Thursday, 25 December 2008

Kentucky Fried Christ

Shao Kao.
The bane of my existence.

The rough translation of "shao kao" would be "barbeque". A more direct translation would be, "what you eat when you're so drunk that you can't actually stand anymore and are definitely not going to remember having eaten the things you are throwing up the next day."

Shao kao tends to occur around 3am after a raucous night of cheap beer, kedamine and hookers. Well, maybe not the kedamine or hookers, but I'm sure you have a vivid and fairly accurate image now. It always sounds like a great idea...but I'm pretty sure our toilet is a suicide risk by the end of the night.

The plus side of shao kao is how cheap it is. Even with eight people eating, I've never seen a bill that was more than 100 kuai (about $18 Canadian). You can eat such magical things as whole roasted eggplant, oysters on the half shell, crucified chicken (yup, Jesus in chicken form), peppers stuffed with veggie goodness, vegetarian fried dumplings, hot pot and hand made donuts. Oh, and there's beer. And baijou. But let's not talk about baijou. That's a bone-chilling story for another day.

You see, shao kao isn't so much the beginning or end of psychosis, it's more like the fertilizer that helps it grow. For 50 kuai, I got to watch Dallas teabag Lucas. For those of you who are so far (and probably happily) unaware of what teabagging is, allow me to educate you: "to teabag" someone is to place your balls (the hairy kind) on someone else' face. Why would anyone in their right mind want to see or do that? The only answer that comes to mind is: Shao Kao. And considering the public nature of shao kao, being that you're sitting on the side of the road and all, I'd say that my 50 kuai was well spent.

In closing, anyone who decides to come visit us in China will definitely experience the combination of glory and horror that is shao kao. I'm almost certain that they won't remember the teabag incident...

Quote of the Day

Two friends of ours, Dallas and Joe, were discussing the possibility of Joe touring around Europe doing spoken word. Joe was fairly skeptical, claiming that he didn't have enough material to do something like that. However, Dallas was pretty convincing, arguing that Joe only needed 15 minutes worth of material. Joe's response?

"15 minutes!? I can't manage that outta my dick let alone my mouth!"


(We're about 99% certain that the previous statement is untrue. Wanted to mention that so no one makes any unfair assumptions about Joe.)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

I Has Learning English Since Three Years

Not quite.

The most important thing that you should know about the English language is this: just because you can speak it doesn't mean that you actually know anything about it.

For example, what is the difference between, "The movie is absolutely brilliant," and "The movie is absolute brilliance."

And why use "am going to" instead of just "will"? I am going to catch the train. I will catch the train. I am going to punch you in the face if you ask me that question again. I'll do it, I swear.

The obsession with grammar here is almost terrifying, mostly because we simply don't learn it in Canada. Without a doubt, Chinese students know more about English grammar than any Western student does. Prepositions anyone? I didn't actually know what those were until I'd been working here for about two months.

And when the hell did we get twelve different verb tenses in English?

I am an English teacher. (present simple)
I will be fired if I don't understand grammar better. (future simple)
I was an English teacher who didn't know anything. (past simple)

I am punching you in the face. (present continuous)
I will be punching you in the face if you don't shut up. (future continuous)
I was punching you in the face last night. (we shouldn't have drank so much a.k.a. past continuous)

I have decorated the Christmas tree. (present perfect)
I will have decorated the tree by the time I'm sober. (future perfect)
I had just decorated the tree when Santa started streaking. (past perfect)

I have been dancing all night. (present perfect continuous)
I will have been dancing on the table for three hours by midnight. (future perfect continuous)
I had been dancing for three hours before they finally kicked me out. (past perfect continuous)

All I want for Christmas is for Santa to take back the bloody verb tenses.

But it's not all bad. In fact, this is just me being a giant whiner. Most of the time my job is hilarious. For example, what do you call a person who takes pictures for a living? "A potato!"

Not quite.

Quote of the Day:

"She's self aware, she just doesn't realize."

Monday, 21 April 2008

Drive: Indonesia

Things That Are Not Required For Driving in Indonesia:

I mean, really, who needs an engine when you could just use a horse? No joke. From Yogya to Lombok, and I'm sure many places between and outside that geographic, horse and carts are a completely acceptable form of transportation. In the Gili Islands they're referred to as the Gili Lamborghini.

It costs about $10 for an hour and a half cab ride through the city. However, it will cost you much more if you fall asleep during your cab ride. You'll either get driven around to rack up the tab, or they'll simply rob you blind. They won't kill you though, so at least that's a plus.

Unleaded Gasoline:
I mean, you can certainly get unleaded gasoline, considering that it's all they sell at the petrol stations. But it's just so far to go to get to the know? And there's a guy right there on the corner selling the leaded stuff in recycled water bottles. I mean...(insert long suffering sigh)'s just so far to the petrol station. At least two extra blocks.

If they exist, I certainly can't tell. Cars will generally pay attention to which side of the road they should be driving on, but there are no lines on the tarmac to keep them there. And the keyword in that sentence was "generally". Even that's being kind. These guys will pass a bus at 100kph, going uphill, around a hairpin turn, honking their horn the whole way, while they smoke their cigarettes and try to convince you of the rightness to you marrying them and bearing them ten children. On the other hand, motorbikes don't even care about lanes. In fact, motorbikes don't even seem to care about the road. And really, why should they? They have sidewalks, two-by-four bridges, construction sites, markets and pedestrians to drive over. A road just seems like overkill.

Because honestly, it doesn't matter how long you repeat the name of your hotel to yourself, trying to make your tongue remember words that are foreign to it. It doesn't matter how much preparation you put in to becoming one with that state of being known as "Where You Are Going". It doesn't matter because your cab driver has no idea where the hell he's going anyways. And he will never, ever admit to this, nor will he ask for directions until it is painstakingly obvious that he is out of options. "Out of options" could mean that you end up in another city when you meant to go down the street.

Dagan, James and I were in a cab one night, on our way to a fairly well known area of Jakarta known as Blok M. It's especially well known to cab drivers as it happens to be the prostitute district (no questions it a sight seeing excursion). So, no problem getting there, right? Right. We ended up at a closed down shopping mall. Why did our driver take us to a mall at 3am? Why didn't he just tell us he didn't know where he was going? Since this is a Muslim country, I'll have to refer you to Allah on that one. Go with God...just don't take a taxi there.

Quote of the Day:

While in the back of the taxi on the afore mentioned night, I brought up the fact that in the old days, Chinese sailors use to take pigeons on board ships to have sex with them (I believe you can thank Marty for imparting that knowledge). Dagan was completely unconvinced of this, thinking it anatomically impossible. James was completely convinced of its plausibility, and what ensued was an extremely heated debate based on James saying yes, Dagan saying no, and me saying that I'd put money up for whoever wanted to prove it.

Finally, James slapped his hand down and announced loudly:

"FINE!!! Get me a pigeon, a condom and a lot of money! We'll settle this now!"

Our poor cab driver. It's probably good that he didn't speak English.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Jakarta, Indonesia - Day 1

Jakarta. Aptly described as the armpit of the world. Home to 16 million people and twice as many rats; dirty in a physical and bureaucratic kind of way. Jakarta. Home of the Muslim Butterfly. Cocooned in her head scarf by day, she morphs by night, reborn in a dress made out of slightly less material than the head scarf. Jakarta. Home of the limp-wristed force field of pedestrians and the surging beast of traffic that ignores it. Jakarta. The White Mans Graveyard. The Big Durian. Jakarta. The armpit of the world.

My first night in Jakarta went something like this:

I tried to take myself out for dinner at this little seafood warung (street side restaurant). It turns out that nothing in the restaurant was in English...not even the staff. After I unsuccessfully tried to order menu items by simply pointing at them, my waiter decided to make a stunning career move from the hospitality field into that industry fondly known as "Staring at the Stupid Foreigner with an Equally Stupid Expression on Your Face". I think he's going to go a long way with this employment choice. He had a real grasp for the finer nuances.

I should also bring to the table the fact that the rest of the staff, who were all girls under the age of twenty, were watching our entire exchange and probably giving themselves hemorrhoids because they were laughing so hard. Finally, a very nice Chinese man stood up from one of the other tables and came over to try and help me. And help me he certainly did. He helped me order about four million times more food than I could ever have possibly ingested. As a direct result of this, I didn't have enough money to pay for my meal. Nice Chinese man was already gone when I realized this, and I was back to dealing with my space cadet of a waiter. Basically I just held up my bank card and mimed myself walking to the ATM and then coming back. This was greeted with a blank stare, so I just gave up trying to explain and walked myself over to the ATM and came back. This was also greeted with a blank stare. Like I said, he has a solid handle on the nuances of his new career.

The kicker to the whole story is this:

When I met Dagan and his flatmate Luke after they were done work, I told them this whole story. Dagan kind of grinned, but Luke just lost his mind laughing. Now, I think that my story is kind of comical, but I have no delusions about just how humourous it is. And it wasn't funny enough for Luke to be laughing that way. So I asked him what the deal was. After he relearned how to breath, he just beamed at me and said:

"But they all speak English there!"


Quote of the Day:

There were about eight of us sitting around a table one night, playing poker and discussing quantum physics. You know, regular old card playing conversation. We were basically tossing around random theories that we'd heard from one place or another, mostly just to see who had heard the same things and whether or not we thought they were true. Then all of a sudden, James, who had previously been completely silent in the conversation, pipes up with:

"You know that theory, where if you half a distance, then half it again, then half it again, then half it again, and just keep going, that you'll never get there? Well I don't get it. I reckon, just aim for twice as far and you'll get there straight away."

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Yogya, Indonesia

After spending ten hours in an airport in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), I finally got on my plane to Jakarta (Indonesia) with that blankety-blank airline, Air Asia. After a four hour delay. Actually, it wasn't even a delay. They just happened to change the flight time. For no reason. Air Asia sent me an updated email itinerary, informing me of this change. The day after.

Nevertheless, I made it to Indonesia, with Dagan being kind enough to wait all those hours for me and pick me up at the airport at 2am. We then decided on the spur of the moment to make a trip from Jakarta, where he lives, to Yogyakarta in the southeast of Java for his Easter vacation. Funnily enough, all flights, trains and buses appeared to be booked in this Islam nation for the Easter holiday. Go figure.

Our solution? Well, to be factual, Dagan's boss' solution? The black market.

Basically, we just stood around outside the train station "looking for a score" (the boss' words, not mine), which we found in the form of train tickets to Yogya for about $50 a piece, even though they should have cost $10. I wasn't too upset though. I'll spend the extra $40 just to say that one time in my life, I actually bought something on the black market. It felt good.

Yogya was definitely a happy city. Horse and carts, restaurants that were actually made of canvas tents, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, traditional dance shows and music music music. I've never seen a city so filled with music. Guitars, drums, violins, flutes, cellos, the works. People in cafes just having coffee and scratching out a tune on their fiddle. A hole in the wall guitar makers' shop with the creator creating right there on the side walk. I would live in Yogya based on that alone.

The highlight of the weekend, except for Dagan's company (obviously), was Borobudur, the ruins of the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The tiered structure stands 34.5 meters tall, covering an area of around 200 square meters. Each level represents a different stage on the path to nirvana. The first four levels depict man's earthly existence in stunning stone carvings and reliefs, as he begins on the path of enlightenment. The high gallery walls on the first four levels cut you off from the scenery around you, effectively representing the murky spiritual world inhabited by man. Suddenly, as you enter the fifth tier, reaching enlightenment, the walls and busy reliefs fall away; below is the chaos of the world, above is nirvana, represented by a huge empty stupa (a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) almost ten meters in diameter. Surrounding this stupa are seventy two smaller ones, each occupied by a statue of Buddha, said to give good luck if a person can reach in and touch the statue. The stupa at the top, however, is empty. There was once a Buddha here too, but it seems somehow appropriate that this has disappeared, nirvana signifying, after all, a state of non-being. Buddhist pilgrims (along with tourists) should approach from the Eastern side, walking clockwise around the base before ascending to the next tier via the eastern stairway. This is repeated on every level so that as you make your way around the temple passages and slowly spiral to the summit, you are symbolically following the path to enlightenment.

Now before anyone gets overly excited about that last paragraph, I should state that the words aren't really mine. I basically just paraphrased (and in some cases blatantly plagiarized) The Rough Guide to Indonesia. There is no way that this little noggin of mine could have held on to that kind of info on its own accord. Oh, I had the basic idea of what the temple was about, but things like 'stupa'? There's no way I would have come up with that word on my own. So, to avoid being sued by The Rough Guide series, if they ever somehow manage to blunder their way onto my blog, I'm giving them full credit for the information. Even if I did reword it in some places to sound better than the original. No offense.

One of the truly interesting things about Borobudur was that the temple itself wasn't actually the main attraction. Dagan and I were. By the time I started keeping track, at least ten groups of people had come up to us and asked to have their pictures taken with us. Babies were thrust into our arms. Men with video cameras followed us around. Giggling groups of school girls called out their undying love for us. Apparently they get a kick out of foreigners. Now I know how the guy wearing the Mickey Mouse costume at Disneyland feels.

The main attraction for Dagan and I was discovering the scariest bloody spider I've ever seen in my life. I've never come across anything like it, even in a zoo. It was about the size of my hand with a web that could have caught small children. Birds had nothing on this spider. He ate them as a warm up. His body was yellow and speckled, with long ass legs in the front and creepy little short ones in the back. Dagan and I spent about fifteen minutes getting to know him and taking his pictures. We didn't name him because I'm sure he's already taken care of that. He seems like the kind of sketchy bastard who would legally change his name to something like "Executioner" or "Death". It's probably even scarier than that.

Quote of the Day:

It's actually an old one I found in my journal that Kaare had said months ago while we were in Poland. I was feeling a little nostalgic and home sick for the guy, so I thought I'd include it here.

"What came first? The alcohol, or the abusive father we call God...(tea drinking pause)...I almost spat my tea out on that one."

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Thailand = Islands

And you know what? The title even rhymes. Dang if I ain't a smart one.

I know I keep making promises about writing more, but hey, if you were island hopping in tropical weather, would you be on the computer? That's what I thought.

So let me explain.

No, there is too much.

Let me sum up.

Phuket: The Island I would have never gone to if it wasn't for my Australian friend Amy.

You know, everyone hates this island because they think it's soooooo touristy, and guess what? It is. But so is the rest of Thailand, so I don't know what everyone is complaining about. Quite honestly, I understand it's popularity because it's the most beautiful beach I've ever seen in my life. Well, at least Karon Beach was, the one we were staying on. Patong Beach, the more famous one (slightly north of Karon), was pretty much Bangkok on a beach. And if you've ever been to Bangkok, you'll understand my horror. If you've never been to Bangkok, imagine the smell of sewage, at least 2.8 million 7-11's, and ladyboys trying to sell you a ping pong show. And just to quiet any fears, no, I have not yet attended a ping pong show. I thought I'd wait for the boys to get here to do that.

Ko Tao: The Diving Island.

It may be a diving island, but as Simon Billy Beard put it, "I had to quit diving because it was getting in the way of my drinking". I was smart enough to just not even bother diving in the first place. I did some snorkeling in Phuket, but as some of you may know, I hold a slight (SLIGHT) phobia towards undersea creatures. Some of the boys that I met on Ko Tao tried to convince me to go snorkeling with them. You know what their selling point was? All the sharks that we would get to see. Needless to say, I didn't do any snorkeling on Ko Tao. I did, however, get to listen to some amazing music played by some incredibly cute Australian boys. And no, there was no hanky panky on my part. Australian musicians working in a foreigner playpen in Thailand? That's just asking for an STD.

Ko Chang: Not to be confused with the larger Ko Chang on the other coast.

This is my secret island paradise, and most of the reason why no one heard from me for about two weeks. I can't say that it's the nicest beach I've ever been on, but it was certainly one of the most peaceful places I have ever been in my life. My cabin was made of wooden planks nailed together. My shower was a hose in the wall that intermittently spurt cold water...if you were lucky. There were trails all through the jungle which was filled with cashew trees, Hornbills, jack fruit trees, coconuts and Sea Eagles. There was even a bakery in the middle of the jungle run by an Aussie ex-pat and his Burmese wife. And for the first time in my life, I went swimming by moonlight with glow in the dark plankton. It was amazing.

Railay Beach: Not technically an island, even though it feels like it.

This would be where Miss Lisa Cham lived once upon a time! I traveled here from Ko Chang with some kids from Quebec that I'd met, Stephaie and Matthew. Some of the coolest people that I've met so far this trip, hands down! As for Railay itself, you can only get there by boat from Krabi and you can only get back to Krabi if you happen to have enough people to fill a boat. One side of the peninsula is filled with mangroves and mud, while the other side is filled with white sand and rock climbers. Tons and TONS of rock climbers. Stephanie and I had a fascinating time watching all the men rock climbing. Fascinating.

I think that there were two best parts of Railay Beach for me;

1) Drinking a triple Lisa lindy at YaYa's Bar where Miss Lisa use to hang out all those years ago and

2) Running through the jungle with Stephanie screaming our brains out and freaking out the local foresters because a swarm of bees were chasing us. Terrifying at the moment, but we couldn't breathe for laughing afterwards.

And now I'm off to Indonesia! Well, that's sort of a lie...I'm already in Indonesia, but as far as this blog is concerned, I haven't gotten there yet. That's a blog for another day.

Quote of the Day:

Stella turned to me while we're were on Koh Tao and said,

"Oh darling, you are just so cute that I want to put you in my pocket and feed you peanuts!"

I think she was calling me a squirrel.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Bangkok, Thailand

This blog should, in all honesty, be titled:
The Day That I Actually Did Something in Bangkok Other Than Drink and Shop

The sad thing is that I truly did try to go sight seeing on two separate occasions. The first time, I was trying to get to a temple to see an alms giving ceremony. I got so completely lost on my way to the Wat that I ended up having to take a Tuk Tuk back to Khao San road because I couldn't remember where it was. The second time, I was heading out to see the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. I got to the first intersection and became so terrified that I immediately turned back. You know how you see the pictures of traffic intersections in major US cities? They're about three levels high, have two hundred lanes, and probably kill fourteen people a year with air pollution? Well if you took those three levels, and squashed them down into one, you'd have an intersection in Bangkok. And add about seventeen more deaths.

But today - TODAY - I was going to do it. I was my last day in Bangkok, and I refused to walk away saying that the only thing I saw was Khao San road. So I marched out, armed with my Lonely Planet, prepared to take on that bloody intersection...and I immediately went the wrong way. Happily, there was a very nice Thai man who spoke very good English, wished me a Happy Chinese New Years, and pointed me in the right direction. He even warned me about Tuk Tuks and cabs trying to scam me. Which I thought was quite honest and sweet of him.

So I made it to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew! But not before I lost 150 Baht ($5) to some blankety-blank pigeon woman. I was walking down the strip, almost at the Palace, and she stops me to tell me where Wat Pho is. So I thank her, and she dumps corn in my hands. I am then surrounded by pigeons, but she just keeps the corn coming, and now I am completely covered in pigeons. Then her friend joins in with more corn and at this point, she demands 500 Baht ($15). I kept saying no no no no no, and she just kept going down in price, until I gave her the 150 Baht just to shut up. Then - THEN - she tries to ask for another 150 blasted Baht for her friend. I walked away. Which I then realized I should have just done in the first place. Whatever...I got to hold a pigeon. That's worth $5 to me.

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew were astounding. I've never seen so much gold in all my life. The area that holds the Emerald Buddha is practically blinding. It felt amazing to for-real-for-real be sitting in front of one of the most revered objects in the whole world. On the downside, I picked the smoggiest day that Bangkok has had since I got here to do my tour. Also, I decided to tour the Palace on some sort of state holiday. So half of it was closed. However, the Palace is really only second to Wat Phra Kaew. But don't tell the King that I said so. Or any Thai people for that matter. They looooooove the Royal Family here.

On my way out, I decided to skip Wat Pho for the day, where the giant reclining Buddha is held. After my fiasco with the state holiday, I figured that I wouldn't risk it and just save it for when I come back to the city. Walking back to Khao San I stopped for some fresh fruit at a road side stand, which are fantastic inventions by the way. Cheaper than dirt and better than restaurants, they have everything from fresh fruit and hand squeezed juice to Phad Thai and Som Tam. Anyways, I did some pointing, she did some yabbering, and what I ended up with was either an extremely green mango, or the tartest pear I've ever had. She ended up with my 10 Baht. Or she sold me something that no Thai person would have ever eaten and I got laughed at horrendously after I left. Either way, I liked my sketchy fruit thing.

So this is it now, I head to Phuket at 6pm tonight, provided that I don't play the ass and miss my bus again. Amy, here I come (for real this time)! And Mike, I'll see you on Samui in a few days. To everyone else, wish me luck on the bus! Hopefully none of my things get stolen...

Quote of the Day:

So I ended up talking to the Doppel last night for about four hours on Skype. For those of you who don't know the Doppel, his name is Jesse (but no one calls him that except his mother), he is Kaare's evil twin, and he lives in Kagoshima, Japan. He's also one of my bestest friends. Anywho, I'm talking to him last night, and we get onto the subject of Dragon Ball Z, a Japanese Anime cartoon, for those who aren't losers like us. There is this thing know what...this is just going to take way to long to explain. I'll give you the quote and shut up about the Dragon Ball Z geek-details. Basically, he discovered the translation for something, and in a little kid sad voice, he says to me on the phone:

"But humans are life-people too..."

You probably had to be there.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Angie and the Airports

It's official. I hate airports with a firey passion that could only have been born in hell. Which airports are, so obviously my firey hate came from the airport. Logic.

I get to the airport in Istanbul exactly two hours before my flight to Bangkok. I stand in line for thirty freaking minutes to check in. When I get to the check in, the woman at the counter asks me how long I plan to stay in Thailand. I tell her thirty days, which is the allowed length or time for Canadians without a visa. She then asks to see my ticket out of the country. Which I don't have because, firstly, I've never found information telling me that I needed to produce one, and secondly, I had been planning to take trains and busses overland. So I get a little frightened. The lady at the desks directs me over to the ticket agents on the other side of the extremely large, international airport, and tells me she'll reserve me a seat, but that I need to get a ticket out of Thailand.

Over I head to the ticket counters, feeling like an idiot hauling my luggage all over the place. I explain to the woman at that counter what my problem is. I ask her to get me just a cheap ticket to anywhere in Southeast Asia because at this point I don't really care. Inter-Asia flights are quite inexpensive, so I knew that even if I didn't catch the flight, I wouldn't really care too much. This woman then proceeds to tell me that it's going to cost 150 Euros (about $225 Canadian), but that it is only a "ghost ticket"...I can't actually use it. This seems a little steep and sketchy to me, so I ask if I can pay with my credit card. When she tells me that they only take cash, I start to see what this "ghost ticket" is actually about, and why I can't catch a flight with it. Thank God I'd been in Turkey long enough to reconize a scam when I see one.

Next, I run all around the airport trying to find an internet stand. I finally find one, get online with Air Asia, and book a flight from Krabi (Thailand) to Kuala Lampur (Malaysia) for about $60 Canadian. This sounds fantastic, doesn't it? The fine print, however, is that they won't let me print, even after I explain what my situation is. I think they work in tandem with the ticket sellers. Well my only option now is to write down all the information for my ticket and hope that the check in people accept it, because at this point, I've got about forty five minutes left to catch my flight.

I get to the check in counter, sweating from running, wide eyed with fear, ticket on the ready...and the lady checks me in. Without even asking to see my ticket out of Thailand. This is actually the exact same story that a friend of mine had when he was leaving Britain for Singapore. It appears that airport officials just get to decide on whatever they like. I end up making it onto my flight with five minutes to spare.

I then have a wonderful flight, no problem with my transfer in Doha (Saudi Arabia), and a very comfortable rest of my flight to Bangkok. I arrive at 6:30am. As I am heading to customs, I see a sign that says "Visa on Arrival". This trickiest of tricky signs roped me in. When I get to the Visa on Arrival counter, I see that I need 1000 Baht ($30) for my visa. I also see that I need small ID photos for the visa, which cost 200 Baht ($6). Thankfully I have some of my checked luggage. I have only Euros on me at the moment. So I ask an official walking by where an ATM is. He tells me that it's on the other side of customs. So I hit the currency exchange counter (interesting that they had one of those but no ATM) and change about 50 Euros into Baht. I head over to the photo booth, get my ID pictures taken, and get told by the lady standing there that I don't need them if I'm Canadian. This is after I'd already spent the 200 Baht for them. Great. Well then I go sit down and wait for my number to be called for my visa. Thirty minutes later, an official walking by asks me where I'm from. He then informs me that Canadians don't need to apply for visas on arrival, and that I'll just get my passport stamped at customs.

Which I do, and finally arrive outside of the airport at 10am. I catch a taxi to Khao San road, which mysteriously went from being 500 Baht ($15) when we started the trip, to 600 Baht ($18) half way through the drive. But what do I do at that point? I'm already in the cab and I frankly don't want to be left on the side of the highway in Bangkok. I'm not going to squabble over $3 for something like that. Finally arriving on Khao San road, I grab a hostel for 180 Baht ($5-6) per night and immediately fall asleep.

So here I am everyone, in Bangkok! It's been a few days now, and I have done absolutely nothing. I haven't left Khao San road the entire time. But it's been amazing. I've been playing my favourite sport everyday, people watching. It's just so much fun to do when the whole atmosphere is a completely new experience. And I've also met some really nice people, some of whom I'm meeting up with later this month. I ended up missing my bus to Phuket yesterday because I was hanging out with a gent named Travis and totally forgot about it! So I rebooked and now head to the islands tomorrow, and hopefully you'll all hear from me safe and sound on Phuket.

Quote of the Day:

Travis is an American rock climber...his take on America? (Pardon the French Nana)

"America actually celebrates Colombus Day and the fucking retard thought he was in India."

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Istanbul, Turkey

This is a city of character. Full of it and them. Character in spades. Also in hearts, clubs and diamonds. As in, I heart backgammon, I want to club the guy down the street and the 84 carat diamond at the Topkapı Palace. The sights in Istanbul are amazing. We were staying right next door to both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, which look like something out of Aladdin. The Grand Bazaar was two blocks away, and the Asian side of Istanbul, with its fresh fish (aka alive) and produce markets was only a fifteen minute ferry ride.

It's difficult to describe Istanbul. I think the best adjectives for this city are its people; foreign and local alike. So, I give you my top five people in Istanbul (not including Kaare). Hopefully they will help you piece together a piece mealed city.

1. Pascal (Aussie)

This guy could tell a story almost as well as Kaare can, and his laugh made you wonder if the world has ever had anything worth crying over, it was that infectious. He couldn't dance worth snot, but when the belly dancer at our hostel called him up...well...we took pictures and he didn't even care! Istanbul and its insincerity can really start to get to a person. You can never tell if someone wants to actually talk to you, or just sell you a carpet. Pascal's laugh was a cornily described "breath of fresh air", and a thankfully received, light-hearted perspective.

2. Becks (Kurdish)

Remember the guy down the street that I wanted to club? This is him. I have never seen a more text book psychopath in my life. Series of events:
a) He invites us into his restaurant for tea and teaches us to play backgammon.
b) He hits on me later that night.
c) I say no.
d) He freaks out.
e) Everyone is afraid of him.
Add a lot more details and what you get is every person in our hostel walking five minutes out of their way, all of the time, just to avoid the street he works on.

3. Amy Heading (Aussie)

Now, don't take this next sentence the wrong way, read the whole section before you judge. The was nothing overtly special about Amy. She had no fantastic story behind her and no crazy personality trait to warrant writing a blog about. Except for the fact that I honestly liked her a whole bunch. This is so rare for me to say about a woman, that I'm surprised at myself. I'm even rearranging some of my Thailand plans to meet up with her in Phuket. She was genuine. And you know, I think that's all I'm going to say about her. Anything else would just be extra adjectives, and I don't want to waste her on them.

4. Jay-Z Rex (Brazilian)

His name was Ken. He Fluently spoke Portuguese, Spanish, English and Japanese. He was conversational in French, Italian and German. His Japanese family moved to Brazil, then gave birth to him. So he was actually Brazilian, but looked Japanese, hence, Japazilian. Well, Kaare decided that "Japazilian" sounded way too much like a dinosaur to not include "Rex" after it. He became Japazilian Rex, later shortened to Jay-Z Rex. Did I mention that his real name is actually Socrates? Who gets to live a life where your name is Socrates and your nickname is Jay-Z Rex? Can life possibly be that sweet?

5. The Kid Who Scammed Kaare (probably Turkish or Kurdish)

Readers Digest Version:
a) Kaare goes to the ATM.
b) Shoe Shine Kid (hence forth referred to as the SS Kid) chats Kaare up Turkish style, which comprises or four important phrases:
i. Yes please, my friend!
ii. Where are you from?
iii. I love (insert country)!/I have a friend from (insert country)!
iv. Can I offer you some tea/sell you a carpet/spend your money/shine your shoes?
c) After Kaare says no, the SS Kid shines his shoes anyways.
d)The SS Kid brushes Kaare's shoes for 2.45 seconds, then demands $45 (perhaps a dollar to 1/10 second ratio? I'm just trying to rationalize here...)
e) Kaare says, "I'm quite sorry young sir, but I do not believe that the service provided was quite adequate enough to warrant $45, especially after I refused said service. Perhaps you should forget about it." Something like that.
f) The SS Kid goes down to $20.
g) see 'e'
h) some random huge guy walks up and offers to pay for Kaare's shoe shine, and then does so after Kaare says no.
i) The SS Kid runs away.
j) Random Huge Guy now tells Kaare to pay him back.
k) Kaare loses $20.

My only personal interaction with this kid was:
a) Listening to him call Kaare "my brother" the day after the scam.
b) Watching him stick out his tongue at Kaare whenever we walked by.

Kaare wants to throw rocks at this kid. I want to take his picture and love him forever.

Quote of the Day:

We were hanging out at our hostel watching women's volleyball, in which, after each point, all the players on the team hug.

Angie: I don't think that I would want to be touching someone that sweaty after all that physical exercise.

Random Dude on the Couch: So you don't like sex?

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Paris, France

So everyone told us that the French were complete assholes. The first day we got there, we learned that this was just not true. While exploring a menu board outside a small cafe, one of the waiters came out, bestowed kisses on all of us, held our hands, and walked us to a table inside.

We then learned that this was due to the fact that the French government had actually done an ad campaign telling the citizens of Paris to be nicer to tourists. They even sent police officers around to enforce this niceness. Interesting way to promote the tourist industry.

Our first stop in France was at Versailles. It was...justifying to say the least. This was where the French Revolution came to a head. After walking around Versailles for an entire day, I completely understand their motives! Kaare and I estimated that if one was to rebuild the palace in this day and age - including the grounds, the architecture, the paintings, the carvings, and the bloody gold - it would definitely be somewhere in the trillions of dollars. No exaggeration. The revolution happened because the people were fed up with the amount of money that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were spending. Antoinette had her own village on the grounds of Versailles, put aside for those days that she wanted to feel like a "peasant". She actually had an entire village built for her whims. If the revolutionaries were worried about their justifiability, I'm sure that the march through the grounds of Versailles on the way to the palace swept away any and all doubts.

I'd also heard that the Louvre was just too big to see in one visit, and that you needed at least three days to see it properly. "Pfft," I thought, "people just don't know how to manage their time!" Having now been there, I can safely say that the Louvre is about the size of Canada. A couple of the paintings there were actually two stories tall. It is one of the most amazing museums I have ever been to, and I would suggest that everyone put it on their list of things to see before they die. Because it would be very easy to get lost and die inside the Louvre.

The traffic in Paris is ridiculous. This one time, we watched seven lanes converge into one without the use of road lines, traffic lights, or street signs. The Arc de Triomphe is encased with a twelve lane roundabout. And pedestrians? You must be joking. Or at least the highways department of Paris must have been joking when they put crosswalks on the road. It's just a way for drivers to hit more people all at once. We call it violence, they call it efficiency.

Finally, to sum up, I saw my first dead person in Paris. Well, at least what we thought was a dead person at the time. She was in fact a drunk in the subway that had somehow managed to pass out head first through the bars of the chairs. But I definitely thought she was dead for a solid ten minutes.

Quote of the Day:

In Kaare's guidebook for the Middle East, there is a section on Iraq. In this section of Iraq, there is a heading that says "Solo Traveling". The advice it gives on solo traveling in Iraq?

You must be mad.

That is all it says.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Brussels, Belgium

Wow...where do I begin? Well, how about by calling myself lots of names because I lied about keeping up with everyone once we got to Belgium. I know you're all getting a good creative work out thinking of all those wonderful things you'd like to be doing to me right now. In fact, one person (who will remain anonymous) threatened to send me anthrax via postcard. Another person (who will remain anonymous...*cough* Aunty Julie *cough*) threatened to don a Ninja Turtles costume and come searching for me. By the way, my coughing back there was a direct result of the afore mentioned anthrax. Thanks to all my fans. Your death threats really touched my heart.

So what can I say about Belgium? Well, some hosebeast on the plane told us that it sucked. Were I able to find her again, I'd punch her for lying. But she was British, so I won't hold it against her.

What she failed to mention was the fact that Brussels is a wonderful city. It just doesn't make any sense.

Item 1: There is no Belgium government right now. Not even kidding. In fact, Belgium has broken it's own record with 200 days of no government. Apparently the French and the Dutch can't agree on anything. Surprised?

Item 2: Although there is no government, there is, apparently, a King. Okay...say it with me: What?

Item 3: One time, we were riding the Metro, and it started going backwards. As in, we stopped, and then the train went back in the direction it had just came from. Yet somehow, we ended up at a different station.

Item 4: They celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on Dec 6th. Now, over hundreds of years, this tradition found its way to the rest of Europe, then to North America, where it got transformed and amalgamated with Christmas, giving us Santa Clause (Saint Nick) on the 25th of December. This in turn worked its way back to Belgium. Belgians now celebrate both Saint Nicholas Day and Christmas Day, without noticing the fact that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus are the same person.

Item 5: Sometimes, buses just don't come. Other times, the same bus will come three times in a row. And I mean in a row. Lined up, one right after the other.

Item 6: People who are driving straight do not have the right of way. People who are turning right have the right of way. All of the time. So if you were driving down Highway 97, and someone was turning right on to the highway from Pandosy, you would have to stop and let them go first. Even if your light was green and theirs was red.

Item 7: Sultans of Kebab. It just makes no sense how good the Kebabs were at that place. What really doesn't make sense is why Kebabs haven't migrated to Canada yet.

Item 8: The average price for a bottle of wine is about $5. If you spend $10 on a bottle, you're living large. Tequila costs about $15. My Mom really liked the country.

Item 9: Pub Quiz. For those of you who haven't heard about it yet, Pub Quiz takes place at the Irish Bar every Monday night. There are eight rounds, ten questions per round. It happens during happy hour. The three teams with the highest scores win prizes. What about this doesn't make sense? There is no guarantee that the answers they give you are correct. So even if you win, by their count, you've lost. Also, the questions vary from the astoundingly easy (what are the colours of the rainbow?) to the ridiculously hard (Botswana became independent in what month of 1966?).

Item 10: To get to Brussels from the airport, you have to go through one of the dodgiest red light districts I've ever seen. Are they purposely trying to thwart tourism? Maybe the lack of government is going to their heads...

Well folks, apart from all that, I have to say that Belgium was great! Christmas with the family was heart warming, of course, and seeing Mom and Kate again was wonderful. We did a couple side trips from Brussels, but those are different cities, so they get new blog entries! Yay! More for you to read!!! Now please don't send anthrax...

Fun Fact of the Day:
It's about Paris, so you'll have to wait until I write that blog.

Quote of the Day:
Deanna was trying to call her Mom on Christmas, but had misplaced the new phone number. My advice?

Angie: Why don't you try looking her up on Do you know her last name?

Apparently, I'm a genius. It's just a bloody good thing I didn't decide to major in biology or genetics...