Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Urban New Zealand dreaming

My dream sky tower- in aqua blue! Taken from the window of a friend's flat. Ok it's fuzzy, we'll call it "artistic." Who wouldn't like that outside? If you're gonna be in the city, may as well have the cityscape.

My dream car- an old orange mini cooper! On the streets of Auckland... I had a hankering for those new ones when they first came out, but nothing beats the original.

Just threw this one in there to see if you were paying attention. No this is not "urban." Rather, it was taken on the drive down to Wellington.

Here is where I record my dreams and other observations... I didn't open it too far, don't want you all to know what I really think. If you can finagle your way into my place and make off with a a few journals, I guarantee you will think I'm insane, but I think you'll laugh a little at least.

My dream day, sitting with a super-strong coffee watching the randoms pass by. Here's Fidel's Cafe in Wellington. It's where a lot of people wear glasses. Very good indications for the health of the optometry profession in Wellington.

In post script--- if you feel like continuing the dialogue...

Today, I met up with three of my former students who are all working in Wellington. I stopped in on two of them at their places of employment and met another for dinner. The thrill of seeing them "all grown up" and looking so professional will bring a smile to my face for a long time. I'm still blown away by them- they will hold a special place in my heart forever. No, I am not crying. Or ridiculously sentimental. Just real.

I also spent a good chunk of time languishing in the sunshine listening to a knit-hatted Welly street musician strum his acoustic guitar and cover all sorts of songs with his ear-cuddling voice.

All-in-all, a most interesting day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

A few days ago, I boarded the intercity bus for Turangi, a small town on the south of lake Taupo. It's about 6 hours south of Auckland by bus. I checked into my clean and lovely backpackers and signed up to do the Tongariro crossing the following day.

The bus picked me up at a little after 7AM, and then I was on my way. The hike took about 7 hours, fairly challenging, but worth the effort.

One of those typical kiwi sayings... odd grammar, yes.

The fashionista of the mount.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Little town gems of the world

The towns I've listed here are places I've visited (or lived) that generate a "feeling" of the country and it's citizens as well as being very user-friendly for the visitor or new resident. I guess I could also call it my top destination recommendations. Most of them have a heritage feeling as well as residents who are exceptionally friendly. I didn't put any European destinations because it's really been soooo long since I was there.

I'd love to hear your recommendations also.

Chiang Mai, Thailand (walkable, peaceful city that's on the tourist track, but doesn't feel like it)
Portland, Oregon, USA (hey, I could go on forever with this one- highlights include most microbreweries per capita and highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the USA)
Wellington, New Zealand (arresting architectural lines and interesting people)
Hoi An, Vietnam (300 year old French wooden shops filled by the artisans of Vietnam)
Georgetown, Malaysia (colorful archways lead you through this city of non-commercialism)
Kaohsiung, Taiwan (modern, creative and underlooked)
Louang Prabang, Laos (heritage and night market beauty)
Victoria, BC, Canada (very provincial, but superfriendly and artsy)
Suchitoto, El Salvador (sweetest people in the world)
Mussoorie, India (in the beauty Himalayas, there's peace to be found in India)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia (a mix of restored and blown-out buildings)
Grand Forks, ND, USA (a sweet, little place with beautiful Harvard-esque university)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pruning time

Gemini (May 21–June 20)
Many plants grow better if you prune them. Getting rid of a bunch of dead stuff makes room for all the fresh new leaves to have unrestricted access to the sun. Your life could use a bit of pruning this spring. While you're perfectly capable of growing and even thriving under current conditions, there are definitely things holding you back from reaching your full potential. You have the tools, you have the knowledge—isn't it time you cut yourself free? If you hesitate because not everything you want to trim away is strictly dead, keep in mind that it could hit the ground, take root, and grow into a beautiful plant all on its own—and then everybody wins.

I'm going to take a little time to reflect on this horoscope. What should I be trimming from life? What could we all trim from our lives? It seems sometimes that we try to hang onto things that really are just weighing us down. Even in this vagabond lifestyle, I continue to hold onto kilos of junk that I really don't need, and that's not counting the emotional baggage.

This week, I reclaimed my bags from storage and tried to pear down my belongings, then shipped most of it off to the United States in care of Shanta, who is kindly going to receive the boxes should they ever clear customs and arrive in the States again. So that if I return , I'll have what I need. ("Need" is truly an interesting concept.) I've also decided that if it all went missing en route, I wouldn't have too much remorse either because I'm really just happy to have it all GONE.

Returning to Auckland has forced a resurgence of all the nagging questions. (One of the drawbacks to English speakers galore.) What are you doing with your life? Where are you going next? Are you coming back to the university? Don't you have to rejoin the working world again? All the questions I was happy not to have thrown in my face all the time while I was in Asia, but things I wonder myself. Dwelling on the questions doesn't bring me answers, so I try to just live day by day for now, waiting for life to reveal itself to me instead.

In the morning, I leave Auckland for Lake Taupo on the public bus. I'm looking forward to a some solitude again. Staring out the window in contemplation as Radiohead swirls by my ears and landscapes dramatise for my eyes seems like a good respite from the baggage that I've encountered in Auckland.

I don't know what's next. I've been so happy seeing the world and meeting people. Learning new things. Being myself. Enjoying slowness and peace. Auckland, as much of an old friend as it is, is not a place of peace. I feel my internal stress creeping up day by day and I know moving on is the right thing to do.

Pruning season has begun...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Best of Asia

Gustatory pleasures: Thailand, by far! Who can beat Papaya Salad, Mango Sticky Rice, Pad Thai and fresh fruit on every street corner? Even though I did get sick there THREE times. I forgive them.

Where one could sit forever: Laos, travelling on the 12-14 passenger slow boats between small towns- it's the best way to combine sight-seeing and transport into one, as you pass by villagers, elephants, water buffaloes, and jungle.

Exhilaration by public transport: Carrie and I hanging off the back of a motorbike chauffeured by a shoeless 12-year-old Cambodian boy on our way back from Angkor Wat.

The Brew-ha-ha of choice: Dark Beer Lao. Really the only beer with any flavour. The rest were variants of Budweiser.

Caffeine to pop your eyes out: Vietnamese. Who can top a personal filtered coffee (so strong, you have to chew it) atop sweetened condensed milk?

Most sterile: Singapore. Also most regulated. Least fun. Most western. But I still liked it.

Most hearing damage: Vietnam. The horn is ON more than OFF. We tried to call my mom from the bus and every time the horn honked, it created massive cell phone interference. The call lasted about 2 minutes.

Biggest gut-wrencher: Taiwan. Everything there is FRIED! Deep fried. Guaranteed to stop up your Montezuma's revenge/Delhi-belly, butt-pee in hours, perhaps minutes.

A little slice of Eden: Mut Mee Guesthouse in Nong Khai, Thailand. Where else can you sit in the garden, overlooking the Mekong and Laos for $4 a night? And it was clean too. Score.

The land of guardian angels: ALL of Asia. I can't tell you how many times a local went out of their way to help me- whether it was drawing a map, walking me to an English speaker, offering a ride, showing me the bus stop, telling me where to wait for the right train carriage, people went beyond my expectations over and over again as I traveled through the various countries. I do believe we are all good people inside.

Please post your additions in the comments section...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Contrary to popular fear, I have not been swept away in the Tasman

I've been fuffing about for the last five days, reconnecting with friends and the city of Auckland. It's been a joyous homecoming overall. I reclaimed my three bags from storage and started sorting through the junk that I'd deemed necessary to keep. It seemed so excessive after my tiny pack for four months in Asia, but I have embraced the lifestyle of clothing choices again and even got myself a new pair of pants to add to my pack. I've decided that I don't have to look like a dirty backpacker for this leg of the journey. Rather, I think I'll go for the alternative fashionista. I may even haul along a hair-straightener. Watch out world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Perfect day: March, 18, 2009

[Current status: Sitting in the park, drinking a NZ beer from the wineshop across the street. They were kind enough to give me a free magazine and open the bottle for me, so I could just walk 50 metres and plop myself down. I asked and they didn't think there were any public consumption laws. If you never hear from me again, assume we were wrong, and contact the American Embassy, please!]

5:something... woke up and had to go pee. Tried to recall what kind of toilet trip would it involve. Would it be to a manual flusher, did I have to walk a dirt path? Oh yeah, I'm in a REAL house with a REAL toilet. Inside. Pee? Yes. Then sleep.
7:15 [Light tapping on door.] Incorporates well into dream, until Wanda says, "It's 7:15." So I get up and get dressed in my one outfit and ride to work with Wanda. Once we get to school, she heads in and I'm off to mark things off my list.
(Now getting quite buzzed as I'm halfway through my beer.)
Morning hours:
Cancel "fully-refundable" plane ticket. And it truly was "fully-refundable!" Now I can squat in Kiwi-land as long as I like! (Heh.) No outward transport scheduled.
Drink "Long black" and read NZ Herald at former haunt, Kokako.
Pick up free sample at the Pandero Bakery.
Peruse second hand clothes on Parnell. Buy nothing. Plan to bring back own clothes for consignment.
Make appointment for haircut tomorrow with Japanese Stylist on Parnell.
Investigate international shipping options. Discover it's cheaper and faster from NZ than it was from Asia. List of banned items includes: acid (duh), bullion (huh?), indecent goods (those Kiwis, so proper!), and "signals, distress" (that's right, don't be mailing your distress abroad, keep it here where it's safe!)
Stop in and try on magenta mascara and glitter eyeshadow at the organic beauty shop. Wonder how they make "organic" glitter.
[Phone ribbits. Text message from old friend.]
Discover how to order "Horsey chair" by Tim Wigmore - the item that I'd decided about six months ago would be my souvenir from my life in NZ. (I was just walking by the store. This was NOT on the list.) It's actually called "Giddyup" chair. To see for yourself, click here.
Recharge Vodafone and add Txt2000 so I can resume my life as texter extraordinaire.
(Terribly buzzed now.)
Purchase wine for Wanda and impulsively beer for self.

Next: Hopefully do not pass out on the lawn. Now that could be embarrassing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Back in New Zealand

I arrived and entered the country without incident, though the immigration lines were long and they appeared to be inquiring everyone. I watched as the girl in front of me had to prove "onward travel" and the adjacent woman was asked about work status. Everyone seemed to be taking forever. I geared up for the interrogation myself. I stepped to the line with my "fully refundable" plane ticket receipt in hand and copy of immunizations. I wondered if I should have printed out bank statements, just in case. I hadn't even checked on the entrance requirements that extensively.

I stepped to the counter and presented my passport. The customs guy said, "You're just visiting, right?" I said, "I worked here last year but just traveling and then I'm going to watch my students graduate in May." He started flipping through my passport. I said, "If you're looking for my old work visa, it's at the back." "No," he says, "I was just looking for an empty page." Within two minutes, I was through immigration with nary a question nor showing any proof of onward travel. That USA passport is so easy to travel on... Another blessing of birth.

The show playing is "Glorious Auckland" right now... meaning it's about 70 and sunny (no wind) with fluffy white clouds in the sky. Yesterday I took the airport bus to town and walked into the university where they all asked, "Are you coming back? You're coming back!" That was nice. I'm not coming back. But it does feel really nice here- I know why people are blown away by NZ now. It looks amazing. Green. Clean air. Amazing crystal aqua water surrounding the city. And it acutally seems quiet, peaceful and non-trafficy compared to Asia. Funny.

I'm staying with Wanda, my old co-worker optometrist in the most amazing bed with a down duvet. This morning, I rode to work with her and walked through the dewy green grass of the Domain Park to the library. Next, I plan to go to my little coffee shop Kokako. I have a fairly long list of things to tie up, but I'm happy to be working on that.

I know this sounds cheesy, but I feel so lucky to be living this life. I'm really happy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Among the Multitude

Among the men and women, the multitude,
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine signs,
Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child any nearer than I am.
Some are baffled, but that one is not- that one knows me.

Ah lover and perfect equal,
I meant that you should discover me so by faint indirections,
And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you.

-Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Grand finale Thailand photos

This is my final posting from Thailand. I'm sitting in my little cafe in Chiang Mai, J J Bakery, which is run by the sweetest Thai man ever. He spent a number of years in New Zealand and speaks English with a mild, endearing lisp. They have the tastiest coffee in Thailand and a peaceful atmosphere as well. In a few hours, I'm off to Bangkok on the overnight train. Tomorrow I'll fly out to Auckland.

I spent the previous two days visiting Pun Pun Farm, just outside of Chiang Mai, where they practice seed preservation and sustainable building. Unfortunately, I spent 24 of the 48 hours sleeping and trying to fend off the grand finale Asian sickness. I'm not sure how one can get a sinus infection AND digestive disaster in the same illness, but I did it again. So I doped myself up with Augmentin, Excedrin, and fizzy vitamin drink. Luckily, the first day I helped with some of the building before my entire body went into lock-down mode, so the trip there wasn't completely for naught.

Elephant bridge in Chiang Mai.

Mangosteen fruit. You just eat the white part- the rest of it is VERY bitter.

Here's the truck we rode to the farm. The two other white guys were on their way to a neighbouring farm to work there- (They'd already worked at that farm for about 12 days and had to do a visa run to renew their visa.) One was from Portland, OR and the other from Prince Edward Island. The guy from Portland had VERY thick glasses. After staring at him for a while, I asked, "Are you a -15.00?" He said, "Yes." I said, "I've met you before, a long time ago at a party." We tried to reconstruct the meeting and eventually figured out where it was - still cannot recall what the party was for... strange small world. BTW, two kiwi guys just walked by who I met a week ago in the hills. One of them was very good friends with my student, Varny. It is a small world.

Nothing better to do than document myself SICK again! Heheh. It's sort of self-punishment. Yes, it is possible to stay THIS white after four months in Asia. I'm not sure whose genetics I am to blame for this.

How I spent my day before I moved to the bed for more rest.

Tools for making bricks.

Bricks laid out to dry and the community centre.

Peggy's new house.

The house that I was helping build the first day.

The road to the farm. (It's up on the hill.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thai Farm cooking class in Chiang Mai

Thus begins the day, in the market. I took this one just for you meat eaters out there. It didn't even smell bad actually, so must've been fresh. Still doesn't make me want to eat the stuff.
Rachel with the rice. I can now tell the difference between sticky rice vs jasmine rice.

Yum, veggies! My dream world.

Your usual senorita Thai cooking costume modeled by tall blonde girl.

Mare learning to make Chicken Basil with our instructor.

The first three dishes I made were: (L to R) green curry, papaya salad, tom yum soup. Later we cooked pad thai and mango with sticky rice to take-away for later. I was full for TWO days.

Rachel and Mare in the back of the songtheaw (a pick-up which has been converted to public transportation).

Where we had fruit shakes - in the alley by our guesthouse in Chiang Mai.

My foot and the coffee shop where I whiled away yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Northern Thailand and Burma photos

I was trying to see what I'd look like with dread locks. Can't really tell from this. Would it be a good idea? I finally have hair...

The white temple in Chiang Rai. It looks more impressive than it actually is. It's very small. And very white, with these little mirror chips all over the outside.

I thought this was a little more than creepy. It's just around the white temple. See the one hand with the red fingernail?

Another "rustic" room- it's where I stayed in the hills outside of Chiang Rai- with the "villagers" but it was really a commercial venture and a little bit of nature.

View from the porch in the highlands. Two of the guides lived in the far room.

This was the village we stayed in. You can see they were not hurting for money even if the housing was simple- there's a new pick up hidden under the tarp. Two guys were building a bamboo house, all by hand. All the villagers had TVs and sattelites.

The restaurant overlooked this. Not too bad.

Me working super hard again. I fear for myself when I have to get a real job.

Burma. From the Thailand side. It seems like it would be so easy to swim across.

I so love my blue stuff. This is in Mae Sai, Thailand, the border town with Burma.

My blue lightbulb fetish.

These are just not witty descriptions today. I liked the alley/canal way.

The cutest Buddha belly I've seen in all of Asia. It looks like MY Buddha belly! :)

Just as we crossed into Burma.

The market. People were quite sweet over there.

Rachel. And the cooking ladies behind her.

Me with our eggs, rice and what we thought were cooked peanuts or beans. Then added a little red chili pepper, some pickled greens and soy sauce and, viola! Breakfast of Champions.

Cute little monks in Burma.

The temporary passport you get when entering Burma. (They keep your real one at the border while you are in the country.) I never really like it when I don't have my passport in hand.

The best breakfast in all of Asia. From the sweetest Thai man. I'll miss the fresh fruit and fresh yogurt and all the veges they have over here for such little prices. It's a vegetarian's dream world. Might I add, this coffee gave both Rachel and me caffeine jitters. It might be the first time in Asia on that one too. Thailand likes to give the farangs instant Nescafe. Barf.

Chiang Mai University Art Museum- a lovely peaceful modern art place. Anywhere that has a bike parked outside gets a nod from me.

Sweet little happy art inside.