by surprise when something of theirs catches on. Psy’s viral hit was itself an example of Korean pop culture taking off in ways that no one could have anticipated, let alone packaged and pimped for global consumption. Watching this quirky Korean crooner skyrocket to global fame, it was hard to tell who was more surprised, the world or Korea.


Full disclosure: I purposely chose the least flattering photo of ddeokbokki I could find.

Not everything in the survey was unexpected: it showed strong agreement about food, with Korean restaurants being far and away the most popular food option among both Koreans and foreigners (76% and 77% percent respectively). However, a discrepancy in the second-place option shed light on another tendency: Korea’s chronic overestimation of foreigners’ enthusiasm for ddeok. For those of you who have somehow escaped it, Wikipedia describes ddeok as a rice cake made from rice flour and which has zero taste whatsoever until it is filled, sprinkled, drizzled or slathered with something that has some actual goddamn flavor (I’m paraphrasing). Anyway, survey said:

While 12.50 percent of Koreans guessed that tourists would seek out street food such as tteokbokki, 10.43 percent of foreigners replied that they prefer cuisine from other Asian regions such as pho noodles and sushi.

Glad I was sitting down for that. Your thoughts?

The Long Road to Kratie

by Chris Tharp

(The following is an excerpt from my recently-published book, The Worst Motorcycle in Laos: Rough Travels in Asia, available now via Amazon and other fine booksellers. Enjoy.)

I shouldn’t have eaten the curry. I should have just let it be. It was nasty stuff—putrid, watery, and unnaturally green—like some sort of chunky algae bloom. The chicken was undercooked, and shards of stringy bamboo floated in the swamp of a sauce. I should have taken the whole thing out back, behind the fetid shack containing the joint’s kitchen, and poured it onto the ground for the village’s free-roaming pigs to slop up. I should have just gone to bed unfed and hungry. After all, the human body can go weeks without any food at all. What was one night? I’d be fine. Despite some lean times in the past, my pampered American ass had never known real, prolonged hunger—yet ten hours without a bite and my body was in panic mood. I was ravenous and that was that, so I sucked down every last oily drop.

It was now two days later and my intestinal tract was in a state of civil war. I was nauseous and fevered and the spigot had opened wide. Hot blasts—explosive, violent, and unpredictable—rumbled forth in unstoppable volleys from deep within my bowels. I was sweaty, weak, unshaven, and filthy. I had been wearing the same pair of olive shorts and faded green Seattle Supersonics T-shirt for over a week now, ever since my backpack—containing the rest of my clothes, along with three hundred dollars cash —had disappeared from the belly of a long-distance bus. My one pair of underwear had since been abandoned in a guesthouse trash bin. I was in a state. For all of her tropical emerald splendors, Laos—Southeast Asia’s sleepiest country—had treated me roughly. It was time to get the hell out, so I boarded a white minibus that trundled across the border and into the realm of her tough little sister, Cambodia.

The road south was a moonscape of craters and potholes, punctuated by large, loose stones. The going was slow and bumpy, constantly rocking and jostling the poor bus’s chassis, not to mention its unfortunate cargo of passengers. I settled into the seat and gripped tightly, shuddering with each groan of the vehicle’s frame. Every crevasse in the road sent shockwaves through my ravaged body and agitated the liquids within. I then felt the furnace ignite: Old Faithful was ready to blow, but alas, there was no toilet, no bucket—nothing on this dwarf of a bus. I’d have to ride it out. So I locked my jaw and endured each bump in grim silence, focusing my thoughts into one mantra that echoed throughout my being over the next two hours of rutted road hell:

Keep it clenched. Keep it clenched. Keep it clenched.

The need to release came in waves, which prompted all the muscles in my body—not just those at the gate—to flex and tighten as I staved off the overwhelming pressure. The old bus shook and shuddered as it groaned down the calamity of a road, while I just concentrated on breathing and keeping the gasket sealed. It took every reserve of willpower and discipline, but I eventually managed to gain control. I only hoped—not just for my sake, but also that of my fellow passengers—that I could maintain this upper hand. The alternative would be catastrophic.

We rolled down the dusty track through desiccated rice fields. It was the middle of dry season, and the lush Cambodian countryside was now painted shades of brown. The air was grey and hazy from the farmers slash-burning their fields. Buffalo stood in the dusty paddies, some tied to posts, stupidly staring as we passed by. At one point we reached a small settlement; the bus pulled off to the side, stopped, and the driver opened the door.


I grabbed my small green bag containing my valuables—the only thing that hadn’t walked away during that fateful journey in Laos—and made my way off the vehicle. We had stopped in front of an open-air wooden shack selling some bottled water, canned drinks, cigarettes, bags of chips and cookies, as well as other snacks. I guessed this was what passed for a truck stop in Cambodia. We were suddenly set upon by four teenage girls carrying baskets of white boiled eggs on their heads, which they quickly brought down for our perusal.

“You buy-eee? You-buy-eee? You buy-eee?” they pleaded in a singsong chorus. I ducked away, weighed down by more immediate and pressing thoughts. I looked to the man sitting behind the drinks table. He wore shorts and sandals and puffed away on a cigarette. He stared back with bloodshot indifference.

“Toilet? Toilet?” I pleaded.

He pointed to a cardboard sign tacked on a support beam near his head. It read, WC, followed by a crudely drawn arrow pointing to the left.

“Thanks,” I nodded, and headed off.

“NO! NO! NO!” The man was on his feet as I turned back. He held out his palm and slapped it with his other hand.

Of course. There is no such thing as a free shit in Southeast Asia: pay to spray.

“Okay okay. How much?” I hissed.

He jerked his finger back toward the sign. I had missed the fine print, scrawled tiny underneath: 1,000 RIEL.

I took out my wallet and peered inside. I had a small wad of Lao kip and some US dollars, but no Cambodian riel. I had neglected to convert any cash at the border.

His eyes bulged from his sockets as he growled again for money.

“Lao kip? Lao kip okay?” I asked.

“No no no no.” He waved the bills away.

“Uh… dollars? American dollars?”

“Dollars yes!” His hand became possessed with renewed vigor.

I fingered through my greenbacks, looking for a dollar bill. Twenty, twenty, ten—no! Shit! Twenty… please—okay—one dollar!

I handed him the wrinkled note and he made change, returning a crumpled fistful of nearly worthless riel.

I fled without a “thanks” and headed toward the toilet, feeling a steamy gurgling inside. It was on. Another sign directed me around the side of the building, where things got very muddy. I slogged toward the rickety out structure on which a WC sign had been nailed, taking care not to step in the most treacherous bits. Scrawny chickens clucked, scratched, and pecked at the edge of the muck, while their terrorized offspring scurried and screeched at the sight of me. A fat black pig grunted just feet away. Clumps of its dark shit punctuated the even darker mud.

When I finally reached the haven of the lone toilet stall, I grabbed the crude wooden handle and gave the door a yank. It moved a half inch then stopped. It was latched from inside.

“For fuck’s sake.” I mumbled, squeezing my ass cheeks together with the strength of an Olympic wrestler.

I shuffled my weight and looked to the smoky sky. “Please please please please please.”

My eyes went back to the door in a search for movement. Nothing. Okay, okay. No problem. I figured that another one of the bus’s passengers must be inside, so it couldn’t take too long. I drummed on my thighs and rocked in place as I waited for him to emerge.

“Come on come on come on come on come on.”

No one emerged.

My patience exhausted, I knocked on the door. “Hello? Hello?”

I could hear some shuffling inside, followed by an audible but unintelligible response.



“Please. It’s an emergency!”

More movement.

I knocked again. This was met with a garbled yell, causing me to step away.

I stood in agony for three more minutes. I sighed and grabbed at my hair. I growled deep in my throat. I moaned and spit. I looked to the static door and imagined laser beams shooting forth from my eyes, turning the thing to ash in a matter of seconds.

“Jesus cunting Christ.”

I approached once more and slammed with an open palm.


Again, I was met with human voice, but again, I couldn’t make out what it was saying. Was it even language? It sounded like some sort of groaning. Whoever was in there was my only hope.

I banged again, harder.



I waited for another minute, or two. The situation was now untenable: it simply could not go on any longer. I looked down at my feet, at the wet earth. Surely I could just squat, right there, and release the boiling contents of my bowels onto this already filthy mud. It must have been done many times before.

Fuck it.

I thumbed the loop of my belt and began to yank it out of the buckle, only to be startled by a prolonged, loud—


It was the minibus. I looked over to the road. The little white bus had begun to pull out. The driver—along with most all of the passengers—was looking my way.


He angrily waved for me to come back on board. I was holding them all up.



I slunk back onto the bus, defeated, demoralized, and ready to murder. I had yet to unleash the volcano simmering in the tubes of my ass, and it was another two hours’ rugged ride to our destination. I gingerly sat back down in my seat and cursed our animal state. Why is so much of life dictated by base physical needs? Eating, breathing, fucking, itching, hurting, pissing, and shitting? All of these things form a kind of tyranny that none of us can escape, and I was now locked away in its harshest gulag.

As the bus began to pull onto the road, I threw my gaze one last time toward the rickety outhouse. The door suddenly burst open and out staggered a man—a wretched, ugly man—steeping in obscene amounts of booze, or worse. He was heinously dirty and clothed in greasy, stained rags. His hair was long, matted, and wild, and a wispy beard sprung haphazardly from his chin. His eyes were empty black holes, and he swayed from side to side in a half-assed attempt to stay upright. The guy probably didn’t even know what country he was in, let alone village or toilet, and he had the appearance of someone in the wicked throes of a six-day gas-huffing binge. Who knows? Maybe that’s what he was doing in outhouse. Whatever the case, I was shit out of luck.


The town of Kratie—appropriately pronounced “Crotchy”—is a rotting and neglected burg built up on the muddy banks of the Mekong River. After several hours of enduring a slow grind over one of Asia’s worst-maintained roads, we had made it—or, more importantly—I had made it. The village was saved! The dike managed to hold back the sea! A catastrophe was indeed averted, and as soon as the bus pulled into that sad little station, I jumped out and broke into a near-sprint (as much as could be allowed), looking for any sign reading “Hotel.” I frantically stumbled along the town’s crumbling sidewalks, scanning the streetscape for any hint of shelter, and lucky for me it, didn’t take long before my wish came to fruition. There it was, like a golden palace in the clouds, above which sang a host of harmonizing angels:


I shot through the front door and slapped my passport on the counter.

“How much for your best room?”

“Fifteen dollars, sir.”


I grabbed the key and limped up the stairs to my fourth-floor room—this hotel’s version of a presidential suite. Upon opening the door I was greeted with a cavernous cell—high ceilings, two beds, and a couple of paintings depicting glacial mountain scenes—so Khmer! The artwork in Southeast Asian hotels is always a random mish-mash: shots of Norwegian fjords, sultry African women, and glossy photographs of soccer players or Italian sports cars. It’s actually rare to see a painting that actually reflects the local scenery, say, of a boat floating down a palm-tree lined river, elephants frolicking in a jungle pool, or renditions of tuk-tuks making their way down steamy, crowded side streets.

I tossed my small green bag onto one of the beds and made straight for the bathroom. My shorts were off before I even got to the door and I was on the toilet like the finalist of a high-stakes game of musical chairs. As soon as I felt the first trace of the cool seat on my cheeks, I let loose, blasting the white ceramic bowl with the strength and velocity of a fire hose. This was a pure, concentrated cascade that reverberated around the room with sonic intensity. It sounded like TV static followed by bursts from a large-caliber machine gun. I was astounded: never had I heard fluids leaving the body with such total ferocity. When nature wants to expel, she does it something fierce. I was a human pressure washer, and was glad that I shelled out those extra bucks for the extra-strength, triple-engineered toilet. This was the first in what would be many unholy volleys that night, so I was putting it to the test.

The relief I felt after that session went straight to the center of my soul. I was still weak and pukey, but for the first time all day I could relax my muscles, which ached from spending hours in a constant state of tension. I took the opportunity to take a quick meander around central Kratie, which was a crowded town. I felt eyes upon me as I strolled through the streets looking for a pharmacy. Tuk-tuks and motorbikes slowed down to take me in. Across from the hotel was the town’s central market; the ancient black roof looked like it would cave in at any minute. An army of small motorbikes was parked outside in uneven lines and jagged clusters. Rain-stained streaks wept down the sides of buildings and huge patches of black mildew bloomed like cancer. The whole place reeked of provincial decay.

After buying some much-needed water, I found a small pharmacy that consisted of one counter underneath a flickering fluorescent light. A short, chubby woman sat on a stool and addressed me in Khmer. I looked at her, pointed to my asshole, rubbed my stomach, shook my head and said, “No. No.”

She knew the gig right off, got up, and handed me a packet of six stupidly huge white pills.


Until They Bleed

By Eli Toast

When I left Ralph at the bus station his mien was one of resigned disappointment with the way things had panned out. He was going back to a different part of Asia and I was boarding a train heading south the same evening. I took a rickshaw to the train station and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the driver about our families and life trajectories. At the train station I sat and waited like everyone else, all of us looking nauseously green beneath the platform’s droning sodium bulbs.

Standing there on the platform as the train arrived I looked down at the tracks and noticed a cinnamon colored splat of diarrhea on top of a used maxi-pad. It was demonically gross. I watched as the skeletal mongrel pups that lived off the meager scrapings of a South-Indian-train-station-diet tried to focus their muzzles in on the invisible skein of effluvia that was no-doubt coiling upward from that sickening  stack of waste.

I boarded the train rattled and lonely, longing for the familiar stupidity of home.

Inside the train was stale and close. My bed for the night was the middle berth, easily the worst one. Another fresh bruise on my abused morale. No sheet, blanket, or pillow, merely a vinyl cushion en-slickened with involuntary night-sweat and be-smirched with the type of compacted grime that collects under one’s fingernails. I slept poorly and awoke to the unnecessary banter of a set of superfluous Australians; my feet ravaged by bed bugs. By 9am nearly everyone on the train had disembarked at Bangalore. I sat alone in my cabin reading a Harper’s magazine Ralph had given me, occasionally staring out the window only to see old men taking shits and dead horses covered in carrion fowl.

At some point a weird, gay, Indian kid slinked into my cabin and started talking to me about some stupid shit; I don’t know, some gay-code thing, clearly trying to get fresh with me.

“I don’t mean to be rude man, but I just wanna read this,” lifting the magazine, “here, by myself.”

He left, which was good, because I despised him.

When I arrived in Mysore I allowed a rickshaw driver to take me to a hotel of his choosing (major rookie mistake, but I was a bit out of sorts) that paid him a commission. I accepted a lousy room, for double what it was worth, that stank of reluctantly agreed upon sodomy.

It was hot when I stepped out for lunch. On my way a small Indian man wearing a belt that wrapped around him one and a half times approached me offering some friendly advice. I tried to ignore him by walking faster and making graceless walking choices: one foot on the curb, the other in the gutter, weirdly passing a group of women by skipping sideways… Finally, the nice man barked: “Why are you running from me? We are not dogs! Indian people are not dogs! You don’t need to treat me like that!”

“Look man, I got shit to do. My job is to take care of that. Your job is to not help me do it!”

And I left him in my dust (I feel ashamed about how I treated this guy. I didn’t get the sense he was trying to scam me, and even if he was, it’s hard to begrudge a man for trying to make a few ducats).

I sat down at some shitty Cafe mentioned in the Lonely Planet called the Parkland (or whatever) and ordered–get this–the “Chicken Macaroni” off the “Continental” section of the menu. It actually wasn’t that bad, but the heat of the first spoonful triggered a gnarly toothache in a problematic molar. No fucking way am I getting dental work done here. I ordered a large Extra-Strong Kingfisher beer and when it was finished I had splitting headache.

I went back to my hotel room to take a nap but the racket from the overhead fan in concert with the bedlam from the street below didn’t allow it. So I ended up just staring at the ceiling and scratching my feet until they bled.