Monday, May 16, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother's Day

A touching video of how one family was able to preserve some of their memories of their Mom/Grandma.

Yeah, I cried.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Scooter accident

I was in an accident today that, unlike last time, was totally not my fault.

It was about 9:20pm and I was on my way home from work. I was tooling along on my scooter when a car cut in front of me to turn right into a gas station. I slammed on my breaks, but was unable to avoid the car. I ran into the rear quarter panel and fell on my left side. I didn't slide or anything, and as I lay there with my bike on top of me I thought, "Well, I'm not hurt."

A 30-something looking couple got out of the car and immediately tried to help me up, gathering my belongings that had spilled from my bike. They looked really concerned, which kept me from getting angry. Actually, though, I was so relieved I wasn't hurt that I didn't get upset.

The couple kept paisay-ing and, after I assured them I was OK, we parted ways. I didn't think at the time that my scooter had been damaged, but as I was driving I noticed the left break brake handle sticking, so I think it got bent. I'm sure their car had some minor body damage, but I didn't even look.

After I got home I noticed a bruise on my knee, and now, a couple of hours later, my back is sore. Gonna take some aspirin and head to bed.

I'm just thankful it didn't turn out any worse than it did.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Janet Jackson!

I still need to post the rest of my photos from my trip, but in the meantime I wanted to mention last weekend's events.

On Friday I got to see Janet Jackson during her one-night-only concert in Taipei. I had 12th row seats--I could see the sweat flying from the dancers!

Janet was amazing; she's 44 years old and still as talented and sexy as ever! I took some photos and videos, but unfortunately my mobile phone camera doesn't do very well at dark, loud concerts.

This is the view of the stage from my seat in the "VIP" section.

And this is the view behind me. They're all jealous!

See? I was there!

Unfortunately, that photo of me is much clearer than this one of Janet :-(

Fortunately, here's a shot from the Taipei Times. I don't know how she managed to sing, dance, and continue to breathe in that outfit. Hawt!

I have a (lame, Lame, LAME) video that I shot here:

There's a better video here: out Janet's interaction with the guitar player during "Black Cat" at the 1:30 mark (!)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Embryos, Insects, and Arachnids

Note: Vegans and members of PETA will probably want to skip this post.

So, it's my first night in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and my buddy Ryan takes me to Pub Street to try some local cuisine. While I'm eating my declicious pineapple-tomato-chicken soup dish, Ryan says something to the server in Cambodian. A few minutes later, the server comes back with two eggs, and I know what's in store: Balut.

Without further ado, here's a video of my first time eating what I previously vowed would never touch my lips.

After surviving a military attack I figured I could handle eating anything else that Ryan would suggest. So, a couple of nights later, I was introduced to fried insects. If anyone reading this can identify this bug, I'd really like to know what kind it was.

The next day we went to Phnom Penh. When our bus pulled over at a rest stop, we finally found what we had been craving for the past few days: Big, black spiders!

Hey, when in Rome...

Friday, February 4, 2011

A frightening day in Cambodia

I arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia on Thursday, Feb. 3rd. I'll write more when I get the chance, but I wanted to write this bit for those of you who aren't my Facebook friends.

Today (Friday) my friend and I went to visit the Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodia-Thai border, a 4 hour drive from Siem Reap. We had just arrived at the base of the mountain with another family, and were about to arrange for a ride up the mountain to visit the temple, when shooting and bombing began between Thai and Cambodian forces there. Immediately the soldiers led us into a hole at the base of the mountain. There were continual gunshots and grenade launcher shots. A couple of times the whine of the missile sounded a lot closer so we all had to lie flat on the ground.

I shot a video which is below. We had been hiding in the hole for about 20 minutes when the soldiers told us to leave quickly. The video starts as we were exiting the hole, but then the shooting and bombing started again, and we had to go back into the hole for safety. We stayed for about another 20 minutes, then the soldiers told us to escape quickly.

Although I'm smiling an laughing in some parts of the video, I believe that must be a reaction from nervousness, because believe me, at the time all I remember was being scared to death.

Our driver, who had been accompanied by his wife and teenage daughter, was instructed to take a different route by dirt roads to escape. On the way out we could see the flash of missiles in the air and the smoke from fires started on the hill. When we got to the nearby town the local villagers were packing up and the road got a bit crowded with trucks full of people leaving.

We're absolutely safe now, back in Siem Reap, but it was quite a frightening experience.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Vietnam Days 3 & 4

Had a FANTASTC time on the Halong Bay cruise. I will write more later.

It's my last night in Vietnam and I'm getting ready to go to the lake to watch the Tet fireworks.

Ciao for now.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Vietnam - Day 2

Slept like a baby. Thank God all the street noise (ie. CONSTANT honking) dies down around 10:30pm.

The hotel provides a nice breakfast selection: I had a ham & cheese omelette, toast, and coffee, pretty much just like in the US. The staff here are extremely friendly.

I had planned to follow a walking tour suggested by my tour book, but I only did about half. There is just no way to describe the chaotic streets here in Hanoi; your senses are absolutely overloaded by the traffic, the crowds, the street vendors, aaaah! I can't wait to post the videos when I get home.

I got up my nerve to eat lunch at a street shop that the locals eat at, but that appears intimidating to most tourists. I had a tasty lunch of bún chả (soup with grilled beef, noodles, and lots of different veggies) and nem cua bể (fried spring rolls). The proprietress wasn't overly friendly, but the food was good so who cares, right?

After lunch I walked and walked, taking in all the craziness. One small shop caught my eye, and I'm so glad I stopped, because inside was an old mahjong set with wood-and-bone tiles. I was very interested in it, but wanted to make sure it had all of the pieces. The woman running the store was quite friendly and started helping me remove the pieces and sort them out.

During this time, a group of about 6 tourists (they spoke Chinese, and English with a Singaporean accent, so that's where I'm guessing they were from) came in the tiny, tiny shop, and here I was crouched down in the tiny, tiny aisle, trying to sort out the mahjong pieces. At first I felt bad kind of being in the way, but then a couple of women in the group were getting very pushy with their haggling, so the shop owner seemed relieved when they left.

I asked the price of the mahjong set (500,000d), which I was willing to pay since I just had to have it. However, this was the kind of store that one should haggle at. I felt a little bad because the other customers were kind of rude, so as friendly as possible I offered 400,000d. She countered with 450,000d. I said OK, as long as she threw in a nifty drab-green Socialist cap with the red star in front. We had ourselves a deal.

Now I was on a shopping roll. I bought postcards and stamps, then found a shop selling propaganda art so I picked up a poster for my apartment.

I headed back to my hotel room to write postcards (2 hours?!). Now it was getting time for dinner. I walked to a restaurant that was recommended in one of my brochures, but they said they were all booked up for the night. So I wandered toward the Hoan Kiem Lake area. Again, I was feeling overwhelmed by all the people (including tourists) and street vendors. I found the answer on Hang Hanh street: A massage place.

The guy who got me to go to this place even had brochures printed with the prices, so I figured it was legit. However, I started to get nervous when he led me down a long, narrow passage between buildings. At the end was a small staircase, and I was instructed to go up to the third floor. I was really nervous at this point, but I was here for an adventure, right?

Anyway, The place had 6 massage tables, soothing music (thank God it wasn't Viet karaoke) and the smell of aromatherapy in the air, so I relaxed. I got a fantastic, relaxing one hour full-body Thai oil massage; the masseuse even walked on my back. I'm going to try to go again before I leave.

I had dinner a few doors down, at a place called Rainbow. Yuk. I paid way too much for some beef dish that had no flavor until I drowned it with chili sauce. I say 'way too much', and 95,000d does sound like a lot, but actually that's less than $5 US.

Walked to Bistro Frank and had a mint cappuccino for the second night in a row.

Now it's time for bed, then Halong Bay tomorrow.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Made it to Vietnam

I'll post photos when I return.

It's Sunday afternoon, just checked into my hotel. Can't seem to access Facebook (maybe that's a good thing) so I'll make a quick blog post.

The plane flight was uneventful (thank God). I had arranged and already paid for someone "from the hotel" to pick me up. Two guys (Tom and ??) were waiting with a sign with my name and the hotel address, but I grilled them just to make sure I wasn't getting ripped off. I felt like an ugly, snobby American, but all the advice said to be on guard. Tom phoned someone, then told me the name of my hotel, but he said the old Vietnamese name (Chiang My), not the current English name (Harmony Hotel). Fortunately, I had seen the former name mentioned on Trip Adviser, or I wouldn't have trusted them.

I wrote "from the hotel" because they didn't actually work there. I guess the travel agent arranged it. The guy who spoke English (Tom) tried to make conversation, but I was still wary and being short with him. When he asked about me exchanging cash, I got suspicious again. He took out his phone and showed me exchange rates from the internet, so I relaxed a bit and tried to make small talk.

Before dropping me off at the hotel, they took me to a place where I could exchange my money on Sunday, since the banks are closed. It's such a strange feeling to be on guard like that, not know who's trying to rip you off.

Anyway, it turns out he wanted to know what currency I was exchanging so he could find a place with the best rates. There are a lot of these exchange types of places near the hotel. I ended up getting 19,500 dong to 1 US dollar, which is a good rate because I just checked and it's 19,450 to 1.

When I got to the hotel, the front desk guy held my passport and showed me my room. I got nervous again, but I knew that they needed to do extra paperwork because the government keeps tabs on where foreigners are while here. Anyway, he said he'd return it right away (see below).

I had been in my room 5 minutes when the front desk called and said the driver wanted to talk to me. I thought, "Here it comes, they're gonna try to get money out of me when I had already paid in advance through the travel agency." I went downstairs, and it seemed like the driver was trying to get money, but with their accent it's difficult to understand their English. I looked to the desk clerk for help, but he seemed confused. I produced my receipt and asked to use the phone to call the travel agent. At that point, as if by magic, everything was squared away.

The driver kept just hanging around, so I figured he was after a tip. I didn't have any smaller dong (LOL) so I asked the front desk guy for change, gave Tom a tip (he did take me to the money exchanger, after all) and that seemed to make everyone smile. I gave him 50,000d and, not being familiar with such large amounts, I was afraid I had overtipped him. Later I figured that's like $2.50, and seeing that it was a 45 minute ride to the hotel and that he took me to the money exchange place, that's not bad.

By the way, I stayed in the lobby to write this to wait for my passport, and the clerk just now gave it back, so things are looking on the up-and-up.

Time to try to take a little nap, then venture out with my camera.


After trying to take a nap on the hard, wafer-thin thing they call a mattress--in all my clothes because the room was so cold--I went downstairs to explore my surroundings.

As I walked through the lobby, a different front desk clerk stopped me to tell me that my room was ready. Huh? It seems that I had arrived before check-in time, and so I had been put in a temporary room. My new room is much bigger, and has a bed with a real mattress, a large bathroom with a big bathtub, a balcony overlooking Lan Ong Street, and heating!

With my spirits lifted, I walked down the ridiculously crowded streets of the Old Quarter, around Hoan Kiem Lake, and stopped at one of the many vendors to buy a t-shirt (I 'heart' Hanoi). I got my first experience in haggling here. The woman said the t-shirt was 100,000 dong. I saw 2 other shirts that I liked, so I asked if she could go lower than 300,000d for the three. She offered 270,00d ("only 90,000 each"), so I pulled out 250,000d and offered that. She hesitated a bit, but in the end took it. Perhaps someone else could have gotten them cheaper, but I felt good that I even negotiated in the first place. By the way, 250,00d=$12.80US.

After my t-shirt purchase I found a small pho shop called 24 Pho. I sat next to a couple of German women who suggested I see the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which I may do tomorrow. Anyway, I was anxious when I paid my bill, because it's hard to get used to these staggering dong amounts, and I'm always worried that I'm spending too much. My pho was 44,000d, but turns out that's just $2.25US.

I walked down some different streets to get back to my hotel. I wasn't actually sure where I was going, even though I had a map. I was hoping to find a cool cafe, and I did: "Barista Frank" on Phu Doan St. The middled-aged proprietress wearing too much make up was quite friendly, and I felt so continental drinking my mint cappuccino (delicious!) at a sidewalk table.

After my initial nervousness about getting ripped off by the driver and while exchanging money and my disappointing first room, I feel much better now and ready to explore more of Hanoi tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chinese New Year travel plans

courtesy of www.traveladventures.orgWow, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years have all come and gone without a post. Well, let's not dwell on the past. I intend to catch up, but not at the moment.

Big upcoming news is that I'll be leaving for Vietnam on January 30th to start my Chinese New Year vacation. I plan to cruise Hạ Long and Bái Tử Long Bays, and watch the New Year's Eve fireworks at Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi.

On New Years Day (February 3rd) I'm off to Cambodia to spend a few days wandering around Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

I'll post my itinerary in the next few days.