For now it's still here - we're living it for the last 5 hours of 2006 tonight. Tonight is when the year, our year off, ends. What are we doing? Going to Redmond to spend the night with friends and eat a lot. It's a perfect way to end the year. On January 2nd our year of reality and restarting will begin.
Take a deep breath with me, all the way in, and let it out slowly. Ahhhhh thats better. 2007 - bring it on.
There are people in this world that use computers and the Internet for unbelievably worthless means. They set their computers to visit sites like TwinF and automatically generate 100s comments like this jewel:
As you can tell, they are complete nonsense and do not even serve the usual spam purpose of advertising - the link goes no where. I awoke yesterday to find about 100 new spam comments. Today it was about 600 - too many for me to manage, especially as we travel.
The site has a spam blocker that works well, but these comments are inconsistent so the blocker can't establish what is spam and what is not. Unfortunately I have no choice but to turn off anonymous comments. This means that, for now, you must be logged into TwinF to leave comments. I hate it, but this is the only choice until we get some things worked out.
I'm not a violent person my any means, but I really, really want one wish - and that is to punch a comment spammer right in the face one really good time. That would make me feel a little better.
With this post I'm adding a new tag to the "filed under" list: "goinghome". Our thoughts are increasingly looking to the end of the trip. We still have a couple of months which is a lot of time, but it really feels like home is just around the corner. The inevitable transition into a normal working life has been a big topic of discussion and one that we wish could wait another 6 months. We've also been considering what to do with this web site when we're finished. We're considering coming to a hard stop at the end of the year so we don't just fade away.
Two friends that we met on the Trans-Siberian train are at the very end of a mammoth 400+ days across 40+ countries. Kathy and Sharon are back in the UK and only days away from home. They remind us of the mix of excitement and sadness of going home. Check out their site- a truly incredible trip.
Alas we have a lot to think about now - like making it to Amsterdam today and meeting our Seattle friends Josh and Betty. Yup - mainland Europe and hopefully a respite from the ridiculous prices we've found in Scandinavia. Sachi has never been to Europe, so I think the last phase of the trip will be some of the European basics - and some rest. We've been moving constantly - every 2 days for weeks and it'll be nice to settle in for a week or so and regroup for the final push.
Besides the whole city being sold out of hotel rooms thanks to a soccer match, Copenhagen was awesome. One of the most interesting things to us is how diverse the populations are becoming as we move into mainland Europe. For most of the trip we've been in mostly homogenous societies (at least in appearance) - India, SE Asia, China, Japan, Russia, Scandinavia; everyone looks the same. Suddenly, it seems strange to see such diversity - and a little more like home. Did I mention home again?
Here are a couple of photos from Copenhagen...
This is "Nyhavn" - quite touristy, but also very cool.
One more from there...
Copenhagen has great cobblestone pedestrian walkways throughout the old city.
On a personal level, we have met wonderful people in
The Russian Customer Service Handbook
As a person who is about to enter the customer service industry in
- Under no circumstances should you smile or laugh.
- When someone approaches you seeking help, feel free to ignore them for as long as possible. Finish what you are doing first and quickly look for other items to make you appear busy.
- If they speak a language you don't understand, the most effective response is to roll your eyes and sigh while turning away.
- Do not greet a customer or recognize their presence until they demand your attention.
- A cold scowl is the standard facial expression- use it effectively.
- When a transaction is complete, slide the money to the customer and walk away. "thank-yous" are not recommended.
- As you are completing a transaction, ask yourself "Am I being as efficient as possible?" If so, slow down or stop completely. Efficiency only matters to the customer.
- If your friend calls your mobile phone while you work, by all means answer it and do your best to complete the transaction while talking.
- Eye contact should only happen by accident. Try your best to make the customer feel as if they are inhuman, like a robot.
- Remember that foreigners are a nuisance and should be treated as such. They deserve no special treatment whatsoever.
- Because foreigners have not taken the time to learn the Russian language, their method of pointing and gesturing to communicate should be viewed with contempt. Remember: ROLL THE EYES - it is the perfect response.
- Foreigners do not understand how to deal with money and never provide exact change. When this happens, raise your voice a bit and hope that someone else can translate.
- If a foreigner cannot provide exact change, snatch the money from their hand with an aggressive motion. After you've gone to all the trouble to make change, slap it onto the counter forcefully and walk away. Perhaps, over time, they will understand.
If you should have any questions or concerns about this handbook, please don't contact me.
~Your Russian Customer Service Manager
I have a bad attitude sometimes, particularly regarding sightseeing and the tourist experience. It’s a necessary and often rewarding part of the trip, but we’re both learning that we don’t really like sightseeing. It often seems like the many of the things we see are significant because someone with dollars in their eyes decided to make it significant. Either that, or the significance that is experienced by others is lost on me.
Maybe I am shallow or cynical or unsophisticated, but I will be just fine if I don’t see another “important” image of The Buddha for many years. The same is true for many temples. Long before we reached
Another example occurred just today at the
(photo of the Blue Iris Stone is from this travelouge)
I have to wonder though, am I being cynical and shallow or am I being realistic? We’ve seen it happen before in tour groups – the guide makes a big hairy deal about something and the group eats it up and prepares the cameras without thought. This is where the tourist experience blends a little too closely with dollar signs. Tour groups need sights and the more the tourist is convinced that they are seeing something significant, the more likely they’ll actually find some significance. So, from my perspective, a strong percentage of what a tourist sees is filler – something to make the tourist feel like they are having a great experience in between the things that are really impressive and important to them. I think this gets to the heart of why I loath tour groups – too much filler and not enough time to independently figure out what is significant to me.
The tour guide is very in tune with photo taking opportunities as well. He has surely observed the hoards take pictures of a sight and assumes that everyone should have one – including me. Sometimes I snap a quick picture just to make friends but at the same time I’m thinking “If you really want to know what I want to take a picture of, it’s the grotesque and barely alive condition of your toenails, Mr. Tour Guide.”
It reminds me of
All this is leading to the realization that I don’t like sightseeing. I yearn for reality or a historical and observable connection to the reality of a city or country. Modern history is endlessly fascinating. The spread of Communism in
I will gladly continue to see sights and learn about history, but I’ll do it recognizing that there is a curiously real, entertaining and interesting aspect of tourism and tourists that can be quite rewarding to observe, even if the sights are not.
We’ve finally started our month-long journey through
Before we left I remember hearing about an amazing market in
Upon arriving in
We’ve seen our share of street markets over the last 8 months and Qingping is certainly the granddaddy of them all with an unimaginable assortment of anything that can be dried and eaten, from snake skin to deer tendon and bugs, lots of bugs. However, the market left me frustrated. For one thing, it is hard to understand where the market ends and the city begins- there are no maps or signs or information boards (not a big surprise of course). This set us wandering. Second – as hard as we looked and as many people as we asked, we simply could not find the animals. Where were the stacked cages of raccoons and civet cats? Where is the roasted dog? Everyone who has visited this place has been disgusted by it and dammit- we want to see why!
So we searched and asked more people and even got a map of the area that a person used to denote the location of such a place. This sent us many blocks out of the market on a less-then-figurative wild goose chase. We found nothing. Despite being amazed by buckets of live scorpions, eels, scary looking cats and meat hooks full of unidentifiable meat, we left disappointed that we didn’t find the animals.
It was a frustrating failure for two people who have grown to feel confident in such situations.
Then, upon consulting the Internet, the story began to coalesce. I saw my fist bit of evidence on this Flickr photo, which reads:
At one time, stores featured many exotic animals (for eating). Today after the SARS scare these are mostly gone, or at least hidden in back alleys.
HAH! This was it. It was the SARS virus! So, I looked on Google and found a little more information that actually painted the Qingping Market in a wicked light, from a microbial perspective.
This Environmental News article writes:
The Guangdong provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today that experts from Hong Kong and Guangdong have found a large quantity of the SARS-like coronavirus from civet cats and other wildlife collected from markets in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Many wild and exotic animals are sold as food in
Ahh sweet vindication (both for our search and the wild animals)! We had been frustrated because what we were looking for no longer exists or is too well hidden for travelers to find. We were not being rookies- we (and the people we talked to) lacked a specific piece of information about the recent history of the market. SARS had a very positive effect on the market overall, but one that caused us frustration for a day.
It’s been said many times- be clear with a Vietnamese cab driver about your hotel, or they will take you to their friend’s hotel, where they will earn a commission. We’ve seen many attempts at such diversions, but none so blatant as we experienced today, just after arriving in Hanoi.
We took a cab from the airport into town (37km for US$10). On the way, we told the driver to go to the “Camellia 3” Hotel and showed him where it was on the map. He agreed and the agreement was settled. Along the way he had a number of phone calls, which rang in a ring tone with the volume on 11. We understood nothing he said.
Upon arriving in the Old City of Hanoi, a young Vietnamese guy walked over to the car, opened my door, stuck his head into the car about 3 inches from my face and said “Welcome to the Camellia 3 Hotel!” I struggled to look around him at the building and the awning and did not see anything about the Camellia, or any hotel for that matter. No matter what we asked, he continued to insist, quite rudely “Yes, this is the place, the Camellia 3 Hotel, let me get your bags.” All I could say was, “First, please back up and let me get out of the car.” I left Sachi in the car and stepped into what was supposed to be the Camellia 3 Hotel. I walked to the reception desk and said “I’d like a business card please, where is your business card?” Their answer: “We ran out”. This, of course was a lie and there was no longer any doubt what was happening. This was not the Camellia 3 Hotel.
The cab driver must have thought we were complete idiots. He actually thought that he could drop us off at some random hotel and we would believe, thanks to the not-so-skillful scamming of his not-so-sly cronies, that we had arrived at our requested destination and would blindly get a room, earning him a commission.
We’ve met a lot of nice people in Vietnam, but it is the prevalence of this kind of bullshit that will forever leave a bad taste in my mouth. We said to him what we say to all people who try to pull such stunts. “You are bad for tourists – you keep doing this, tourists will stop coming.” He only smiled with a “you can’t win’em all” attitude and went off to give another tourist a good reason not to come back to Vietnam.
Today, Sachi makes the faithful transition to her 30's. That's right, as of today, Sachi is 30 years old! She is all growns up.
Today also marks the end of what we've been calling the Annual July Birthday Jubilee. My birthday was on the 17th (I turned 33) and her's is today on the 26th, creating a 10 day window of gratuitous non-stop birthday celebration. What does that mean? We're not sure really. Maybe dessert with dinner, a cocktail before noon or a massage on the beach. The jubilee takes many forms and we make it up as we go along. Mutual special treatment is a theme for sure.
While we're talking about getting old and fragile, I must also remind us of the follies of youth. Last night we met a puppy that couldn't have been more than 9 weeks old. As soon as I stopped to take a picture, he stepped off a 4 inch step to say hello and promptly fell directly on his face. No harm was done of course, but it reminded us of what not to do tonight as we celebrate.
Anyway, please join me in wishing Sachi a happy (and fall free) 30th, far from home!
There is a famous street in Bangkok called Khao San Road which is known as the "backpacker ghetto". It has cheap rooms, cheap food, lots of bars and hence, lots of backpackers.
Before we arrived in Bangkok for the first time, people said "Go see Khao San, but don't stay there". Being you can't get there by train and Bangkok traffic is a joke, we didn't make it to Khao San Rd. until today (our 3rd visit to Bangkok).
I'm really glad we're not staying there. Something that I've learned about my travel style is that I don't want to be surrounded by other travelers. Seeing other westerners in a secluded temple in Kyoto takes something away from the experience for me. I'd prefer to feel like the only foreigner in a place that no one can find. When I look at Khao San road, I see the opposite of that. It's wall-to-wall backpackers, strutting around with their day-old dreadlocks, sunburned cheeks and too-cool-for-school attitudes. Though we carry a backpack, it is abundantly clear to us that we don't identify with the average 20 year old unkept-and-proud backpacker. It seems that the badge of honor among backpackers is to appear that your lodging does not have a shower. It also seems that Khao San road is as much about travel fashion and looking cool for other backpackers than anything else, and I'm over it. And yes, I am perhaps jealous that I'm not that young anymore and realize that I sound even older.
If I were 20, though, I'd love Khao San Rd. and would be right there with them. But as a 32 year old traveler with a backpack, I can't help but wonder if the Bangkok they experience happens without the company of 15 other people wearing a "Same Same But Different" t-shirt.
Well, the Japanese adventure is over and our budget is happy to be back in SE Asia. Japan- what a highlight.
It is nice to be back in Thailand- the land of succulent pineapples, cheap lodging and constant summertime.
Unfortunately, I was quickly reminded of a part of Bangkok I could do without. Twice tonight I saw people parading around the city streets with elephants (above) offering rides and pictures. It's a spectacle the first time, but thereafter the sight grows more and more sad. I've ridden an elephant before in Sri Lanka- in the jungle and through a reservoir, so I can only be so critical, but I HATE to see them in the traffic of a busy downtown street. You can just see the weariness in their eyes.