Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Same... but Different

I've been back in Boston for about a day now, and I've been in the US for about 10 days (5 in Santa Rosa, 2 in DC and 2 in NY). While I've come back to the same place life just seems different. These differences have slowly been occurring to me.

School started after labor day, and I didn't have to be there. This occurred to me as I was riding through San Francisco between Ghiradelli way to the Coastal Trail in San Francisco. My aunt had made the observation that there was surprisingly little traffic in the city and I suggested that it was because school had started... she looked at me and laughed because she could see the strange look on my face... then I said, "School start... I'm not there... I'm not there! That's pretty cool."

I came back to my apartment last night, and it was clean... pretty much the way I left it. Not that I expected my sublet to make it or leave it dirty. It's just that the day I left, my apartment was clean for the first time in a long time because my life to busy to put away those clothes into a closet that was stuffed with clothes I didn't even wear most of the time. I had a lot of junk that I gave to the good will before I left, and less stuff = easier to keep a space neat. I was bummed when my space became clean and I wasn't the one it was cleaned for. Living out of a backpack for 2 months made me realize I didn't really need a lot of the stuff I have... otherwise I'd actually miss having it. There's some stuff here that I miss having, like a stove and a refrigerator and a bed of my own complete with my Teddy Bears . But, I really don't miss my ugly futon frame or all of those novelty T-shirts. It's left me with an incredible urge to throw out more stuff.

Speaking of stuff I missed... Anyone hear that Brett Favre came out of retirement to play for the Jets? THE JETS! This actually made international news, so I'd have to lie if I said I wasn't prepared for this on my way back to the US. I think I read it in some newspaper in the Singapore or Istanbul Airport. I had about a month for it to actually sink in... What I wasn't really prepared for was the enjoyment I experience while watching the Jets (really master Favre) play from a sports bar in Ashburn, VA, home of the Redskins practice fields (and my parents), on opening day... I hate NY sports! I was raised in DC and I've spent my entire adult life living in Boston. I'm extraordinarily confused... and disoriented...

At the same time Farve was throwing touchdowns for NY, Tom Brady was busy busting his ACL. Football's just not going to be as fun without Brady. It makes things a little more interesting, but I do enjoy watching a master perform his craft... and now I have to wait an extra year. Mega bummer.

And then there's the Tampa Bay Devil Rays... I know... the Tampa Bay who? Where did they come from... As I'm writing, I'm watching the Red Sox vs. the Devil Rays in extra innings battling it out to get to the top of the AL East. And where did the Yankees go, not to say I'm all that sorry to see them in the middle of the pack... I'm sure Jets fans are thinking the same about Patriots.

Anyway all this sports stuff is small beans in the grand scheme of life, but a lot of small beans can add up (sometimes to a nice pot of chili if you put a little extra effort into it). Seriously, right now, I kind of holding a bunch of slightly bland beans because I'm back where I really like to be, but I'm not quite into the swing of life here yet. I'm about to be a working woman on Monday, and all I can think about is "do I really have enough clothes that will be appropriate for my job? I've been wearing t-shirts and jeans for the past 5 years and my wardrobe really needs help. My apartment looks like a student's apartment, can I make it look adult? Do I have to make it look adult? Wouldn't it be nice to have an apartment where the refrigerator isn't in the same room as my bed?"

Honestly, I love where I live. I can bike anywhere, I did today. I love having trees and fresh air, and access to my favorite city without driving. I over indulged today by going to by going to BOTH the Davis Square and Arlington Center Farmer's markets. I cooked myself pancakes for breakfast and pasta with roasted eggplant and fresh tomato sauce I made from farmer's market tomatoes.

Speaking of beans, big and small, here's a big bean in a small package. (btw, the clock is wrong - baby tries to go to sleep around 9PM, but apparently time means very little to new parents because they're away every few hours anyway - funny I got the same feeling while switching time zones so often). This is Gabriel William Clay, born July 27, 2008. This is my 3rd nephew I've acquired by staying in touch with old friends (there's also Vered's son, Joseph Ari - 2.5 years, and Marisa's son, Punn Punn, 8.5 months). OK boys... auntie Cappy will teach you the ways of soccer and show you how to make funny noises by slapping yourselves on you own cheeks, and we shall build forts both inside and outside the house whether mommy wants us to or not... This will be fun! I get all the cuteness without the diapers. Thanks gals! I've enjoyed visiting. =)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Whining about wine

I completed the last leg of my "around the world" airline ticket today, which means I left Santa Rosa, CA, this morning and flew to Washington Dulles Airport to pick up my car from my parents then head up the coast back to Boston (by way of New York, of course). I do have some fun stories from Santa Rosa that I'll share in a different blog, but I had to write this one first because something happened today that really struck a nerve with me and I think people should know about it.

I'm a pretty easy going traveler. With the number of airline flights and the different places I've been staying every night, I kind of resigned myself at the beginning of the trip to face the fact that I was going to lose an item here or there... or even damage something beyond repair. I did - I lost my wash cloth and toothbrush on the way to Athens, along with my cell phone charger somewhere in Italy, on to follow that by ditching my cell phone in Rhodes then throwing my digital camera in a pond in Sydney. None of this really phased me. I've been feeling more relaxed over the past month than I think I've ever felt in my life. To borrow one of my favorite quotes from a friend of mine after he'd gotten back from boot camp "Some old lady could throw a watermelon at my head in the grocery store, and I wouldn't care."

But I did find myself caring today, and quite angry and frustrated with society in my homeland. I've had a wonderful time and part of me wants to keep traveling, but I miss home and I'm happy I'll be back in Boston in a few of days.

So what was it that tipped off my anger at the current state of my world... it was 3 bottles of wine. Yah, I'm whining about 3 bottles of wine. My Aunt and Uncle live in wine making capitol of the US. To me, tasting wine is like appreciating a fine art and there is no better place in the US to do this than Sonoma county. We visited 2 wineries on the way to picking my grandmother up for dinner because we had an hour to spare and the wineries were just around the corner from where she lives. The next day we stopped in Calistoga for lunch on the way to visiting the Petrified Forrest (very cool) and the Old Faithful Geyser. We stepped into a little gift store that happened to have beehive inside. There also happened to be some wines for tasting from a small Napa vineyard, so of course we had to taste those. At these 3 stops, we managed to collect 3 very yummy wines (we probably tasted about 18 total) that I wanted to take home.

Knowing that the federal aviation regulations stipulate that I cannot carry on more than 3 oz containers of fluid, we all knew that I'd have to check my 3 bottles of wine through to Dulles Airport. My aunt and I spent a good amount of time packaging the wines for travel, and the good packaging more than paid off. I got to the airport expecting that I could ask the bag agent to place one of those nifty red "fragile" stickers on my wine, but my wine was tagged and haphazardly thrown onto the baggage belt before I could say anything. I asked the baggage agent to remove my bag from the belt because I was going to request a "fragile" sticker. The agent said, "I'm sorry maam, but we don't give those out anymore, and even if we did, it's too late to retrieve your bag."

The questions started swirling in my head and the first question that I managed to get out of my mouth was, "Why don't you give out fragile stickers?" Apparently, American Airlines has been sued up the wazoo because things with "fragile" stickers were still broken in transit. I asked if someone could please retrieve my bag so I could take a sharpie and write fragile on it, but by then, it would have delayed my plane. I asked another agent, who seemed more interested in actually listening to me if he could find my wine and write "fragile" on it for me, and miss evil came over and told him not to because they were worried about me suing them. I then asked if I could purchase some travel insurance for that case. Again, the answer was an adamant "no". Apparently AA took this issue to courts ruled that the airline has no liability whatsoever and cannot be held accountable for damage to checked personal items and therefore they cannot warn their baggage handlers that they are throwing around 3 full glass containers.

It wasn't so much the wine that I was upset about. It more the ridiculousness of the whole situation. I started trying to assign blame to large corporations bullying people in court because they are able to hire better lawyers, but then I thought about all the stupid people out there who sue the city because the tripped and scraped their knee on the sidewalk. Then I thought about how American Airlines isn't really doing all that well, and how they're trying to save a penny any way they can. Then there's the FAA regulations preventing me from protecting my wine that's sort of a paranoid regulation and I more than understand how it evolved, but it shouldn't apply to me or the majority of other Americans. I didn't want to give the AA employees a hard time because they're paid to follow rules, but I've always had a problem with people who mindlessly follow rules.

I just got really frustrated with the state of our society. The rules are basically in place because of paranoia and the need for accountability to be held by anyone but oneself. I didn't experience anything like this while I was outside the country, so I was bit surprised at the intense emotions I was feeling. For a country that was founded on the principle that everyone has their own mind and their own say, I'm frustrated that so many people act like drones because they are scared to take any other action.

(The pictures were advertisements I saw in the Dallas Ft. Worth Airport, where I had a 2 hour layover, and had nothing better to do than scout adds... these were funny and quite appropriate. The wine did make it, but the styrofoam inside the cardboard box was completely destroyed. I do have a happier Santa Rosa blog, which will probably come out soon.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Longest Day of My Life

I was able to squeeze a second night out of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is another one of those places that's hard to get to know after only 48 hours and it would have been really impossible for me to get a feel of the place after only 24 hours... what was I thinking? I kind of remember - I wanted more time in Thailand, and San Francisco, and I wanted to get back to Boston in time to get myself organized before starting work. Hong Kong got squished in the process.
So in Hong Kong, I met up with cousin Amber (who I'd met up with in Liverpool earlier on the trip), her husband Ian, and 3 kids, Zach, Jasmine, and Zabrina. Ian is a police officer in Hong Kong and the whole family lives in a government flat on the outskirts of the city on Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong Island is a big mountain, and being on the 11th floor of a sky scraper on a mountain means you have views out your balcony like this:Not bad for a government flat.

I actually wasn't able to change my flight until the day of my flight. I think the airline was trying to sell the extra seats for a really high price. They kept telling me that the flight I wanted wasn't available, then suddenly it was. Anyway, we thought I only had one night in Hong Kong, Amber and Ian wanted to make sure I had a good 1 night, so we went out.
On day 2, since I had time to explore, I decided to get lost in Kowloon. It was fun. I found the flower market, the bird market, the fish market, the market market...

I ended up getting a little sick of markets, even though they weren't like markets I'd find back home, I wasn't going to buy anything. They flowers would have rotted, the birds would be a poopy mess, I would have committed cruelty to fish because the bag would have popped and the fish would have died a slow painful death by suffocation in a non-liquid atmosphere.

I ended up walking around the Nan Lian Garden, then having traditional Chinese tea in the tea house. Then I trekked back up the hill to find Amber for our 2nd night out.

The next day was the longest day of my life (so far). Litterally, it lasted 39 hours. Hong Kong is 15 hours ahead of San Francisco, and I got to cross the International Date Line (no, I did not feel a bump), but this is as close to time travel as I think I'll ever get.

I woke up at about 8:30AM, and Amber and I took the dog (Pudding) for a nice 2 hour walk through up on the mountain. Then we came back for lunch and I left for the airport. I got on the plane (or time machine) at about 4:25PM on August 30. I spent the next 13 hours in a place where time has no meaning. Ironically, I started my trip by watching the 4th Indianna Jones, which was the bridge between archeological myth and science fiction. I think George Lucas got this series confused a bit with Star Wars, but I'm not picky. I still found it entertaining, although I can see why some people really didn't like it. I stepped off the plane in San Francisco at 2:30PM on August 30, about 2 hours before I took off. I met up with my aunt and uncle and we went for Mexican food in Santa Rosa, and said hello to Snoopy (Charles Schultz is from Santa Rosa). I managed to stay awake until at least 9PM... not bad. I at 5 meals on August 30, which seemed about right. I at 4 meals on the 31st, and I'm shooting for 3 meals today... that should put me back into reality. I think the sci fi writers got it right when they say that time travelling takes it's toll on your body, but I'm feeling like going on a couple more adventures before coming home.

Friday, August 22, 2008

You're only young and stupid once

This is a picture that Marisa has on this computer she leant me for the week. I think it's from some time in the late 1980s. Going from left to right, that's Marisa, Cappy and Natalie (Marisa's little sister. Another way of putting it, we have (from left to right) Lawyer for the UN in Bangkok, Sr. Engineer in Cambridge, MA, and Business woman in Washington DC. We had virtually identical houses and adjoining back yards, but I know this is her back yard because of the red deck on the left in this picture (I had a patio, not a deck). This was when we were you... not all that stupid yet. Stupid takes time. I know all of us spent a lot of time trying to learn how to be smart. At least I did. I'll let Marisa and Natalie speak for themselves if they wish.
I'm a pretty lucky person. I have some really great friends, but Marisa will always be special because she was the first real friend I made. We met when I moved in to my house in Burke. I was 6 and Marisa was 5 and a half (that half being very important as it is to all 5 year olds). This put us in the same grade at the same school for 8 years. Then Marisa and her family moved to Thailand. When I was 14, I promised I'd come visit her. It took 14 years, but I finially made it to Bangkok for her wedding. Marisa's mother said I had to come back when she had more time - not for Natalie's wedding. Well, I made it back... and guess what Marisa and her husband produced this in 2 years:This is Punn Punn and he alread knows party tricks. Marisa calls this "the genie", which he learned how to do when he discovered his toes.So when we can get grandma to watch the baby (and the baby to watch himself... he loves mirrors), what to 2 old friends do?We get matching hair cuts (because a top end salon only charges about $13 and we both hadn't had a hair cut in a while), then put on matching sarongs so we can go into the grand palace for an Thai Royal Art exhibition at the Grand Palace. Royal art is completely amazing. It takes 10s to hundreds of artist shaping gold, diamonds, teak wood, silk and beatle wings into some of the most beautiful art. Yes, I said beatle wings. They're beautiful shiney shades of blue and green. In order for the beatles to be used in the artwork, they have to die a natural death, otherwise the wings aren't as risiliant. Both Marisa and I started thinking about how many beatles had to die to make all those sculptures. Then we started thinking about what is really considered a "natural death" for the beatles.

This exhibit is in the same part of Bangkok as the riots that are happening. The Thai people are upset with the Parliment, so they've been organizing and hoping over gates to let the government know that they are upset. Marisa's office with the UN is right next to the riot and we drove by a couple of days ago. It was really interesting. The riot looked like a normal street market, complete with food and clothing vendors. We didn't go into the area, just drove by. Now you can't do that and you can't go into the Grand Palace and Marisa couldn't go to work yesterday because the riots have escalated. So if you are in Thailand, come after this riot blows over and come see the temporary Royal Art Exhibit at the Grand Palace. According to Marisa, museums in Thailand aren't very good because they're not maintained because people don't go to them and people don't go to them because they aren't maintained... This isn't the case for this exhibit. It's really well done.

When grandma wasn't watching Marisa Junior, we decided to do a family friendly activity and visit the National Science Museum (knowing that the Thai Museums had a reputation of not being all that great). I kind of wanted to see the museum and see what an 8 month old baby gets out of a trip to an interactive educational insistute. The Science Museum is a 6 story interactive exhibit, not too unlike the Boston Museum of Science. The first 5 floors are very well organized with multimedia educaitonal tools. All exhibit descriptions are presented in Thai and English. The 6th floor all about the engineering behind Thai art (pottery, embriodery, etc.) This museum didn't live up to the reputation of Thai museums either. Punn Punn loved it. This is Punn Punn trying to shake his own hand in a bowl mirror. Yet again, we had fun being young and not very stupid.
In order to get young and stupid, Marisa had to leave me on my own for a little bit in Thailand. I travelled south to a town called Krabi, which is know for sea caves and rock climbing. So... when in Thailand - I went rock climbing.Rock climbing on real rocks is much harder than it looks. The grips aren't perfect nor obvious like they are in a gym. This was fun and physically and mentally challenging... But I really enjoyed cave kayaking on the tidal rivers through the mangroves in the rain forest. This was less physically challenging, but it was eye candy.

So there I was crawling around in sea caves with paintings that were from about 2000 BC. This is officially the oldest evidence of modern man that I've run into on this trip. I got to crawl around in these ancient sea caves, and hear stories about the sea gypsies that knew about the tsunami that hit Thailand a couple of years ago and warned everyone to move to the highlands several days before the Tsunami hit.
Of course this wasn't all that stupid either because these were guided tours. It wasn't until about an hour and half after this sea cave tour ended that I got stupid. I booked a motorcycle taxi for my 14 km ride to the airport. A lot of Thai people take motorcycle taxis around town mostly for short trips, and I got a taste of riding on one on my way in to Krabi... I had taken an airport bus, which had a short taxi transfer to my hotel - I could have walked it, but the bus company insisted that I take the free transfer. It was a rush... so of course, I decided to take a motorcycle all the way back to the airport, 14 km. It's rainy season in Thailand, and my motorcycle didn't show up because it had been pouring rain. As the rain was ending I ran the 1/4 mile to the tourist info booth where I'd booked my motorcycle wondering where it was since it was 30 minutes overdue at my hotel. Long story short, I jumped on the back of a motorcycle - no helmet, at the end of a thunder storm, and we weaved through traffic to get to the airport on time for my flight. About 2 minutes into the ride, I observed that my driver had a helmet and a poncho, and I had neither... that's when it occurred to me... this is stupid... Then I looked up, saw the clearing sky, felt the wind in my face and saw all the other Thai people on the road without helmets and ponchos, and decided this was awesome! Then I thought - "Ben Roethlisberger, I understand, I really do understand." I saw a sign that said "Airport, 1Km" and something inside me sank... this awesome thrill ride was almost over. We turned the corner and pulled up to the departure area, I got off, thanked the driver, and went off on my merry way. I survived, and it was damned fun!

A little post script - Mrs. Vatana likes durian and has wanted me to try some and she finally got me to try it last night when I got back from Krabi. If anyone is wondering what durian tastes like - it tastes a little like sweet garlic pudding. I didn't like it or hate it (as goes the fable), it tastes better than raw onions, but I wouldn't choose to eat it again.

I ate 20 bananas

Yup, I ate 20 bananas in one sitting. OK... That was an approximation (and pretty much a direct quote from Mrs. Vatana) and the bananas were those little mini bananas and the were dried like prunes then soaked in honey. But I liked ever single one of them.

One of the wonderful things about Thailand is that you can get food anywhere at any time of day. When I came here 2 years ago for Marisa's wedding, she told me that Thai people eat all the time, which kind of makes you wonder why they are all so skinny. It must have to do with the fact that the food they eat is fresh and desert is usually fruit or bean based, not cream and butter based... just a guess. Anyway, since I arrived in Thailand last Wednesday night, Mrs. Vatana, Marisa's mother, who's known me since I was 6 years old, has made it her mission to introduce me to as many strange looking foods as she possibly can. When she's not around, Marisa has been doing a pretty good job of filling in for her mother.

My first day in Thailand we went to a park called Muang Boran, which is on the outskirts of Bangkok. Visiting this park was like seeing all of the major historical sites in all of Thailand in 1 day. We had lunch at a floating market. This is Mrs. Vatana ordering some things for lunch at the floating market in Muang Boran.This was our meal for 3 people, which cost us less than $5.

Snack time consists of fruit a lot of the time, and the fruit here is typically very good because it's not picked off the tree until it is ripe. The juices are also fresh, and will often spoil after a day because there are no preservatives used. In the picture below (going roughly from left to right) is a bowl of fruit sauce (fish sauce, hot peppers and maybe some other stuff), some pineapple, fruit in a pod that I don't know the name of, a green mango (which tastes more like a pear or an apple than the mangos I'm used to), the jar for the fruit sauce, and some dry stuff to dip your fruit in consisting of salt, sugar, and hot pepper. It sounds disgusting at first, but dipping fruit in salt, sugar and hot pepper is really tasty. It kind of brings out flavors in the fruit. I like it.
I'm actually finding that there's not much I don't like to eat. I have a bit of a reputation as a picky eater because I can't stand onions. To those people, I'd like to say: I'd like to see you eat eyball soup!OK, this isn't eyeball soup. It's a desert actually - sweet sesame balls in ginger tea. I'm a ginger-holic, so this was oh so good. Why eat onions when you can eat sesame ginger balls. Below is another desert that tastes better than onions. It's coconut ice with a pink fruit/nut thing.

Here's some more fruit - something prickly on the outside, soft on the inside, with a black pit at the center (reminds me of an x-boyfirend). You only eat the soft part, the other parts aren't too good for you (also like an x-boyfriend). Next to it, is a black and white chunk of the inside of a dragon fruit.

Marisa's inlaws actually have a dragon fruit plant in their yard. This is what the plant looks like. The fruit comes from those white flowers. None of these are ripe. When the dragon fruit is ripe, it turns into a really bright shade of red. It's really pretty, but I don't have a picture of the ripe fruit right now.Eating all this crazy food that Marisa and her mother are introducing me to isn't nearly as adventurous as trying to order it myself. Today at lunch, there was some fresh guava available and Marisa suggested I try it as a desert. She suggested I order it myself, so I asked her what the Thai word for guava was. She told me that is was the same as the what Thai people call me, "farong", which is basically an affectionate term Thai people use for a clueless foriegner... So I went up to the vendor with the straightes face I could muster and said, "Neung farong, Ca" - "One clueless forienger, please." It took 3 different people to finally understand that I wanted a guava. I got back to the table and Marisa was complimenting me on my successful communication. I asked her if she saw that it took 3 people to understand me. Then she told me that they probably don't speak Thai very well - they were farong.

I haven't spent my whole trip to Thailand eating. I have plenty of other good stories, but I'll save those for a different blog.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Winter in a Land Down Under

Three hours after getting home from Paul’s concert, I woke up to catch a plane to Christchurch, NZ. It’s quite a bit colder here than it was in Sydney because it’s further south. It’s also one of the coldest wintersLuckily, there was a sale at a store on Manly beach that was going out of business and I picked up a Thinsulate hat for A$3, Thinsulate gloves for A$3 and some fuzzy socks for A$2. Easily 3 of the best buys in my entire life because I’ve used them just about every day here.

It’s not really freezing cold in New Zealand, unless you go looking for it. The average high is in the double digits Celsius and the lows at night are just above freezing. There’s no snow on the Canterbury Plane, which is huge and flat. Then suddenly off in the distance, the mountains, the Southern Alps, go straight up, and there’s plenty of snow out there. Since the plane is so flat, you can see the mountain range from the city on a clear day even though it’s a good 100km away or so.

Christchurch is a small city on the southern island of New Zealand. There are only about 500,000 people and it’s the 2nd biggest city in the country. I only spent 1 afternoon in the city, and I went to the Caterbury Museum, The Cathedral, and Rutherford’s Den. For those who don’t know, Ernest Rutherford is the famous Kiwi Scientist who did the gold foil experiment and proved that atoms have a nucleus by shooting alpha particles at a thin sheet of gold and detecting that the alpha particles didn’t go straight through, but came out at all angles. Therefore the atomic nucleus was deflecting the particles. Rutherford’s Den was great! We walked to the old Canterbury University and we were literally visited by Rutherford’s ghost. Then we got to sit in on one of his chemistry lectures where they were talking about how different atoms have different numbers of “hands” and how some atoms like to hold other atom’s hands and how some atoms hold their own hands, but how they don’t like that very much. I think this whole personification given to things that have no feelings (that we know of) is why I studied so much chemistry. Even in my highs school education, I was told that the noble gases were “happy” by themselves, but all the other atoms weren’t. Chemistry is a science we came to understand through personification, giving inanimate abstract objects some character to make them less abstract. Rutherford’s Den is definitely worth a visit or 2!

I only spent 1 day in the city of Christchurch. I’m really lucky that Kris and Doug Matson have a car because I got to explore a good amount of the east coast of the south island (we couldn’t get to the west because the roads were closed due to snow).

On my first day in NZ, we headed north to explore the tide pools in Kaikoura. Here you can walk on a shelf of rock at low tide, see the sea lions, and birds, and other sea life. But at high tide, this shelf is under water. There’s another shelf about 60 meters higher that you can walk along and view the tide pools from above.

After walking along the tide pools, we went on a short hike in the woods on Mt. Fyffe. We hiked about halfway up this mountain. The brush was amazing. I made a comment about how we’re lucky that it’s winter and that there are no biting bugs, but apparently there are no biting bugs in the summer either. Kris told me that biting bugs just never evolved here.

On day 2 in New Zealand, we purposefully went in search of the cold weather. I needed to be able to say that I’ve been skiing in August. I put on every layer of long sleeve/long pants clothing I brought with me plus a layer on top and bottom that I borrowed from Kris and headed to Mt. Hutt with Kris and Doug. The base lodge was located at just over 2000 meters… that meters, not feet! The summit elevation was about 2700 meters. We actually saw a helicopter flying a good 500 meters below us. All the skiing was above tree line. There were trails, but you wouldn’t know it. From just about everywhere on the mountain you could see out to the ocean. The views were spectacular. The views alone were worth the cold weather. The snow was really nice too. We had 8 cm of new powder, and because there were no trails, you could find un-skied snow even at the end of the day.

As if skiing wasn’t cold enough, we spent day three driving as far south as we could in one day, past the 45th
parallel, to the town of Oumaru to look for penguins. There are 2 types of penguins in Oumaru, the yellow eyed penguins (YEPs), and the blue penguins. The yellow eyed penguins are very rare and shy. There are only about 2000 of them in the world. They tend to come on shore any time between 3-5PM and also at 7AM. They waddle up onto shore and then climb into the brush where they nest and lay eggs. Yesterday, the YEPs were late. Again, I needed every layer of clothing available to me. Since they’re shy, we needed to stand at the top of a hill, and we stood there for 1.5 hours in the strong wind, occasional freezing shower and cold. Eventually we saw 1 little penguin waddle it’s way onto shore. I got a picture of him, can you see that little black and white spot near the brush?

It was cold, we saw 1 penguin, we knew there’d be more, but we left anyway to warm up at a pub before making our way over to the Blue Penguin viewing area. The blues are a little less shy and show up after 6PM. Their arrival on shore has been commercialized. There’s an amphitheatre and interpreters that tell you a little about the animals. The area is lit with orange light because penguins can’t see orange. This was a neat factoid. There were 32 blue penguins that came in before we left because it was dark and we had a 3 hour drive in front of us. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures here either (or bring dogs, because “dogs eat penguins… don’t think your dog won’t because he will”), so I gave in a bought the post cards.
This was great, but I’m ready for some summer. Today I go from the freezer to the fryer. I’m headed to Bangkok in a few hours. Hold on to your seats because I’m going from 0 to 35 in 13.5 hours.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Tail of Wonderful Errors

I’ve been enjoying the best of winter in August for about a week now. I was supposed to have 3 full days in Sydney and 5 days in the Christchurch area, but I got cheated out of one of my days in Sydney, which is a real bummer. It was a funny story actually. On my original itinerary, my travel agent had me flying from Istanbul back to London so I could go to Sydney. I thought that was ridiculous, so I said, give me a month, I’ll find my own way back to London and I’ll make it fun. At the time, I didn’t know the exact dates of my Turkey trip, and I ended up with only a day and a half to get from Bodrum, Turkey, to London to catch my flight to Sydney. I ended up booking on my own the same Istanbul-London ticket on my original itinerary. My travel agent actually couldn’t get me onto this flight because they each agent is only allotted a certain number of tickets per plane, so I book via Expedia. So, I was really happy to get a good day to explore Istanbul before heading to London with a 2 hour connection before my Australia flight.

The Istanbul – London flight left on time, so I was expecting no problems for the transfer. It came time to land, and we weren’t landing. Eventually the pilot got on the intercom and told us that the flight tower at Heathrow had been evacuated due to a fire alarm and there were no flights going in or coming out. Our plane had already flown from London to Istanbul earlier in the day, and they decided not to refuel in Istanbul. So we were flying circles around Heathrow and running out of gas. The captain decided to go land in Birmingham to refuel and then make the 25 minute flight to Heathrow when the tower re-opened. We ended up landing around 10PM. Air traffic control decided to let outgoing flights leave before the incoming flights landed, so a lot of people ended up missing their connections. My flight was locked out at 9:30.

Because it was 10PM, British Airways had no rebooking agents at the transfer point in Heathrow, so everyone had to go through customs to rebook. In fact, British Airways only had 1 representative for people coming off the international flights, and they ran into a problem with Boarder Control because the UK requires Visas for some countries, so if you were from a country that required a VISA you couldn’t get to the British Airways counter to rebook your flight. Luckily, I’m from the US and I didn’t need a Visa. I ended up getting on a Quatas flight at 12:15 the next day, plus dinner, breakfast and a hotel room. So I got an extra day in London and missing out on my first day in Sydney.

I lost most of my 2nd day due to jet lag. I didn’t wake up until 2:30PM, but at that point I was ready to take on Sydney as best I could. I’d gotten a flavour for London, Rome, Athens, and Istanbul in roughly 2 days, so I figured I could see Sydney in 2 days. I was wrong. I left Sydney really not wanting to leave Sydney. I don’t think I’d want to leave after a week. Sydney is a walker’s paradise. I’m mostly a fair weather biker, but I LOVE walking in just about any weather. When I got off the train in the center of Sydney, I was in Hyde Park. I knew I had to walk east to go to my target destination, the Darling Harbor and the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife Center, but I got really distracted. I was in the middle of a beautiful park, full of birds I’d never seen before and trees that looked like the “Tree of Life” from Disney’s Animal Kingdom (cypress trees). The weather was perfect, although the people from Sydney thought it was cold. A high of 19C and lows of 11C (for those used to F, F = (9/5)C + 32, so roughly highs of 65ish). This happens to be very similar weather to the UK in the Summer.

On my walk, I ended up missing the Aquarium and Wildlife Center because I was supposed to be meeting my friend, Paul, for a couple of beers at 6PM and my 10 minute walk from Hyde Park to Darling Harbor ended up being about an hour and a half. The Aquarium is definitely the tourist thing to do at night in Sydney because it’s open until 10PM and I hear it’s wonderful, so figuring that I had another day in Sydney, I decided that I’d go back the following day after my trip to Manly beach.

On my flight delay, I met a number of people very familiar with Sydney and I was told over and over again to (skip a tour of the Opera House) and take a ferry from Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) to Manly Beach and get some fish and chips. On the ferry, there’d be plenty of photo ops to get my tourist picture of the bridge and the Opera house. So on my last full day in Sydney, I got up early and did this figuring it would be a morning/lunch trip. When the ferry landed, I picked up a tourist map and found that there were walking trails all over town, so naturally, I started walking. The further I went, the more wildlife I saw… here’s a lizard,

And a bandicoot (these are apparently pretty rare to see in the wild. One Australian man told me that he’d only seen 3 in his life.

Then I ended up here.

It was at this point that I decided, I’d make this trip to Sydney a mission of finding urban exotic animals and trying to take a picture of all of them. I found this pond on the top of a plateau and I heard frogs chirping all around it. I decided to go sneaking up on some frogs, but then I heard a bird and turned quickly to try to get a picture of the bird, and in the process, I flung my camera into the pond. Not thinking, I jumped ankle deep into the pond to try and save my camera. After I pulled it out, I realized that was it… it was dead. I looked down expecting my foot to be all soaked in water and cold, but to my surprise, my foot was dry. My $20 Easy Spirit shoes were pretty water resistant. This made me happy. My camera was dead because I went chasing frogs and this made me sad. I decided to head back to town for my fish and chips, and then try to find a new camera, because I wasn’t going to miss Paul “Ace” Mason in concert without my camera.
Picture from my new camera (using the flash in the dark)
no flash (the flash would have only shown the foreground and I wasn't close enough for a foreground shot.)
I found a Target, and now I have an awesome brand new 9 Megapixel camera that takes much better pictures that my 3 year old 3.2 mega pixel camera. I’ve been complaining a lot about my camera on this trip, saying I wanted a new camera. And now I have one and I love it. I’ve been very careful not to go chasing after frogs, just birds

And bats

And motorcycles

Form the Botanical gardens, right behind the opera house in Sydney.

Then it was off to China town and Eating World for dinner (BTW, the best Chinese I’ve had outside of China!) Nicky, this picture’s for you, since you requested more food pictures. =) I finished my day in Sydney seeing Ace and the Gronks (his band) in concert at the Excelsior Hotel. I had a ton of trouble getting a good picture of him even with my new camera because he as dressed in black and the lighting wasn’t very good. Here’s my best shot. Of course, this shot would have been impossible with my old camera, so let’s all thank the frogs!