Monday, December 18, 2006
What a long strange trip it's been
Well kiddies, this is it. My first blog entry was just under 4 months ago written on one of my first mornings in Tokyo. I remember at the time acknowledging that I was really just a scared little boy. Some things change. Some things stay the same. Im here now in Auckland, New Zealand for the second time counting the last 26 hours before I start my long trek home.
What happened in Thailand and Cambodia? Nothing good that I have not already written about in the posts that had pictures. Did bad stuff happen there? Yeah, some shit went down. I'm not proud of it. What happened? My passport and wallet were stolen in two separate incidents. You got your wallet stolen again? Yeah.. again... How did it happen? The passport was in a pair of shorts that were taken from a baggage room in a hostel in Bangkok. The wallet was pulled right out of my pocket while I was drinking on a beach in the islands in the south of Thailand. What did you do about it? The passport just meant going back to Bangkok and hanging out at the Canadian embassy for two days filling out forms and handing over cash. The wallet now is just a memory. How did you deal with having no ID and no wallet/visa card/money? It sucked but I managed, as per usual. I had to beg/borrow from this girl I met the day before (Colleen, If you are reading this, send me an e-mail so I can pay you back). I was able to get emergency cash from Visa via Western Union and a new Visa card in Auckland. Did you learn any lessons from this? No.
Enough about that. It's still a sore issue.
New Zealand though has been an abrupt change of course though. The people here have been the most pleasant, helpful and honest of all the nations I've been to so far. God has truly given New Zealand a disproportionate amount of the world's natural beauty (and packed it into two really small islands). I met a kind English bloke at the airport and found suitable furnished lodgings in Auckland. He bought a car a couple days later and I found myself hitching my way around New Zealand with him. Traveling with your own vehicle is really the only way to experience this country. The buses are hugely expensive and they don't pull over every 5 Kms so you can take pictures of the new scenery. Driving here is no chore. In fact, its often better than exploring the towns you find yourself in along the way. Mountain passes full of wild flowers and snow capped peaks and reflective lakes. Rolling green hills that no one cares about yet a first timer has to stop and stare, speechless at, while slipping into a catatonic fantasy about your new life is a sheep farmer just as soon as all the necessary arrangements are made. If I every have to go into hiding from the Mafia, a crazy ex-wife or the CIA, I'm coming to New Zealand with enough scotch and weapons to wipe out a Thai village, finding an isolated little sheep farm on a mountain side and spending the rest of my time on earth coming up with fresh new jokes about fucking sheep.
There is no one that would be reading this that I would not recommend coming to New Zealand. This will not be my last time here. In the 10 Countries I've been in on this journey, this is the first one I will come back to. Only with more time and more money. There are no pictures attached to this entry because my USB chord as been AWOL since Hong Kong and there is no one here to borrow one from. Hint Hint for a Christmas gift... Three weeks is the most amount of time I have spent in any country along the way and this is the only place I've been were three weeks seemed so laughably short.
enough though. Always leave a place with reasons to go back. This place has a lot
My flight home rivals the Iron Man in terms of tests of endurance. There are 46 hours between the time I board in Auckland and land in Toronto. 31 of those hours are on flights. I start with a 10 hour flight in the wrong motherfucking direction to Singapore where I will hang out in the airport for 12 hours before getting on another flight to Los Angelas. I've got four hours of smelling bad, and scrambling my circuits trying to figure out what time it is while in LA and then I am in the capable hands of Air Canada for 5 hours back to Toronto. This is the first time the terms "Air Canada" and "capable" have ever appeared in the same sentence.
So unless I end up on the business end of a firing squad in Singapore for possessing gravol or the terrorists or Department of Homeland Security take me down in LA (Terror Alert: High), it's looking like my safe return may now have changed from doubtful to probable.
Thanks for reading. Expect one or two more entries; one summarizing the trip and one with pictures of this inconceivably beautiful place.
Much love, Merry Christmas and all the crap
Looking forward to catching up in person soon
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
New Pics again - Thailand this time.
So this is a little bit of Bangkok from the top of some temple... The city is far more modern than I was expecting. That having been said it is still in Southeast Asia and it has plenty of the same problems (hookers, thieves, corrupt cops and worst of all, travel agents). Still though. Nice city if you forget about the people.
Part of a trek through northern thailand involves riding on the back of elephants. My elephant was clearly from the "special" class as he could not for the life of him figure out that he was supposed to follow the path and keep up with the other elephants. he seemed to prefer getting yelled at and beaten by a thai guy whose frustration was about the funniest thing I've seen in south east asia.
The actual trekking through the jungle was one of the highlights of thailand (perhaps because it was finally a chance to get a moments peace, away from the pimps and ripoff artists that choke the streets of bangkok.) We spent 3 days/2 nights tramping though the jungle and mountains, staying in small tribal villages and swimming in waterfalls.
Despite the physical exhaustion, dehydration and gentle hangover we made it to this peak (about 1500m). the views were great and many a great picture was taken. (notice the slight bend in my knees -I'm trying to keep my balance and not fall off the drop-off below). Turns out I have mild fear of heights.
Mikkel, Anders and I rented some bikes on the morning after we got back from out trek. Neither of them had ridden before so they looked like pigs on rollerskates at first We had an awsome day of cruising down the highways with our i-pods blasting and getting off the beaten path and exploring old country roads and farmer's paths. The hot weather, long winding roads and awsome deserted mountains at the end of them made this really the perfect day of riding. This picture is the result of setting my camera up on the road and having to run back in time.
Me posing with the bikes (Honda Phantoms with 200cc sewing machine engines). Not a bad deal for $15 for the day. This is where the farmer's path finally ended. some local women working in the field looked at us as though we were crazy. maybe we were. nice mountain though...
Monday, December 04, 2006
Pics - Cambodia
On our first morning in Phnom Penh, Anders and Mikkel and I went to a local shooting range. They have virtually no concept of gun safety which is fine because I have no interest in it myself. For a small fee they just hand any old idiot a gun of his choice and let them fire away at a target. I chose the Colt-45 and the AK-47 though they had lots of others to choose from.
What can I say? That's an anti-aircraft gun and that's me holding it. The bandana is there to make me look tough.
A logical next place to visit after a shooting range is probably here; The Killing Fields (its actually just where the driver took us). During this reign of terror in the late 70s under the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot used this site for the seemingly indiscriminate killings of anyone he perceived as a threat to the revolution or the government. It is unknown how many people died here but estimates approach 100,000. Women, children, foreigners, the blind, the infirm and the elderly enjoyed no special exemption. The total lack rational that went into these deaths makes it all the more heartbreaking. In my travels, this place sits next to Hiroshima as a showcase of the ugliness and thoughtlessness we (the royal we) are capable of.
We arrived in Phnom Penh during the Water Festival, one of the biggest events of the year. The streets were choked of with hundreds of thousands of people having a good time and making life hell for cab drivers. Some places were far more crowded than this. You'd think I'd have something negative to say about it but I don't. It was a blast.
Just outside of Siem Riep is this: Angkor Wat. The mother of all temples. I assumed by the time I had reached this place and had seen about a million temples in Asia I would be all templed out. Impossible at this place. We arrived just after five in the morning so as to see the sun rise from in front of the main entrance. About 500 other people had the same idea. The main temple itself (pictured here) takes hours to explore but that only is the beginning of the day. For miles and miles around there are numerous stone pyramids, jungle shrines, ancient walls, bridges and gates that need to be explored. I will post more pics when I have time.
More new pics: Vietnam - Cambodia - Thailand
Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. I spent two nights cruising around these limestone monoliths, swimming in the pea-soup water and getting sun for the first time. By far, the coolest thing in Vietnam.
Quite possibly the guilty culprit that made me black out and wake up the next day deaf in one ear and covered in mystery bruises. Worst thing I've ever drank. I doubt the snake cared for it either.
Me sampling the local tobacco in a street side bar with some locals. It tasted like raccoon hair that had been swept up from the floor a truck-stop bathroom but they were impressed that could manage to take it in without losing my lungs.
This drunk local couldn't speak any English but what he communicated very clearly is that he was Chinese and was a soldier in the war in Vietnam and that he was very proud that he had killed "many many American". At this point my American friend Monica (2nd from the right) decided that it wasn't so bad introducing herself as Canadian after all.
Pretty not bad for a backyard view for the people living in Sapa, a mountain town near the Chinese border famous for trekking.
French Canadian Charles attempting to do business with the local tribal girls. They are without a doubt, the cutest little people I've seen in my life. It's a wonder I didn't buy more than I did.
Cooling off for in a stream that feeds a large waterfall. I took some pictures of the local native girls swimming naked here but they aren't developed yet.
- stolen from Groucho Marx
I met these two Danish bastards, Mikkel (brown hair) and Anders (blonde hair) on the boat in Ha Long Bay and parted ways soon after. We met up again at a truck stop in the middle of the night a week later and I ended up traveling with them for a bit. That bit turned into one month that spanned three countries often times sharing beds to cut costs. By the end, they were like brothers.
After going to Nha Trang, and Saigon we went to the remote island of Pho Quoc. We stayed in bungalows on the beach, drank bottles of rum in the evening and had a great time. Can't imagine what we are looking at in this picture.
We were also traveling with a girl from just outside London. I was sharing a bungalow with her. I was reading a book on my bed when I heard a scream that caused me to turn white and damn near black out. Omdip (her name) had opened the bathroom door to discover this. I thought she had seen a dead body or worse. Still though this spider was big enough that he ought to have been paying a share of the night's accommodation.
The Hero of our story on top of Sam Mountain on his last night in Vietnam. Tomorrow there would be a boat ride into Cambodia. Look how relieved he looks to be getting out of Vietnam. Little does he know what horrors await him.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Pics - China and Hong Kong
Me at the Summer Palace or some shit like that...
The centre-piece of the Maoist hangover that pounds in the heads of the chinese. This is the forbidden city. Many emporers lived and governed from here for the bulk of Chinese history. What a cheekly little monkey Mao is.
I'm stuggling to find the words to describe how it felt when I had this photo taken. The Great Wall will forever be one of the greatest things I've seen/experienced in my life. Plus I was scared tp death of falling off. By far, the Highlight of my trip to China.
One my favourite pictures on the trip. I slowed the shutter speed down so the cars are blurry yet the bell tower is in focus. Oh yeah, this is the bell tower in Xian. I took this picture from the balcony in my hostel. Not bad.
What a great hostel. They let you play with swords when you are drunk. This poor german bastard was blind drunk and passed out in the chair in the hostel bar. In the event you are wondering, that is an apple on his face. Tomatoes in nose and toes not pictured.
I mentioned the pollution in Xian in my blog a few weeks ago. This was not a foggy day. Breath it in.
The Terracotta Wariors were as hyped up as the Spiderman Movies were and equally dull. These are the only ones have been fully unearthed though there are thousands more still burried. Originally they were painted as well but the paint dissolves in the first 24 hrs of exposure to light and oxygen.
Hard to believe this place is in China. Shanghai feels like another planet. The architecture here has been the most impressive in asia. There is the ultra modern, the traditional chinese (even the largest buildings under construction have scaffolding made of bamboo) and french and english colonial.
Hong Kong has one of the most famous waterfronts in the world. Something tells me the government pays to have these chinese style junk boats zipping around all the time.
The famous Hong Kong light show (try to imagine these sky scrapers flashing and playing music that sounds like an old nintendo from underwater).
I'll post more pics from vietnam and cambodia and thailand really soon. maybe.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
An Open letter to Brent Richter from Vietnam
Rather than defend ourselves from your potentially accurate assessments, I think it would be more constructive for you to recall some of the more pleasant things in Vietnam
For example: Many people heard you describing Ha Long bay as "one of the most beautiful things [you've] seen in Asia". You got so drunk on free rice wine and some snake whisky (bottle of rice whisky with a dead cobra preserved inside the bottle) provided by the French tourists, you woke up deaf in your right ear in the morning and with curious bruises on your hands and arms. You met two of the coolest people you've met on this trip and now a month later you are still traveling with them.
Despite your complaining and hacking and wheezing your trek through the hills in the far north through the hill tribe villages was an experience you would not have traded for anything. Seeing the smart-ass little girls that have never had a day of schooling in their life yet have managed to learn English just by seeing tourists daily provided you with some of your best pictures of the trip (they charmed you into buying a bracelet too you hypocrite!)
Even the worst experiences you had, you now look back on fondly. Recall the hard sleeper train you took to Sapa. You made such great jokes about how similar your sleeper car was to a prison cell, complete with bars to rattle a cup on and peer down the hallways with a mirror, ply-wood mattresses and a porter that would be fired from any prison for cruel treatment of prisoners/passengers (waking up passengers to yell at them in Vietnamese in the middle of the night, trying to extort money etc)
The city of Nha Trang was where you first saw a real beach on your journey and remember how you laughed when you watched Mikkel and Anders getting tossed around like rag-dolls in the crushing surf. Even getting your wallet picked as you stumbled home from the bar with Anders was fun to talk about after you got over being pissed off.
Not to mention Pho Quoc. Here we have a beach Island where you had your own bungalow only meters from the beach, where you rode scooters and drank rum with your friends. An island where few backpackers make the effort of visiting. Eating meals in a thatch roofed restaurant on the beach with your toes in the sand and a couple tall beers in your gullet was the most relaxed you've been since you got off the plane in Tokyo over 2 months ago.
So yeah, The country is full of pimps, thieves, drug dealers, beggers and whores (and those were the good people)and no, maybe you never got a moment's peace in public from every third person demanding that you ride on the back of their scooter, buy books (and if you don't want books, then buy drugs,) or just plain drop money into their wretched grabbing hands, but you did have a good time. You do still believe your money was well spent and so what if you don't want to come back. Do you know what percentage of the worlds population will visit Vietnam? Neither do we but it can't be a lot so just be proud you made it.
P.S. (you wan marijuana?)
Saturday, November 18, 2006
"Good Morning Vietnam" or "What Vietnam did"
An Open letter to Vietnam:
Dear Vietnam, Great country you've got there but there are some concerns I would love to address. First off, let me acknowledge that poverty is a language spoken all over the world and your country is far from an exception (in fact, Vietnam has the poorest people this Canadian has ever seen). Notwithstanding this context I still wonder about the following things:
I know cars are impractically expensive for the people of Vietnam and you've done very well by picking the scooter as the primary means of transport. They take up less space, they are cheap, they are easily modified for work purposes and they are very economical on petroleum. I learned while I was visiting your fine nation that the ratio of scooters to cars is about 90 to 1. Why though, have you summarily given the finger to all notions of traffic laws? I saw a total of 0 (zero) stop signs on the crowded streets and most traffic lights do not work. Intersections in Hanoi display the kind of chaos usually reserved for race riots and fires in crowded buildings. I'm doubly impressed that said scooters are frequently loaded with up to 6 people. Holding your infants up in the air whilst driving is a keen way to save space on the bike that could be used for cargo (plus it gives the little tykes a chance to learn the streets of Hanoi and maybe grab a breath of air outside the choking smog). Crossing the street (any street at all) involves staring into a flowing sea of scooters and just stepping out in front of them with the faint hope they will want to avoid hitting you as much as you want to avoid being hit. A challenge every time but maybe controlled stops would be a good idea and might reduce fatalities.
Next up: Catering to foreign backpackers. Vietnam is not having a hard time attracting them. Guest houses and hostels are always a bustle with people, most of them on a tour of southeast Asia. Yet unlike Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, yours is the only country that manages to make tourists sure they will never spend the money to come back. Maybe this is part of the plan but if not, I have good news. Changes can be made. Example: When westerners are eating in your otherwise empty restaurant, it'd be a plus if you did not allow beggers to flow in from the street and beg from us relentlessly while you look on in ambivalence. Also: Western people like things to be clean. Im sure the Vietnamese do too but if you want westerners to hand over their money in exchange for a meal, don't berate your children for killing the visible cockroaches. In fact, maybe even kill them and clean the place up so as not to attract them before the westerners come through your door. Again, I know poverty is the name of the game there but removing garbage from the floor costs nothing and I refuse to believe filth is a part of your culture. That would be racist, and tempt me as you might, I am not going down that path. As much as it is exciting and very much part of the travel experience, is it really necessary for all of your neighbourhoods to have distinct pungent stenches? Seriously. If my dog smelled as bad as the streets of Nha Trang or Saigon, I would have him put down.
Most importantly: Honesty. Well what can I say about this? I mean In my nearly two weeks in Vietnam, I don't believe I met one honest (English speaking) Vietnamese person. It seems anyone that can speak English uses it to lie to, cheat and steal from western tourists. Travel agents in Vietnam make Lawyers and Politicians look honest as the day is long. Some of my favourites include: "I'm sorry, there are no train tickets available for tonight. You must stay in my hotel and leave tomorrow." to which I responded with "Seriously, Has that ever actually worked in all the years you have been trying it?" (we later went to a travel agent next door that sold us tickets at double the price and lied to us about the class of ticket it was. Another is "No I'm sorry, the price of a bus ticket is not what it says in your 2005 edition of Lonely Planet. This is an old edition (bald face lie) and the price has gone up to the tune of %300)" anyhow, similar insults to intelligence happen with hotel workers, restaurant workers and so on. I never once felt as though I was on a level playing field during any of my financial transactions. The hookers that pickpocketed me and escaped on a waiting scooter were really just a more blatant form of what had been happening on a daily basis. Also, it makes both your police and yourselves look bad when someone witnesses the incident introduces himself as a police officer that can help and then collects the now empty wallet and asks for a reward. I'll let you dwell on that for a moment. His reward was pocket change that he had to pick up off the ground.
Anyhow, I must conclude. Though I had many unforgettable and wonderful experiences in your country, I will have no choice but to first mention the negative things there when people ask how Vietnam was. Perhaps it is not a priority for you. Perhaps it is but somehow it remains out of your grasp. Whatever the case, I deem Vietnam a failure as a nation. I'm sorry our relationship cannot be closer.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Shanghai and Hong Kong - Too far behind in blogs to come up with clever titles
Shanghai - One of the largest cities in the world () Shanghai is an oasis in China. Its modernity rivals Seoul or Tokyo. The people are far more civilized. All the things that make backpacking in china tough but fun do not exist here. People obey traffic laws (more so), many areas are built up with sky-scrapers that put our own in Canada to shame. In short, it is a place where you can finally let your guard down a little, and just have some fun. The city is not full of temples or shrines to see, there are ex-pat bars and great restaurants. The hostels are full of kids that spend their first couple of days there adjusting to being in a place in China where you do not have to simply accept that you will be stepping in phlegm on the streets.
I met awesome people, stayed drunk, toured the nicest parts of town and got a rather expensive flight to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was not what I was expecting but there are many reasons to go there. The district my hostel was in is not one of them. Hong Kong is an Island with a district called Kowloon right across the water. It is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the world and I hardly saw 5 hong kongese people there. It is almost entirely made up of tall buildings built god knows when and have yet to have any maintenance done. These buildings are all called mansions and have the various floors used as hostels, sweat shops, markets full of god-awful shoddy products etc. Almost everyone living/working/hanging out in this area are africans and indians. As you walk down the street you are accosted from all directions with business cards for people wanting to make you a taylor made suit or sell you fake rolexes. When i awoke on my second day with a hangover, I set out to find a bank and the first thing i experienced on the street was an indian guy jumping up in my face and yelling at me to buy a suit. Completely involuntarily i just blurted out "Fuck Off! and pressed by him. It took me a moment to realize what i had done and I was worried it might have been rude until i heard him say "Same to you, buddy". Then it all made sense. If people treat you like a cornered animal, you will eventually lash out like one. I felt no guilt whatsoever. The hostel itself was a new low for me but the shittier the place seemed, the more i enjoyed it. The island of Hong Kong is another story all together. The rolexes are real, the cars are all Bentley, BMW, Mercedes etc. The skyscrapers are state of the art and the business that ticks on inside them has profound affects on the prices we pay our useless shit at home. Each night there is a light show that goes on set to music. I met up with two very nice Americans staying in the same hostel and checked out all the sites together. You can ride a tram to the top of the mountain at the centre of Hong Kong island and look down at one of the most busy and modern cities from above. Outside the city we took a cable car for a 25 minute ride through the surrounding mountains resulting in a new winner for the "most beautiful scenery" contest. Atop these mountains is one of the highest and largest Buddha statues in the world. We managed to find a filipino cover band, playing in a german bar not far from where we were staying. They had better covers of queen and led zepplin than anything I've heard at home.
anyhow, I had become quite adjusted to the worst china could throw at me and was able to relax in the two most modern cities there and see some incredible architecture (both antique and ultra modern). China was challenge after challenge and these challenges were some of the most fun ones I've had on the trip. How does one book a train ticket when no one around speaks english? good question. you just show up and make an idiot of yourself and eventually it just happens. if you don't try though, you sit around getting anxious about what to do next. Garbage, excrement and smog compete prominence in your nostrils but you don't stop inhaling for fear of robbing yourself of an experience you've flown tens of thousands of kilometers to have. Counterfeit products represent i think 92%* of the economy in Beijing (*statistic may have been invented). Watches? Fake. Leather? Vinyl. Books? Photocopies. Designer clothes? Knock offs. Orgasms? Poorly faked.
There is much I wanted to see and do in China that my time and budget didn't allow for. That is how like to leave a country. Always a reason to go back.
Next up: Vietnam, one of the coolest places I've ever been to but will never in a million years go back to. Find out why when I get around to posting my next blog.