“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, June 30, 2008

After reading Glamour 2: Are you a nomaphobic?

To be added soon... check back.

After reading Glamour: When am I stressed?

To be added soon... check back.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dublin 4 - People's Art

Created: 6/29/08


So I've decided that one of my future jobs is going to be as a columnist for a newspaper, and perhaps one of my topics will be something like "Interesting People I Met This Week" or "An Artist I like". This is, of course, very egotistical to assume that anyone would be interested in my opinions (but I have a blog, so I must have already assumed this!) but I just thought it would be an interesting idea, although no doubt, with a limited run. I mean, how many interesting people can I meet? Oh wait, in my life? ...MANY!!!!

This was all inspired by seeing the artist's area around the St. Stephen's Green in Dublin. It's called peoplesart and has some really terrible, but also some really fantastic new ideas, and most of them are Irish! Anyway, I decided that I'm going to promote some of those artists here in my blog, and say, hey tourists, why don't you buy a painting?

I did think it was humorous to hear some of the tourists walking past. One of them asked their companion, "Hey, do you think you could by xxx/so-and-so a painting?" and they shallowly said, "Well, if I did, I think it'd have to have a pub in it." I just decided that that was incredibly idiotic and narrow-minded! Is art dead people?!! Hello!!? The artist is Irish, so it's an authentic souvenir.

Artist 1: Margaret Farnell okay. website doesn't work.... check back later http://www.margaretfarnell.com/,

Pixie Mary Cahalan (dancer) http://www.binbanart.com/searchresults.asp?ArtistID=249

Pamart.ie (thai designs)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dublin 3

I meant to post this when I first got to Ireland--these were my initial impressions! July 8, '08

I thought it was very interesting the third degree grill I got when I arrived in Ireland. I don't know if the working New Zealanders have given us all a bad name, but the visa processor didn't look all that thrilled about me. I said I was leaving Sunday, and so he gave me permission to stay until Monday. Is that stingy or nasty or just realistic? I was being honest so it's really not a big deal, but I've got 30 days by right, so it's a good thing that I didn't actually need to change my flight and then have to deal with visa extension issues. [The other interesting thing is that since travelling I haven't gotten any subsequent stamps. Switzerland doesn't stamp NZ passports (it seems), and neither did Austria or Latvia or any other place in the EU. Very interesting!! I wonder if I'll get a stamp going out tomorrow?]

I was amazed in Ireland how prevalent the crime was--how dirty it was, I guess. The busses had drivers enclosed in a secure box, there were fences and guards for parking lots, there were dubious looking men loitering everywhere! A sign of their struggling poverty-ridden past?

It was a bit depressing as well. Cloudy grey colored homes, and of course the drizzling rain didn't help. No wonder so many people left for centuries since they couldn't find jobs either. Apparently the immigration rate is less than the emigration rate for the first time this year!

I love the gaelic everywhere--it was a fascinating sound to my ears--the tones and sounds seemed the same as English (there were no nasal/guttoral/foreign sounds), yet of course I couldn't understand a word. German and French--they sound foreign, but initially, Gaelic doesn't!!

Aer Lingus impressed me as an airline. It was efficient, cheap and good quality. They had one of the best entertainment on demand systems that I've seen. The food left a little to be desired, and was all on disposable stuff (so much for being green!). The one annoying thing, though, was that they kept trying to sell things!! The duty free, a special perfume, a special phone card, the drinks, or other extras! And they kept interrupting the movies I was watching to talk about it--first in English, then in Gaelic (and German for Switzerland). I suppose it only helps them to make money for the airline, but it was not a good thing for me!

The little airport in Dublin (which turned out to be not so little), looked like it was built in the 1960s (or at least the part I arrived in did--the rest, though modern, was still stiflingly crowded in spite of modernity!). It appeared quaint at first, but then I noticed all the dodgy men hanging around eyeing my bag.

The interesting question I had when I was there was whether I would like to live there. It was so dreary, and SO expensive (more so, on retrospection after comparison with the rest of Europe/the EU). But it was so alive and there was English everywhere (which I do miss). I do like pubs over bars (far more social).

The most interesting thing I found while I was there though, was listening to the accent. I was amazed to discover that it has many connections to the American accent. Now this is probably because the American English was sharply dominated by Irishmen. From far, it could have been either accent, though of course, once closer, it was easy to distinguish between them. Just an interesting thought!!

I am ashamed to admit that I ate Burger King while I was there. But, I did look to eat some fish and chips in a pub... they were 11.95 euro, while BK was only 6.85... does that justify it? I was so hungry!! The euro was such a shock though! Maybe it was just Ireland! Changing US$400 and only getting 250 euro, though... now that was painful!!

The jackets in Ireland were something to notice. Not the style, but the fact that people were wearing them. In Canada, the cold didn't seem to touch the locals, who wore t-shirts everywhere. Why were the Irish so wimpy that they needed them? Surely their winters are cold enough that the "warmth" of the summers should ensure they don't need them? :) If there are any Irish readers, no doubt they are insulted!!

Okay, this random assortment of observations is done now. Hope you can make sense of it!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Driving

On Friday I decided to rent a car and get out of Dublin. It wasn't really the smart choice as going on a tour I'm sure I would have seen more and spent less money. All up, the rental cost me around 30 euro. Okay, not bad, but then I filled it up (it was a quarter full). I felt the price of fuel--it was 50 Euro to fill it and it's a tiny wee vehicle. Later I had to put more in for a further 15 euro. Total: 95 Euro. Average tour--no more than 50!

I haven't driven a car in quite a long time. The last time would have been in the states in October. Now, it's just like riding a bike, you don't forget, but I got very flustered and kept stalling, giving myself several heart attacks in the narrow lanes and one way streets of Dublin. I ended up on the road south, but wanted to be heading north, and then when I got there, it was a toll road that went underneath the harbor (+1.60euro) in a tunnel (+6 euro). It took me at least 45 minutes to get out of the city--it is not that big!!

It was a new car--I was the first renter. That was pretty exciting at first... there were only 8km on the speedometer, so I watched it track into its numbers. I should have known that I would be jinxed because of it. I also felt very very foolish after searching everywhere and asking someone else to help me find the gas pump switch (there wasn't one). At least he couldn't find it either. It turns out there wasn't one, but the door was sticking which was why it didn't open at first.

I headed north to Bru' Na Broinne, the most famous ancient site in Ireland. I didn't really plan anything, you see, and that seemed like a good plan. I stopped off at a few castles, but it was raining, and they looked like just big houses and I was feeling cheap and didn't want to pay the 7 euro entrance fees.

As interesting as Newgrange was, they've made it really complicated to get there. You have to visit the information center, where they give you a time sticker (or several), you buy a ticket, you wait in line for the bus, and then it takes you 10 minutes across the creek where it would have taken 5 to drive there myself. A tour around it--nice history, but the real value was seeing the simulated winter solstice sunrise from inside the tomb (the only thing worth it if you're asking me), the bus left as soon as people were on it (too bad if the tour ran over and you were walking down the hill--the next one was 30 mins later). Another 10 mins back to the bus, and I didn't even get to see Knowth and Dowth, the other tombs because there wasn't enough time! I hate tours they're too slow! I could have driven myself past, I suppose, but it seemed like a lot of trouble for a photograph, so I climbed to the top of the hill of Slane to look at the monastery instead!

After that, I drove to Galway--I don't know why I decided I needed to see it, but I heard it was bohemian, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was a long drive, but yes, a neat city. However, outside the sailing club, I also must have somehow decided it would be a good idea to get a nice long scratch on the back of the lovely new VW Polo I was driving. And because I'm so cheap and stingy, I'd excused myself from the 0 excess and so will have a nice 900 euro charge on my credit card by Monday morning (I spent Friday evening making sure I even had that much money in my balance allowance!!) So it was an expensive Friday... and I learned a nice lesson in stingyness... I should have just taken that tour!! :)

Windows Vista Service Pack 1

So Windows Vist finally has a service pack. It's taken more than a year, which I suppose is normal. What's amazing is how I now have 30 more GB of space (what the hell was vista doing with all that?) and it only took several hours to load!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dublin 2

As I walked home tonight, and was about to turn into my hostel, which is right on the river and very close to Temple Bar, I discovered a woman's bum, peeing in hostel doorway, with a little creek running all the way down the sidewalk. Exasperated, I threw up my hands, and then her friend yelled at me, so I decided it would be prudent to keep on walking.

There were crowds of Spain supporters dancing in the square and singing the Beatle's Yellow Submarine, as the police "Garda" looked on amusedly. One woman with fancy silver shoes had a skirt so short, I wondered seriously for a length of paces if she was even wearing one beneath her coat. She didn't adjust it once--how do they stay in place? The bar downstairs was playing a U2 cover. That's quite common here. As is wearing green. Too many tourists!! (And what a hippocrite I must be since I am one, too.)

Now I am sitting in the hostel lounge, surrounded by young drunk Americans fixatedly talking about their mutual home in Michigan, somewhere on "the thumb". The conversation changes to skiing, camping and hunting in Montana vs. Canada, as you do. I wonder cynically how many Irish they have actually met? They are thrilled to be going to Amsterdam tomorrow. I find many Americans fixated on this city because of so much tight-laced restriction and stiff-necked prohibition at home, though haven't actually been there myself (or had a particularly determined desire to go). One staggering stoned lady determindedly fluffs up the plastic plant, propping up the wires to be more perky, leaf, by leaf.

Such is Ireland?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dublin

I'm sitting here in my hostel's lobby, grimy and red-eyed, wishing they didn't have a 2pm check-in. It's really interesting finally being in Ireland--I've heard and read so much about it, but now that I'm here, it still surprises me.

Anyway, my battery is about to die, and my British plug converter is in the luggage storeroom, so I have to go. More soon.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dragon Boat Festival

Today I took the bus to Ottawa's Dragon Boat Festival at Mooney's bay park- it was nice to get out of downtown, as I really do think that Ottawa is so small and quite unexciting (the only thing original is Parliament Hill, and that's not staggeringly unique! It was a lovely sunny day and I lay on the (wet) grass and read my book and enjoyed all the crazy beach wear. The families with strollers, the couples, the singles, the beefed up guy with a six pack. The weird haircuts, the tattoos, the piercings--they only exist in the west, and when they're at the beach it all comes out. I suppose it can be called a beach, as it had (imported) sand, but I mean, it was the depth of a paddling pool, and just as much current!! There were many different rowing teams (I'm inspired!), and everyone was enjoying the day out. I'm going to miss that easy going outdoors attitude once I get to Baku! No doubt the aggressiveness of the men will drive me nuts... that's what I love about the west--I get left alone! (I was already warned that I shouldn't walk on Baku's Caspian Sea lakefront promenade by myself or else I will be inundated.)
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On my last night, I went to study for my exam a the local Starbucks (ever since reading Starbucked! I'm obsessed with it!) as nothing else was open--who ever heard of mall shops downtown closing at 6pm on summer weekend days and staying open till 9pm on weekdays? What a weird schedule! Anyway, it was depressing to watch a young teenager try and steal a book by throwing it over the beeper machine. He saw me watching and chickened out. Then a homeless guy came up and rifled through the rubbish, and found the receipts I'd discarded. I was appalled--what on earth was he going to do? Sell the credit card numbers? Try and get refunds? Anyway, I called out (no one else did a thing! How appathetic!!) and he stopped and apologized. Canada has one of the highest amount of taxes in the western world to try and cater to these people with social services, but I really was shocked at the number and agressiveness of the homeless there.

The other thing I noticed as I was leaving is that the graffiti that those guys had done on the wall of the public building opposite the jail last weekend--it was gone!! I don't know what sophisticated graffiti removal chemicals did it, but the brick wall was clean and clear. Very impressive!! Graffiti is still disgusting, and I am disgusted because Gabriel, gave me a false phone number!

What did we actually do in Montreal??

1. Downtown- Rue St. Catherine. All we did was walk up and down at 10pm at night. Rather boring way to see it really, but we were in a rush! We did drive past the notorious bar area on Crescent St, though and it was more happening!
2. Notre Dame Cathedral -- pouring down with rain, so really miserable. $5 entrance so didn't go in. Ironically, Mimi did!
3. Parking search for ages, then to the docks to climb clock tower at the docks--my legs ached for three days from the 197 steps. I need more exercise!
4. Bonsecours Market and Old Montreal downtown
5. Biodome--a very cool wire structure that's absolutely enormous (we didn't go in)
6. Lunch--shawarma, yum! Watching the soccer game, of course!! :) Can't even remember who was playing now!
7. Olympic park (again, we didn't go in)
8. Drive up Mont Royal for a lovely view and a meeting with a charming raccoon (I LOVE the animals here--raccoons, beavers, badgers and groundhogs--I know they're normal to everyone else, but even squirrels and chipmunks are exciting to me--all we have in NZ are birds!) On the other side there was a big modern (ghastly-looking) pompous church which Mimi insisted we visit.

And that's it. Oh, and a mall in the suburbs so Mimi could buy something for his sister. A bag-- and yes, I rolled my eyes and said that the bag could have been from anywhere, but he was happy.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cites travelled this summer

I've been on such a whirlwind trip that I've lost count, so thought I'd do a tally. This is where I've gone or am going. I'm not showing off, but I need to get my mind around it!!

Countries entered (passport stamps): (unique 14, total 17) Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, USA, Canada, USA, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Latvia, Belarus, England (& Wales), Azerbaijan

Cities toured (downtown): (unique 19, total 21) Yangon, Bangkok, Manila, Bangkok, Perth, Singapore, Madison, Kenosha, Ottawa, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago, Dublin, Galway, Basel, Vienna, Riga, Minsk, London, Cardiff, London, Baku

Airports: (unique 17, total 21) Yangon, Bangkok, Manila, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Perth, Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul Incheon, Chicago, Ottawa, Chicago, Dublin, Zurich, Vienna, Riga, Minsk, London Gatwick, Minsk, Baku

This is May 22-Aug 7, 2008... so almost 3 months!!

Montreal and more!

So I finally made it to Montreal! I have been dreaming of visiting for a number of years after meeting a number of Quebecois. I'm not going to say I was dissapointed (I wasn't), but it was not at all like what I had expected.

I guess I had a trumped up dream of a quaint little village, with winding cobblestone streets and little French cafes on the edge of a hill, with a city wall and tiny little buildings. It was not quaint. Yes, some streets in Old Montreal were cobblestone, but they were straight! It was a grid city just like every other city in the New World. The cafes were there, but of course, the night clubs and bars were far more popular. To be fair, Quebec City still has it's city wall and is probably smaller and closer to what I imagined, but I was so surprised!! It is an enormous city (especially in compared with Ottawa), with suburbia rolling out in quartier after quartier. On any random street, apart from the Arret sign, it could be any city in North America.

However, Montreal was wonderful! It was so multi cultural! Now that I have seen it (although Montreal is not all of Quebec), I do not agree with their desire for independence. They are a bit different, but not completely unique. They really are still North American to a T. The strip malls and chain stores are still everywhere, and the houses, appartments, shops and living are generally also the same. I do love the French influences, but honestly, English was EVERYWHERE. And, as my Moroccan friends said, everyone there is Moroccan!! (or Algerian, or West African, but basically, immigrants are everywhere!).

We had miserable weather while we were there--raining on and off all day, but we managed to see most of the major sites and catch up with relatives! One thing I didn't like though, was all the girly bars. It was disgusting, really, but I suppose that's the liberalness. I guess, coming from Asia, I just don't like it, and seeing it so pervasive everywhere there was certainly something I can criticise! Alternatively, the liberalness also stretches to gays--it seemed as we walked down Rue St. Catherine, the main drag, that I saw more sexy effeminate men than blokes, but that could be just the fashion conciousness! One goes with the other I guess. As Omar pointed out, it's not a great city to be in as a woman... too much competition!

Interestingly, Montreal is at a lower latitude than Paris. Amazing how Montreal seems so cold, yet is actually further south. It is cold, it's true, and many people who've been there in winter say the depression is strong, but yet it rates as in the top 20 cities that people would most like to live in the world. What do people need to be happy, hmm??

Overall, Canada impresses me. I could consider living here to (an eternal consideration no matter where I go!). It is American without the Americanisms. It is more chic, more unique, and more quirky, and that appeals. I've known a few Canadians who I've thought were odd and quirky, but now I see where they come from and they fit! (I wonder if people think that when they meet me? I know I'm odd, so it's okay!) I also like that it's less stuffy and more liberal. Men have longer hair, and women are less blowdried, Ms. California perfection. I saw a woman on the street that looked just like Alanis Morissette, and it blew me away that so many women look like her--dark haired, wavy unstyled (or subtly styled) hair, or Avril Lavinge, the "rebel" fashionista. There are still the odd Celine Dions, blonde and manicured, but they just offer balance instead of the typical. I guess I empathize with the more "real" people who don't wear heavy makeup and seem down to earth. It's a casualness, I suppose, and perhaps that's because of summer. It's not trying to impress--it's just comfortable. Montreal was a bit different--tight pants everywhere there. I felt so sloppy!

I'm back in Ottawa at the moment--am actually in the University of Ottawa library! I think this'd be a great place for me to come and study for my exam on Monday! I've got this weekend here and I fly back to Chicago on Monday. From there, off to Dublin and Europe so I can really feel some USD to Euro exchange pain.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Overtravelling?

My NZ friends recently accused me of overtravelling, and that I've become jaded and blase about it all, which I suppose is partially true. They tell me that others save up for years for the kind of trip I take for granted as a weekend opportunity. They hint that I've lost the meaning and value of my wonderful opportunities. Recently my mother (after having to explain my crazy journey so far to her colleagues) told me that she thinks it's amazing.

I guess, all I can say in my defense is that I really don't know any other life!! Please don't think I take it for granted at all--I value every opportunity!!

People ask me all the time how I can afford such a life as this. Even those people that I work with ask me that. I don't budget especially carefully, so it's hard to explain it. I live pretty frugally all the time (read: efficiency!), and then have big spend-ups in the summer. I have no debt left, and when I do travel, I do it on the cheap, staying in hostels and not going out to dinner often (eating alone is not really very fun). I rarely go on the drinking binges because, again, doing it alone is not fun, although I do occasionally join others I meet. I'm not rich. I just spend my money differently than you do.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oh! Canada!

Arriving in Ottawa, I discovered it's quite a small, quaint city. I took the local bus into town to stay at the Ottawa jail... which is now a hostel. In Cell 2 Level 4 I laid my stuff and headed out for the night.

Aside from two charming German couples, I met this fascinating guy called Gabriel. He's a graffiti artist who has had some amazing life stories!! While I sarcastically told him that tagging is the equivalent of a dog's pissing on the wall to mark his territory (he was not impressed), he told me about the art form. I still think it is cruel to draw all over someone else's walls and desecrate beautiful historic brick buildings, but he has impressed on me just how much of a community it creates and how much skill is involved. He also, interestingly, had a prosthetic foot. Apparently, in his younger (but no less wild) days he used to train hop across the country, and one day he put his foot through the wheel, and it ripped off until it was only connected (vitally) by the artery. Yesterday, I went to see the graffiti artists in action at the special arts festival under the only legal graffiti wall in Ottawa.

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It's been really interesting to finally get to Canada. I find it impossible not to make comparisons with other western countries, most especially America. I find that there are far fewer obese people and there are far more tattoos (everyone seems to have at least one, and most have many, and they are all over arms, legs, bodies). Maybe because it's summer, the Canadians let it all hang out, whereas most of the year, these would be covered.

Another really surprising thing is the number of homeless people. Yesterday I was asked for money or to buy bus tickets 4 times! Do I look rich or more likely, foreign and gullible?

I do like the funky Canadian fashion sense: it's strong on punk and goth with layers of strange clothing mixes. It's definately more outrageous than Middle America's conservatism, although to be fair, I was coming from the mid west. Canadians seem accepting of their multiculturalism and mix of people. I've seen the most beautiful people here--lovely chocolate men and women with beautiful bone structures. The men are quite gorgeous and have creative facial hair. They aren't all rapper or American Eagle fashion and following the stereotypes like in America. I'm realizing more and more how US Fashion typically lacks originality--but maybe Canada gets old and looks monotonous after a while too?

Despite being orderly and prosperous, I can't decide if Ottawa's a ghetto town or not. There are just all types here! I suppose it's small size means that people have to mix with all types. I love all the French here too!! Montreal, baby... hopefully I'll get there by the end of the week!

Anyway, have to go to the airport and hope Mimi and Omar's flight has FINALLY arrived. It's been delayed twice!!

Efficiency

I never realised until a brainwave hit me while I was staying with Mel just how important it is for me to follow a policy of efficiency in my life. Everything I do has to involve no waste--no time waste, no energy waste. The exception to this is my travel, but everything else is just insane. I can't do one thing when I could be doing two. If I stand up to go somewhere, I have to pick up/carry something to the room I'm going to, and if I'm going, I usually have to carry ALL things that need to be moved. I so consistently multi-task that I lose track of what I'm doing, so I wonder if it really is efficient after all, although many things do get done!!

It bugs me when other people waste!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Madison, WI

Kara's wedding:

The first place I went upon arrival into the US was Madison for Kara's wedding. I literally got off the plane, onto a bus and went straight to the Bachelorette (Hen) Party. What a fun party! Dinner at a fashionable pub with a waiter who was definately fun--Michael told us secrets just like all the hens had to. From there we went to watch a famous Madison stripper, but, randomly, the power was off in the appartment so it was a slow start. A very good and shocking show once it did!! Then off to watch more naked men in the local gay bar, but by then we truly were blase about it all having just had one up close and personal!! Off to hotel (thank you Nelly!) for some much needed sleep!

Friday saw us at McDonalds for breakfast (it was the closest thing to the hotel) and on odd errands all day. I bought a pre-paid phone at Walgreens and amused everyone by talking to it to coax it to work. Those long lists of small print! Yuck!! After dinner at Chilli's (I think it was Chilli's), we waited for people to arrive. Cara received TLC in the form of backrubs in many curious forms.

Saturday, breakfast was at Ihop, by which point I finally figured out that Americans just don't drink tea like me. Fried and fatty food filling us, we veged on the couch some more before getting ready to go to the wedding, which began at 2pm. Of course, the biggest set of storms Madison has seen in recent years had to come at just that moment!! Tornado warning, anyone?




The ceremony was held in a tent at Kara's parents house, and then the reception (when we could get to it) was held at the Overture Center. It seemed like a strange place for a reception at first (a bit like being in the middle of a fishbowl), but by the end of the night, there didn't seem a better place anywhere. We felt fancy and swish sipping cocktails like socialites going to the theatre (the Tahitian Honeymoon drink was particuarly good), and the green theme (including cake!) was chic too. Not too many speeches later, the dancing began and the night roared on.


Later, at the hotel bar, inhibitions flew away and the debauchery :) :) began. But you'll just have to hear that gossip in person.

It was so great seeing everyone!!


Amanda, Nick and Sue's

After farewelling everyone on Sunday I went to join Amanda, though sadly, all I could do for the first afternoon was recover (couch nap!). A peaceful, relaxing week of fun ensued!! Nick took me to the capitol building and around Madison. We tried the new Afghan restaurant Maza. Nick cooked delish vege burgers. I got my annual dose of Ryan family frisbee. We ate Strawberry shortcake with that sinful coolwhip. And don't forget my favorite shop half price books. I do love suburbia. I do think I would get bored if I had to live in it for too long, but I love it when I get to live it, if only for a few weeks!!
Curly:

On Friday morning, despite the storm-induced traffic, I had a breakfast date with Andrea, and we caught up on all the exciting things happening in our lives. I heard about her time in Ukraine and we made plans to meet up somewhere near there next year!

Kenosha:

Then Mel arrived and whisked me off for lunch and a tour of the Plasma/Nuclear Physics facility at UW Madison where her bro works at. Talk about crazy new knowledge!!! I can now recognize the vaccuum, coils and other sophisticated machinery required to create hydrogen plasma, although Mel and I have concluded that even though he works in Nuclear Fission technology, they're not actually going to achieve fission that soon.


Mel and I spent a lovely sunny afternoon looking around Kenosha. Can't believe that I've been there so many times and never seen downtown. We went to a small market, the local museum (where there were some absolutely gorgeous ivory pieces), and even into Mel's dream condo on the shore of Lake Michigan.

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When I come back I'm going to Univ of Illinois at Chicago to take my last Globalization exam and staying with Mary from the Romania dig. Yay!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sixth leg: USA

I'm in transit in Seoul Incheon airport at the moment, and am on my way to Chicago (in fact, they're probably boarding my flight right now). No plans for the next few weeks, but hope I can catch up and have some relaxed fun!!

Next time, hopefully, I'll share pics, too!!

Fourth leg: Singapore

Because of my eternal desire to be thrifty (stingy?), I searched to find tickets as cheap as I could. I thought initially it would be the new startup budget airline, Tiger Airways, based in Bangkok, and at first that looked promising, but then the taxes lumped on top ended up doubling the cost!! Orbitz.com, my new travel advisor friend, had them cheaper and with a faster journey. Still, it wasn't the most direct flight. On the way, I had to go via Hong Kong, and on the way back, I stopped in Singapore. Hong Kong was barely an hour, but Singapore had 16hours!!

I arrived at 8pm and took the very convenient very clean very efficent MRT train into the city (for a whopping cost of $1.50) and stayed at a hostel for the night. Because I'm in reminsice mode, I thought a lot about my first trip there in 1992. It was bloody sticky and hot (and still is, but I just don't notice), and dusty and dirty (but I hadn't seen Manila yet!). Mum and Dad wouldn't recognize it, and of course our beloved 7th Storey Hotel is probably gone with all the glitz and glamour!! High rises are everywhere and it's so manicured and efficient. I feel guilty chewing gum and jaywalking, and where does anyone allow that kind of conscience interfere with living!?!

Off to the airport for a 1pm flight the next day--oh, I looooooooooovvvveee Changi Airport. I need to stop there more often. They just know what people need and want, and give it to them. No charges, no uncomfortable seats. Just free movies, loaned blankets, free wireless, and great shopping!! No lines, no inefficiency, just smooth, comfortable transit.

Third Leg: Australia

My dear Aunty Helen and her family live in Perth, WA, and I've been promising to visit for the last three years. Very slack that I am, I didn't get there till now. I had a lovely quiet, chatty week, there, though, and finished my assignment (late, but with extension). We even went to see the Kiev Ballet's performance of Sleeping Beauty. They do their lineups well, but the rest was just average. I'm going to the land of ballet! I wonder if I'll see some in Baku!?

Perth's climate is wonderful. Despite being winter and having a few cool, rainy days, it was warm and sunny and clear. Perfect. I know their summers have ghastly levels of heat and dryness, but right now it was gorgeous. Just to prove how cold NZ gets, its winter was just like a NZ summer, but more predictable!

Helen and Jeff's boys, Daniel and Rory are all grown up (from the last time I saw them, anyway!!), and there was lots of car talk because of accidents, car swapping, insurance, etc. I can't wait to get a car! This is Rory's new car: a 2000 Honda Civic.

I do feel a close affinity with Australia, and just like when I spent a week in Brisbane and NSW, I am seriously considering moving there one day. Ah, but when!! What would I do!?
June 12, 2008:

Just added some photos. Jeff and his brother were cleaning a wood pile and found some hibernating blue-tongued stump-tail lizards. We woke them up to move them and they hissed at us. They looked like snakes and would certainly have given me a fright if I'd seen them without knowing what they were. The Bennett dog, Banjo (from the Australian poet Banjo Patterson, whose poetry is on the $10 note!!) was very curious about them!!

These are some pictures of the Cunningham family.

Second/Fifth Leg: Farewell Bangkok

It's amazing how much I've come to really enjoy Bangkok. I'm not sure I'd want to live there, but it's a great place to visit. After three years of "visits" (more like escapes!) I've gotten to know my way around fairly well. Because this was my last trip for a while I had to do all my favorite things a last time. The yummy Nestle white chocolate with berry... mmmm.... mani-pedi, leg wax (not a favorite thing, but a necessity because of going to 1st world prices!), markets, shopping for cds and dvds. Wiling away hours on the internet!!

The worst/best part about Bangkok are the super cheap taxis. I hate Bangkok taxi drivers though! They never know where they're going, they drive around for ages, but the airconditioning is cold! They always want to charge you more, and want a set price because the meter is so cheap. Who do they think they're dealing with, eh?? :) The worst part though, the absolute worst, is when they don't fill up their gas tanks. That is so frustrating! I've lost track of how many times I've been on my way to the airport going 120km/h (yes, they love their dangerous speeds--on the latest trip I broke my record--165km/h--insanity!) and the car jerks as the engine feels the emptiness in the tank. Jerk, jerk, jerk, as I'm thrown forward by the unhappy car! The last trip, of course, he was the lowest I've ever seen anyone (in other words, it started immediately instead of half way through the journey), so this time instead of going fast he went super slowly!! But I made it, so I suppose I shouldn't complain!

On the way back from Australia, I had 8 hours in Suvarnabhumi Airport. I hate it!!! It is stark and empty and ugly and colorless. It's freezing cold and the chairs are ugly and uncomfortable. Good riddance airport, but Bangkok, my dear friend, adieu.

First leg: Philippines

I promised that when I left the black hole of Burma that I would maintain this blog more regularly, but I'm not doing too well am I? I left two weeks ago today, and it's been a bit of a whirlwind time, I've entered/exited 6 countries, and seen 5 airports (I hate airports). I'll try and catch up. First leg of the journey: Philippines.

I didn't even know I was going until I was supposed to be at the airport already! I literally bought my ticket at 9am and was on the flight by noon. This meant that I arrived with no contact details for anyone, and so had to stay in a hotel for the night. It's funny being a tourist in Manila. There is not much infrustructure for it, and it's just so far from my Philippines experience in the past. Lots of things about this trip were! Anyway, found a nice place in Makati and then later met up with JB and Tara (from Kuwait) who then invited me to move to their place!

It was so funny being back in Manila after so long away. I was at first surprised by how little of the route to the airport that I remembered. Seeing the first jeepney was like a punch to the stomach--such a unique aspect of the Philippines!! It really hasn't changed much, though, really. I thought it would be closer to Bangkok's ultra modernity, but it's not. It's still crowded and disorganized and a jumble of places with a poor road system!!

On Friday night JB and Tara were at a birthday party mystery trail so I came along. They were assigned people and had to buy ridiculous costumes for each person--hello SM Makati (the cheapest department store in the world and one of my favorite shops)!! I can't think of a better idea for a party in Manila where stupid trinkets, etc are so cheap and easily available, although I suppose $1 shops would work too! Tara was buying along a water theme for one woman, who had to wear a pink rubber tube all evening, while the rest of us had crowns, swimming caps, sun visors that looked like welders helmets, ski caps and other ridiculous regalia. What a riot of fun! So from Makati we took the (new for me) LRT train closer to Malate and tried to take the train from there, but ended up comandeering a jeepney instead! Pollution and gas fumes on EDSA are still bad! Malate had some interesting bars and we ended up in a Cuban one-Havana's?, and enjoyed good food and drinks before heading home at a reasonable hour.

The ISM teachers all live in high rises in Makati so live a very different life from Brent teachers, most of whom are living in either Alabang or Brentville. On Saturday went to a brunch in another lady's appartment--very lovely, with painted walls and marble floors and trinkets from Shanghai! Met lots more and heard lots of teacher gossip about their school.

That afternoon, I headed down to Pasig through Fort Bonifacio -- very unrecognizable -- Pasig looks almost exactly the same, from Shaw Blvd to Mega Mall. Pasig campus was the same as well. The various alumni from several years gathered in the now quite shabby looking multi-purpose hall (I remember when that was built 10 years plus ago). It was a farewell to Brent Pasig because it's closing. It was mainly organized by Dr. Escobar and the other regulars, Kristi Pozon and Lulu Floresca were also there to see people. My year had around 10 people representing! Other years a few less. I figured since it was the 10 year reunion, it would be an appropriate time to go back. It was interesting to reminisce, and had a wander around campus and there have been a few changes, but mostly I noticed the trees had grown. Life goes on I suppose.

For anyone who's interested, from my year, Aris Cebrero (and his wife), Ystevie Ty (now married to Janee Chuachiock), Chris Garcia, Joanne Tsai (now married), Catrina Tan, Bianca Scaife (now married), Miggy Villalon, Ernesto Gala, and Gilbert Ching all showed up. We caught up on lots of gossip, babies, marriages, past secrets and other such stuff.

I went and had a look around Megamall. It's still my favorite place to shop, even if it's more crowded than it was before! I took the LRT train back to Makati (easy as pie and only 10 pesos!). If only that had existed before, my life there would have been different!

On Sunday morning, Tara took me in to see the stunning ISM campus.It's an enormous building by the same architect that built the Brent Mamplasan one. It seemed much more spread out with less cohesion because of a lack of that central courtyard with the high ceilings. They had lovely flags and such blowing in the breeze and I saw the IB art exhibition through the window.

Sunday afternoon was a trip to Greenhills which hasn't changed at all. The parking is still a nightmare as are the crowds in the stalls. The number of restaurants in Manila is enormous now, and malls seem to be everywhere, which I suppose is the same as before, but I notice just how many there are in contrast to other places!

On Sunday evening I went to Kerri and James's appartment--lovely place on the 36th floor, with stunning views, but no balcony where they ordered in yummy Indian food for dinner. Their baby, Asha, was born only a dayafter JB and Tara's Eddie.

On Monday I went into Brent Mamplasan--an ordeal in a taxi because the driver didn't want to go so far south, so I had to pay the fare back as well. It was the same!! Nellie and Janet and everyone said hello. Bumped into Jason Atkins, Joe Mock, Dick Robbins, etc, etc, etc. Everyone I saw asked after Mum and Dad and Andre and sent their very best wishes! It was such a lovely community, and I enjoyed that I could speak English everywhere!

Aurelio took me back to Alabang, and from there taxis were 500 pesos so I took a Jeepney and a bus instead!! It's funny that I only experience these things when I go back!!

All in all it was a wonderful trip filled with memories, but I remembered how I didn't really fit in there, because I was an outsider, and was glad that I've moved on in the world! Still, it was a great place to grow up.