macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

24Sep/061

Updates from New Zealand

Everything has been great down under though a little boring and mundane unlike the wild party atmosphere of SE Asia.  I've been here since September 11th and other than drink with my flatmates and go to clubs/bars to do even more drinking, I haven't done anything fun or obtained any new interesting stories with the exception of the wild and wacky antics of some of my flatmates.  I need to buy a guide book or something and actually start experiencing New Zealand instead of sitting in my room, drinking or watching TV. Even with everything that's happening in Thailand right now, I wish I was there and can't wait to go back.

I don't feel like i'm traveling anymore or that i'm even on an extended holiday. I've settled into a flat with 5 other people (more about that later on), got a bank account, mobile phone, etc and I am starting a 9-5 job tomorrow at a temp agency. Everything i've done here so far is something I could do in Boston. In Asia I was meeting new people and doing something different everyday.  Don't get me wrong, i'm definitely enjoying myself but i'm not having as much fun as I did in Asia.  I'm seriously thinking about not staying as long as I previously thought I would.. Hell..when I left the United States, I only really planned to travel for like a month and half, now i've been gone over 4 months.

Anyway, the flat i've settled into is in a suburb outside of the main city of Christchurch called Bishopdale.  Neighborhood is fairly quiet and really safe.  From Bishopdale it's about a 15-20 minute bus ride to the city centre.  Easy to get around and pretty compact. We pretty much never lock our doors and half the time they're actually wide open when we leave.  No need for keys or anything.  The people i'm living with are pretty cool, they're all pretty much students in my age group who love to drink maybe even too much.  Unfortunately, we all just found out a couple days ago that the owners are selling the house and we all need to move out within a month.  Sort of sucks because I just got settled in and will have to do the same thing all over again.  The good news is that there are heaps (that's a New Zealand phrase) flats available to rent so i'll have no problem finding a new place.

One interesting thing about Christchurch and New Zealand in general is that there are tons of Asians living here.  It's amazing, I feel like I haven't left Asia.  Seems like it's mostly Japan and Chinese students on work visas but I would guess that the population of Christchurch is like 30% Asian. Walking around town centre, they're all you see. 

All the houses here are a bit strange too (well compared to home). Most of the homes here are just one floor and they don't have any sort of basement/cellar.  I don't think any of the houses here have heating either. For the first week I was here I was freezing though i'm starting to get used to the climate now.  It's usually about 65 degrees (18.5 celsius) in the day time and it dips down to about 50 (10 celsius) at night.  New Zealand is just getting over the winter and around December is when it really starts to get hot so I can't wait for that.  If there is one thing i'm glad of it's missing the New England winter. Don't get me wrong, I like snow but just in moderate amounts and preferably on mountain tops far away from me and my car.

Anyway, there really isn't anything to say or update. I'm basically living in New Zealand at the moment, haven't done anything too exciting here though I am starting a temp job tomorrow so hopefully i'll save a bit more money to travel.  I haven't actually taken any pictures of Christchurch yet but it is a cool little city. Lots of parks and huge town centre with cobble stone streets with a big church.  Apparently there is red light district here though I haven't really seen that yet.   There are lots of strip clubs and sex shops as well.  An interesting city.  You have a big massive church and then about 2 blocks away a bunch of sex stores.

Filed under: New Zealand 1 Comment
6Sep/060

Crikey! I’m in Sydney, Australia!

Figured I would update everyone again.  I've arrived safely in Australia or rather safely as a 10.5 hour flight could be with 2 raging crying babies sitting directly next to me and with a broken headphone jack in my seat unable to block out any form of sound. Needless to say the flight was not fun but I got here in one piece minus a bit of permanent hearing damage and emotion trama.

I've been in Sydney for about 3 days now. I'm staying with same mates that I met in Thailand and Malaysia who have a flat about 5 minutes from Bondi beach, one of the most famous beaches in Australia.  Luckily, they let me crash on their coach for a few days for which I am grateful. The location is perfect, lots of little cafe and bars in the area though Sydney is wicked expensive and i've already spent like 250 Australian Dollars (190 USD).   All of them have pretty much settled into Sydney for a bit working to save up money to travel and drink. Except Chris who is a lazy bastard (just kidding Chris if you're reading this). He already completed his working holiday visa in Australia a few years back so he can't legally work here but he is looking for applying to jobs in New Zealand.

First thing I did to do when I got here was buy a sweatshirt. The beaches here are fanastic and the sun is extremely bright but it's still really cold.  I'd rather be having Boston weather right now. Temperate has been in the 60s though if seems to average around 51 to 51 degrees in the morning.  I wouldn't mind going swimming though, the water is still like a hundred times warmer than Boston is even during the winter.

Other than that I haven't done too much. I did the coastal walk from Bondi beach to another beach which name I can't remember. The coast is littered with little coves and bays with small beaches and cold-hardened surfers looking to catch some waves.  I also walked around the main area of Sydney to see the Sydney harbor bridge and the Opera House, two of Sydney's biggest icons.

Went out drinking one night to experience some of Australia's finest lagers.  Good beer here though it's not a bargain. Similar prices to back in Boston maybe a bit cheaper if you can find some smaller bars.  The food in a western country is something I really missed though

I had been craving a good steak for the longest time and Australian steaks are fanastic.  It's something you don't really think about when traveling but the difference is amazing.  There are also other little things you miss in westernized countries like being able to drink water straight from the tap or shallowing water in the shower without becoming deathly ill and growing a third arm.  The first night I got here we all went out and treated ourselves to steaks. Every place around here seems to have specials every night that serve "10 Dollar Steaks." One minor problem is there are lots of foreigners here so sometimes it can be a bit hard to understand them and vice-versa.   What we thought were "10 Dollar Steaks" were actually intrepreted as "Tender loin steaks" by our really nice Swedish waitress.  As a result, the steaks which we thought were a bargain for 10 dollars a piece were actually 30 dollar pieces of prime beef. In the end we came to a resolve when we spoke to manager (who remembered us specifically asking about $10 dollar steaks) and waitress who ended up not charging us for 2 steaks. So basically we paid 15 bucks for a really nice steak with fries.  Not too bad but I think the waitress was a bit embarassed, we could tell she was new.

Not really sure what else i'm going to do. I can't really have a big night tonight since everyone needs to get up for their jobs in the morning but I believe we all plan on having a big night out on Friday or Saturday. I figure i'll walk around a bit more and soak up more of Australia before I head to New Zealand to continue my travel experiences as a working stiff in a 9-5 job for a few months.

A couple more things.  It feels weird being in Australia exactly around the time Steve Irwin died.  He's been in all the papers over here as i'm sure he has in the United States. Though a lot of Australians were pretty indifferent to him due to the fact that he mainly propagated the stereotypical Australian myth of "Crikey!  All Australians live in the bush, hunt crocs and eat snakes...G'Day Mate! Shrimp on the barbey bullshit"

Steve though is still respected and admired as true environmentalist with lots of energy and passion for what he did.  I just hope he is rememebered for all his good deed he did and not his wacky television antics.  They say his last brave act as everyone's favorite Australian on TV was to pull the stringray's poisonous barb from his chest before losing consciousness.  The big controvery over here right now is whether they're actually going to release the video of his death.  I believe his wife and family want it destroyed, though in this day and age with the Internet I have little doubts that some sick bastard will get ahold of it and publish it on the Internet in all its' full glory.

Anyway Yeah...as you know Australia is not entirely like that but many peoples' only real knowledge of Australia comes from three things. Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Dundee, and the Discovery Channel.  So essentially Australia is now without their main quirky and overly nature zealous ambassador to the world. Crocodile Dundee is now too old and the Discovery Channel has turned gay with reality home TV shows and ARGHH! Motorcycles I'M A BAD ASS BULLSHIT programming. What will the world do? People are comparing it to the day John Lenon and JFK died. Not sure i'd go that far but you got to admit, he was a legend. I feel bad for his family.

Now on to something more prosperous and hopeful. I've heard from across the pond by many wisemen and fishermen tales talk of this straight and exotic continent possessing something I like to call favored liquid crack in a large plastic cup with ice and sugar! Dunkin Donuts coffee!  Yes, somewhere on this massive island there are Dunkin Donuts coffee shops.  Though it's not really a big thing in the rest of the world. In the Northeast of the United States, especially Boston it borders on religious fanaticism and muslim extremist bombings. In the vicinity of my house in Revere, I think I literally have 20 Dunkin Donuts. I would actually consider Dunkin Donuts part of a Bostonians' essential diet. Like Fish and Chips in England or Clam Chowda in New England, the coffee isn't even that great; you just drink it all the time.  Like a crack addict shooting up in the morning, I like to have my Medium Iced French Vanilla with skim milk and 3 equal everyday.  Anyway, someday in my travels I hope to find this gold liquid because as stupid as it sounds I desperately miss it.  Shit.. I just almost wrote an entire paragraph dedicated to coffee, sorry.

2Sep/060

The most beautiful place on earth – Sapa

After being in Sapa for only 2 days I have to say it is probably one of my favorite places in all of Southeast Asia and possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Every view (even from my hotel) looks like it should be on the front of a postcard.  Besides some of the Thai islands, and Angkor Wat, it was definitely the most enjoyable experience so far since I've been traveling and honestly, that says a lot..

While I was in Hanoi, I booked the package tour through my hotel which includes hotel, all means, train and bus transportation, and 2 days of hiking to rural minority villages.  I don't remember what I paid since I did it as sort of a package deal with Halong Bay but I think it was around 75-80 USD.  Well worth it.

The train was an overnight sleeper that left Hanoi at 9:00PM and arrives in Sapa around 6:00AM the next morning.  Not the best train in the world but I had a soft sleeper car so it was comfortable enough.  From the train station, it's then another 1.5 - 2 hour bus ride up all sorts of mountainous roads with breathtaking views until finally reaching the main town of Sapa.  Since Sapa is very high in elevation the temperate is actually very cool compared to Hanoi and Saigon.  There is virtually no humidity which made it quite a change from the rest of Southeast Asia.

The hotel I stayed in was called the Royal Hotel and my view overlooked one of the numerous valleys.  The room was extremely nice like most of the hotels I stayed in Vietnam.  The room had old hardwood flooring and a brick fireplace which gets used in te winter when they occasionally get snow high up in the mountains.  The entire place has a sort of cosy small town feel to it where after a while every local remembers your face and will greet you by name. The included food although very few choices (could only choose from a set menu of 4 things) was excellent and the portions were very large unlike Ha Long bay where the food was pretty horrible and was basically re-heated Spring Rolls.

There are a handful of ethnic village tribes up here that don't really fit anywhere else in the world but here.  They're not Vietnamese, not Chinese, or Laos.  They're just what they are; they've lived here for thousands of years and they don't really fall into any boundary of any country.  The tribes here though are probably most closely related to the Chinese minority tribes than Vietnamese.  In fact, some of these villages here use supposedly speak a dialect of Mandarin (or another Chinese language) and don't speak Vietnamese at all as you get closer to the Chinese border.  All of their clothing is made entirely by them.  Everything is extremely colorful and dyed with indigo. I've got some fantastic pictures. What I found most interesting was the Black H'Mong tribe (as seen in many of my pictures) spoke better English than almost all of Vietnam even though they claimed they didn't go to school for it and learned it entirely from tourists.  Most of the girls all wear their traditional clothing and hike up to the main town every day to sell clothing, bracelets and handbags made of hemp and dyed with indigo to all the tourists.  Even though they live in the villages their entire lifes most of them still have some sort of western influence.  Even in the remote tribes, they have televisions with satelite. I also saw one of them with a cell phone of all things and some of the younger girls even have email addresses! Not too bad for a small little minority tribe.   Still their culture is pretty unique.  I don't know enough about it to explain but it definitely warrants more reading into.  They have no religion and basically worship living ancestors, when people die, they're forgotten about.   Men can have wifes and girlfriends at the same time.

I could have definitely stayed in Sapa for a week, I actually felt bad for leaving and didn't feel like I had seen enough.  The people weren't pushy or aggressive like lots of the Vietnamese people who try to sell you stuff in the markets.  Their smiles were genuine unlike most places in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam who see you as a walking ATM machine.  One of the girls actually gave me 2 free bracelets because I was talking to her.  In return, I gave her a bracelet I bought in Cambodia; sort of a trade I guess.

Anyway, I got back from Sapa this morning at 5AM on the train and walked around Hanoi until 11:30AM to catch my flight to Bangkok.  Now i'm back in Bangkok. My AirFlight took 2 hours, passed through Thailand immigration without any problems. For some reason, it just feels like i'm coming home.  This was my first place in Southeast Asia I traveled and stayed the longest. Coming back to it has a good feel.  It's funny, if you read my first post about Bangkok, I mention that I thought it was extremely dirty, crowded and polluted.  After traveling much of SE Asia, I have to say Bangkok now feels very clean, modern and certainly less polluted than Saigon. Bangkok is certainly less crowded than Saigon which has 8 million people and 6 million motor bikes.  Bangkok travel and congestion is nothing compared to the small side streets of Hanoi. Bangkok looks like a sterile hospital compared to Phnom Penh.  Basically, you get my idea.  After revisiting this place, it just feels more impressive than it did 3 months ago when I first arrived.

Anyway, feels good to be back in Thailand.  Though it's much more touristy, the people are friendly, you don't get hassled as much, and of course Thai girls are just beautiful to look at.  Staying here until the 4th and then I fly to Australia!    I'm off for some Beer Chang! 8% alcohol.  Stay turned for updates from Sydney