Monday, December 29, 2008

Omg omg

A car just stopped for me so I could cross at a crosswalk.


I'm the only person walking on the streets and I'm also the only person not paying attention to crosswalk signs. This rocks.

You may have never been to Egypt or China if...

A car cuts in front of your bus, the bus driver honks multiple times from frustration. You find it funny and a bit nerve wracking so you laugh uncomfortably.

Guilty party: everybody on this bus but me

If you've been to Egypt you've seen that a thousand times. It's not funny or scary anymore. You're so past laughing. You have been hardened.

Barcelona airport is pretty

It's been nicely decorated for the season and the colors are nice and warming. Lots of see through glass for the modern artistic look.

Nobody has hassled me about anything. EU customs took about 15 seconds including the wait in line. I haven't been pimped for a taxi ride. Nobody wants me to buy anything from them. I found information to ask them where I am. I asked them where the Aerobus is. I found an ATM. The real difference was when I stepped outside the outer door. Nobody was ther waiting for me! I'm free to move about as I wish. It's nice being in a first world country sometimes.

But I guess this is why you pay 20 euros a night to stay in a bunk bed. I just got charged 2 euros commission from the atm I used. It only cost 5.5 euros a night to sleep in Cairo. Heh

I'm on the Aerobus on my way into the city center.

I made it to London

I'm out of Egypt. No more chances of getting scammed today! Oh wait, I'm heading into Barcelona tonight :) Crap!

First class hijinks

I passed through the security gate after check-in and found the first class lounge sign. I just wanted something quick to eat for breakfast because it was 7am. There was no business class lounge sign though, so I headed to the first class lounge area to ask.

There was a 50 year old-ish Egyptian man at the counter in front:
"Is this also the business class lounge?"
"Yes it is. How may I help you?" He had a strong Egyptian accent.
"Ok great." I handed him my boarding pass to gain entrance.
"Sorry sir. I can't take that. You need one of these." He showed me a voucher that I was supposed to get from BA but they had forgotten to give me. I was surprised that the business class ticket was not enough to get in.

But he added with:
"I can't tell from the boarding pass that it is business class, and therefore I can't help you. You will need to go back down to the check-in area to ask them for the voucher." I checked the boarding pass myself. There wasn't any obvious indication that it was business. He was right as far as untrained eyes could tell, though I found it strange that every BA employee could always tell that it was.

I didn't want to go all the way back out to the front. I only had 30 minutes until my flight would start boarding and I didn't want to go back out security or immigration and have to come back through.

BA had messed up or this man was screwing with me looking for a bribe, so I asked him:
"Can I get your name? I am going to complain to BA that their process in this airport is broken or that their employees messed up."
"Sure." I pulled out my camera because I noticed his name badge was completely in Arabic. I was going to take a picture because I didn't trust him to actually give me his real name.

As soon as I turned the camera on and was fiddling with the controls to turn on macro mode, he realized what I was going to do and hid his badge from me.
"You can't take a picture of my badge." He had an uncomfortable smile on his face, which I was quietly enjoying.

"Why not? I don't know Arabic so I'm going to have to do this. I don't know how to write your name myself." I was really starting to enjoy myself. I was probably already starting to smile outwardly.
"Because you just can't. It's BA's fault downstairs that they didn't give you the voucher, so there's no reason for you to take my name."

"Well, I don't know for sure whether it's BA's fault, so I have to gather the necessary facts and find someone who will do something about the problem here. I need your name so that when they ask me who told you that you weren't allowed into the lounge, I can tell them. That way there is some way to trace the process problem." This made him get defensive.
"Look sir, this lounge is not owned by BA. It is property of Cairo airport. We get paid by BA for every voucher we collect from them. If I don't have a voucher from you, we won't get paid. That's what it is."
"How do I know that it's not BA's lounge?"
"Come here sir. I will show you." He stepped out of the counter stall and motioned for me to follow. I picked up my backpack and my documents and started to follow.

"Sir, you may leave your bag there. It will be fine." My backpack has my most important stuff in it. I wasn't going to let this man talk me into leaving it on the ground in a public area. I hadn't done that in 7 months, I wasn't going to start now.
"No I'll bring it thanks. I don't trust anybody."

He smiled uncomfortably and nodded in acknowledgement. He walked me back to the lounge door. He pointed to a large seal that was fixed into the wood of the wall.
"Do you see the sign? It says Cairo Airport Lounge. There is no BA. This lounge is run by the airport. We are not BA. I need someone from BA to tell me that you need access to this area." I nodded because I agreed to what was written. We walked back to his counter with him leading me.

"You must go back down to check-in and ask for the voucher. It only takes 5 minutes. Please go get it. I need the voucher." From what I've experienced in the last 3 weeks, nothing in Egypt takes 5 minutes when it comes to beaurocracy and security together. There was no way I was going to let him talk me into stepping outside just to get some croissants with 30 minutes left until boarding. I was not going to go outside, but I needed some substance with which to complain with to BA, so I planned to take pictures of everything in the scene, including his badge.

"I would still like to take your picture so that I can tell BA my story. I don't want them to think I'm lying."
"You don't need my name. Everyone who works at this desk will tell you the same thing. You can complain to BA anyway. They will not think you are lying. There is no reason you need my name."
Of course this sparked my curiosity. I particularly enjoy making people nervous, especially when I feel that they are lying or hiding something.

"Ok so if you didn't do anything wrong and BA is at fault, then I guess there's no reason why you should have a problem giving me your badge. The fact that you won't let me take your picture has convinced me that I should definitely take your name with me."
At which point I think he had realized he wasn't going to win this argument with words, so he asked, "Would you like me to call a BA representative up here?" I was going to say yes but then decided I didn't want to wait in case he was bluffing to stall. I told him I would go get a BA representative at my gate myself. I happened to have noticed earlier that my gate was only 100m away from this desk.

I told him I'd be back shortly. I walked to gate 6 and found the nearest BA employee. I told him that it seemed that I had mistakenly not been given a voucher for the business class lounge. He looked at my boarding pass as I handed it to him, then nodded and said "follow me please."

He led me back to the lounge and just walked me past the guy that I had been dealing with for the last 10 minutes. He barely acknowledged the guy's presence. I smiled a little and said, "thank you" to the man at the counter to show that there were no hard feelings. The BA employee took me into the *first* class lounge, said that he was sorry for the mistake, wished me a good flight, and told the ladies at the front desk something in arabic, then jotted something on a small card, probably authorizing my entry somehow.

I walked in and had some breakfast. The lounge was nothing special. It was actually pretty drab, but nothing could drown the satisfaction that I felt having played the game with the man outside correctly.

In recollection, it sure seems a bit strange that the man outside is collecting these "vouchers" yet there are 2 women inside the lounge checking to see who's coming in again. The BA rep proved that to me. I think there's a good chance the man was just looking for a bribe and his entire job is just collecting these pieces of paper literally just to collect these pieces of paper.

There have to have been incidents in the past where someone else didn't have a voucher in the history of Cairo airport and its lounge. If all it took was a short call to the BA desk to clear it up then he should have just done that from the start rather than ask me to exit immigration and security and then come back in with some paper voucher that was going to get me orange juice and a lazyboy. That's not what I call customer service. He wasn't doing anything else that I noticed anyway while sitting there.

I know it was cruel for me to rub it in with the "thank you" but I couldn't help it. He was an ass to me, either intellectually or emotionally or both. Sometimes you have to use some simple logic and assertiveness to get past the sheep that are blocking progress, and this time it happened to work in my favor.

Tip the man?

When I reached Cairo airport today, I walked into the departures area and found my first security gate. When it was my turn, I put my bags on the conveyor belt and walked in through the machine. Airport staff stopped me on the other side and asked me for my ticket. I showed him my e-ticket receipt because that's all I have on me.

The man had the entire passenger list for the plane this morning. He scanned the list for my name. I had a feeling it wouldn't be on there because I changed my flight last night to move them 1 day forward (today instead of tomorrow). As predicted, he told me I wasn't on the list and called another man over who had a badge but didn't dress like a normal security officer.

The first man gave the second man my passport. The second man asked me to follow him to the check-in desk. He asked a third man standing behind the British Airways counter something after handing him my passport. The third man said something back that sounded positive after checking the computer and then gave the second man my passport back. I thought everything was clear and I would be allowed to check in.

But the second man didn't give me my passport. He then asked me to follow him back to the first man. The first man then asked the second man to take me to the office. I didn't know what he meant but the second man told me to follow him. He kept repeating "everything ok" to me for some reason.

He must have thought I was worried. After 7 months of traveling I'm used to this crap. I was calmer than a lion that had just finished chowing on a antelope.

I followed the second man back outside security. I could tell he was leading me to the British Airways office. I took out my phone and opened up on my browser to get my flight itinerary information in case they would need to see it. During the walk over the man kept repeating something under his breath while trying to get my attention. I figured out after a couple of repeats that he was saying "tip the man ok? Tip the man ok?"

I gave him the blank-faced puzzled look I like to give with my eyes and forehead to get out of situations, to either give the impression that I don't inderstand english or I don't understand what they mean anyway because I'm too innocent.

We step into the BA office. There's only a woman working the counter. So apparently he doesn't mean to tip her. I assumed at that point that he meant to tip the security guard to get by. Maybe they do a 2 man runaround when this kind of stuff happens to get bribes from frightened foreigners and then they split it between them.

The lady asked me how she could help. I told her I wasn't on the list at the security gate so they wouldn't let me in. She took some time to look me up and then printed out a paper for me to show the security man. During this wait I noticed that the man that escorted me had left the office (are you surprised? I wasn't).

I thanked her for the printout and then went back to the security area. I put my bags in the conveyor again and then walked through the machine. I showed the same man my passport and the printout to confirm what he wanted to see. He gave it back to me with a smile on his face that was just a little too creepy to seem genuine. I said "thank you" with a little creepy grin to match his to send him the message of "I didn't fall for your stupid bullshit hah", took my passport and walked toward the business class counter for BA to check-in.

Conclusion: What I think happened is the 2 guys were playing a little game based on formalities. I certainly wasn't on the original printout list so taking me to the BA counter was required. The BA check-in guy had probably told the second man that I was indeed a confirmed passenger in the computer, but since I didn't understand the conversation, the second man pulled me back to security and then to the BA office like something was wrong just to see if they can get me to donate some money to the security guard sheesha fund, except they didn't realize I was too calm to fall for that one.

Lesson learned for Egyptian airport security: Next time try scamming someone who has not been carrying a backpack for 7 months wearing camping clothes and has been staying at $7 a night hostels. You might get a better payoff out of it.

Free tip for Egypt: maybe you wouldn't need 6 serial security checkpoints at the airport if you fixed this corruption problem. You should see how many guards asked me if I would tip them if they let me take a picture with him and his semi-automatic gun at the tourist attractions.

World Traveler tip #2736

As a man, flying in an airplane is *so* much more comfortable with no underwear on. (It means less laundry too)

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I asked for cereal with my breakfast on the plane. I was surprised when he gave me my tray with cornflakes in a bowl with milk already in it!

I didn't get a choice on the type of cereal, the type of milk, nor the ratio of cereal to milk, and it was also soggier than if I had poured in the milk myself. I also had to eat it right way before my fresh fruit because I don't like soggy cereal.

Maybe British people are less fussy about their cereal? Any American put in my situation would probably also be a tad bit surprised because normally we like our cereal a certain way, just like our eggs. I'm not even really a cereal person, so I'm less fussy than others.

Or maybe it's this way on all plane flights and I've been spoiled too much.

This is your brain on drugs

I'm not on drugs. I just thought it would be a fun post title.

I've now not cut my hair for over 3 months (last time was in Korea) because I'm anal and I have hair stylist messup paranoia. This is probably the longest I've gone without a cut in my life and when my mom sees this picture she's going to do the long quiet slow breathing in gasp that Korean women do and then say something like "why isn't he getting his hair cut? What's wrong with him?" (In Korean of course). If you're a Korean woman and you don't do this yet you better get practicing!

When I styled my hair last week with wax, I looked like someone designed to clean ceilings as I walk through.

Someone (female) tried to convince me to shave my head last week. I'm still not convinced that I won't look absolutely terrible if I do so and so I still won't do it.

3 walking security machines

Yup. Make that *3* gates instead of 2. I had to go through another one to get from my gate to my plane after I wrote that other post. Then after sitting in the waiting area in front of the gate, they checked my boarding pass and passport *again*.

Will travel for toothpaste

I ran out of toothpaste a couple months ago, and since then I've been using the little free ones they've been giving me when I board business class.

I just got another one today. Thank god because I ran out last week and my teeth are starting to turn purple.

J/k of course. But seriously I did run out this morning so now I don't have to buy toothpaste for 5 more days. Yay!

I guess I have to change my flight to Argentina to line up with when I run out of toothpaste again? Engineering is all about efficiency right?

American Dollars

Continuing on the money topic, I had 500 something LE leftover in my wallet, so I walked over to the Bank of Alexandria counter in the airport and switched out 400 LE to about 70 american dollars. I assume it'll probably come in handy when I get to South America. See, I can learn some things :)

Exact change is powerful

The money system in Egypt is simple to use but the difference in price of an expensive good is so different from the price of an inexpensive good that you almost have 2 different money groups.

If you want to pay for a foreigner meal, you need around 50 LE (egyptian pounds). If you get out of the tourist area to eat, you only need about 5 LE.

So what happens is, you go to the ATM to get 500 LE out to last you a few days including a bed (about $100), but the ATM only gives you 100 LE and 200 LE notes. So if you're only staying and eating expensive foreigner stuff it works out ok, but if you can find cheap food like me, or want to take a taxi a short distance, or buy a water from the market, you'll find that almost nobody has the small bills necessary to give you change for your 100 LE note and especially your 200 LE note.

The store will want to keep the small change to pay other customers with smaller bills. For some reason, these establishments don't want to go to the bank and get a lot of small bills to help their business along. Maybe they're trying to use it to get foreigners to overpay? Or maybe the Egyptian banks don't like to give out small bills? I'm not sure of the reason. There's also no 7 eleven store chain here in this country that will cash out any size of bill like in Thailand.

So if you're not paying a large amount and you happen to have exact change, it's a convenient way to lower the price to what you're looking for when you're bargaining, because you take the hassle out of the transaction and that fact alone entices the locals to accept. For them it means less talking and less english required to complete the transaction.

This morning I needed to catch a cab from downtown Cairo to the airport. It's supposed to cost 60 to 70. Well that's what my hostel staff told me. But from experience, I know that taxis don't like to give back change. When most people (foreigners) pay a 70 LE bill, they will use one of their 100 LE notes, which means the driver needs to give 3 10 LE notes back in change. So I pulled out 4 10 LE notes and a 5 LE and showed them to a taxi driver after I pulled him over and said "45 pounds to airport" and he mulled it over for a bit, looked at my exact change and said "ok".

My little strategy worked this morning. To do this easily in Egypt, you need to use the 100 LE bills as much as possible and amass 10 LE bills as much as possible by getting change back from those 100s wherever you can. At one point 2 days ago I was carrying about 20 10 LE notes and 10 1 LE coins in my pocket. It was almost like I was a walking change machine according to Egyptian standards.

I didn't get to use this method successfully too many times in Egypt because I thought of it late in the game, but I will try to reuse it when I get to South America if given the opportunity.

3 car security gates, 2 walking gates

There's so much false sense of security in this country I'd say it's a bit overdone. Probably Israel is the only other "free" country with more security checks.

But even though there are car security checks everywhere throughout the country, it just doesn't feel that safe. They just seem like formalities. Everytime I've passed through security it's just been a series of questions in arabic that our driver answered with ease and then they let us pass. It seems like the only bad people they will catch are the obvious ones, such as someone driving a tank or walking through a security gate with a bazooka in his hand.

Most of the walking security gates in Egypt don't even have people watching them. You just walk through, it beeps from your camera or cellphone and that's it. Nobody in the room even looks because *everyone* makes the stupid machine beep. I haven't figured out why the machine is even there other than for show. Maybe when someone walks in with a gun it will zap that person into a coma instantly?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I spent one night in Na'ama, which is part of the Sharm El-Sheikh city in the Sinai Peninsula. It's a vacation resort for wealthy Europeans and Russians, from what we could tell by the crowd that we found there.

The prices there were exorbitant for Egypt, and even for Western prices they were really high. The supermarkets would ask for $7 for a bag of roasted cashews that were like $1.50 in China. Bottled water was a dollar when it was 30 cents in Dahab. A tall cup of signature hot chocolate at Starbucks is $4. 4 Gillette razors were $12.

There are some casinos there because gambling is legal. There's a beach promenade full of little enclosed areas for each hotel in a row that allow you to sit or lie down in the shade under umbrellas relaxing for the appropriate price. My friend Mario kept telling me that it looks basically like Cancun does.

The bar with a dance floor we went into had a $25 cover charge but we went in there before the cover started at 11:30pm. The bottles of Heineken in there were $4.

The cheap looking indian restaurant that actually had very tasty food was $10 for a dish. It seemed like so much money after backpacking through Egypt, but we sucked it up and ordered it because that's really the only type of options we had.

Na'ama is a place for *very* pretty people who have the money to come spend way too much on things they could get at home but here they can feel they are wild and on vacation. It's a very convenient local spot to fly into. The flight time is only 4 hours from most of mainland Europe. I saw hardly any Americans and Russians were all over the place.

I had some fajitas at a Mexican restaurant that were very tasty. I really miss my mexican food.

Egypt is one big sausagefest

If you go to a restaurant, it has only male waiters. If you go to a cafe to smoke sheesha, every egyptian person smoking sheesha is male. It's felt a bit weird but that's what I've noticed.

Most of the women in this country have disappeared somewhere. They don't come out of their houses, or they're all in secret factories underground, or they are being trained to run like hamsters in power plants, or something of the sort.

In all the areas where people are having fun or working, I find that it's all Egyptian men. No egyptian women. I guess the women are not allowed to venture outside in public. I knew there were strict rules here for women but I didn't realize it was *that* strict.

They taxed my service charge

I had Tom Yum Goong tonight in a Thai restaurant in Na'ama and noticed on the bill that they had charged me 12% service charge and then a 10% sales tax.

I knew that it was going to be that way up front because it stated on the menu that they would do so, but what I didn't know was that they were going to charge me tax on the food subtotal + the service charge!

What would you tax a service charge for? It's like charging sales tax on a tip that you leave for a waiter at an american place. I didn't make a big fuss about it though because it was 8 cents difference. I sort of want my 8 cents back now though.

Taxi drivers

What makes them (mostly) such assholes to tourists?

Is it because they hate their jobs? Is it because they hate their cars? Is it because being in the seated position for 10 hours a day reduces seratonin in their body? Is it because it releases a toxin that puts them in a foul mood? Is it because dishonest people become taxi drivers? Is it because convicts are asked to pick up the taxi profession when the jails get too full? Is it because they are forced to work as drivers to pay off the ransom for their children who have been kidnapped by terrorists? Is it because other people treat them like shit so they need revenge? Is it because haggling 30 times a day wears them out and they get tired of being friendly? Is it because the fumes in the car make them angry (carbon monoxide poisoning)? Is it because they truly enjoy taking advantage of tourists? It may be one of these reasons I guess.

It's not that they want to just take your money either. It's not simple economics. The ones here use fear and intimidation and outright lying as part of their business tactics.

I've been told several times from different travelers that they've run across drivers that do 1 of 3 things:
1. Agree to take you around all day for a set price, but then get to about 3pm and then want more money to take you back and/or keep going
2. Agree to take you around for a set price, and then when it comes time to pay they blatantly lie about how much you agreed to and you have to argue with them about what you agreed to
3. Agree to take you to your destination, and then drop you off at a spot 3 miles away from where you wanted to be once you realize it.
4. (This one just happened to me) They ask you to hop into the cab, they start driving to your destination and then they ask for a ridiculous amount of money by the time you get there. You argue about it and threaten to get out, and by that time you're halfway to your destination so he wants you to pay or doesn't want to drop you off early. Then at the destination you're still arguing about what you're going to pay. I basically paid him what I thought was fair and not what he asked and started walking away. He left with it anyway. So basically it was more than enough (like I suspected), he just wanted to intimidate me into paying more because I bet other tourists do.

It seems to happen more in areas that are full of richer tourists. I have been in Sharm El-Sheikh for the last 24 hours which is a popular vacation spot for middle aged wealthy people who live in Europe and Russia. I came here to see this area for a day before returning to Cairo.

It's not just Egypt, I met uncool drivers in China and Thailand too. It does certainly seem to happen more in less civilized countries.

I can't imagine how shitty it would be trying to get through this type of stuff as a solo female traveler. It's gotta be tough.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When I get home?

The internet problem has gotten better so I've become more motivated to post again.

Many of the people that I meet have asked me what I plan on doing when I get home. I haven't really thought about it a lot, since it was a long time away and I sort of left on travel to get away from my normal daily thoughts.

But in less than 6 months now I'll be back home trying to figure out what I want to be doing with my life.

First thing I'll do when I get home is see my family, friends and relish the american culture once again. I'll go to in 'n out and buy myself a double double. I'll eat some excellent korean food at home. I'll go to the mall and shop for something. I'll have some fun trying on my old clothes again. I'll play some video games. I'll play some tennis and golf. I'll have a western bacon cheeseburger from carl's jr. I'll go swimming. I'll drive fast in my car to the beach. I'll pretend that I don't miss traveling.

After that, I really just see 3 options:
1. Look for a job that I will hopefully really enjoy.
2. Apply for business school for entry in fall of 2010. UCLA is my top choice these days.
3. Go back to Boeing if they let me in off of leave of absence.

I'm guessing it's going to be a combination of 1 and 2. 3 is a good option in a way because it will get me quick money that I can dump into stocks while they're bottomed out, but I don't think I can handle Boeing again. Their system doesn't work for me.

I guess I have to think about this some more later.

Here fishy fishy fishy

I had a "massive barracuda steak" for dinner a couple nights ago at one of the restaurants here in Dahab called Ali Baba. It was well cooked (not overdone or dry), and it was quite massive.

But the real point of this post is to say that I went snorkeling the other day in a reef area in Dahab called "Islands". I'm not sure why it's called that. There are no islands there. It's just off the south shore. All the snorkeling spots in Dahab are shore dives. You just walk up to it and jump in to view the reef.

I saw some fish I've never seen before while diving or snorkeling, but it wasn't as nice as I thought it would be. Even Hawaii was better snorkeling.

There's a spot near my hostel/hotel that is called the Lighthouse which supposedly has lionfish, so I am going to try snorkeling there in a couple of days.

Tomorrow I will be doing 2 dives on the Dahab coast. One at the Canyon and the other at Bells/bluehole. I booked it for 40 euros, which is a good deal.

This place is a good location to learn to windsurf so I'm planning on trying that in a couple of days also.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm in Dahab

It's a hippie ish town for foeigners on the Sinai penninsula. The internet is trashed here or something. Rumor is that someone cut a cable in the red sea again. Who knows if it's true but even my phone is having trouble getting a connection. I wrote this post and I have it queued up to send just in case my connection come back for 5 seconds.

Everything is ok though. I'm having fun, and I'm going snorkeling today.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Egyptian meat pizza yum!


Asian people are scary because they know Kung Fu

I was walking toward the entrance of the Valley of the Queens a couple days ago with my tourist group. This teenager in the merchant area followed me along asking if I was Chinese. I kept saying ignoring him but he kept talking to me, and it was starting to get annoying.

Eventually he says, "do you know Kung Fu?" I turned and looked at him and said, "if you keep following me I'll show you". I don't know if he actually understood, but he turned around suddenly and went to approach other tourists. The guys around me laughed.

A nice thing about Egypt

If I'm not in a tourist area, such as the backstreets, people generally leave me alone. Once in a while I get the random "ni hao?" or "hello?" or "japanese?" Heh

Not sure if it's like this for everyone or if it's because I'm not white. Probably the latter.

One time some guy asked me if I was Japanese, I said yes. And then he said "ni hao?" I laughed.

It's a totally different feeling...

Reading articles like these while you're actually in that country.

Even though I know I'll be fine, it's awkward reading stories that view Americans negatively by the people walking around me.

Floating like a bird

I just came down from an hour long flight in the sky in the air balloon. Overall it was sort of a let down. I didn't find it "fun". There was something missing. I was a little bit bored.

It had the "wow" factor because it was my first time in a hot air balloon, but I didn't finish the experience with tingles on my skin.
The view of the town of Luxor and the Valley of the Queens and the canyons behind it were great. I got some great pictures on my camera. Watching the men set up the balloon and take it down was very cool. And figuring out how the balloon is controlled was very educational.

The men used big fans with generators on them to first fill the balloons with air and then when it gets almost 3/4s full they tip it over and pump in the gas.

Everything is controlled by a single pilot in the center of the balloon basket. There are switches that pump out some kind of gas and then the massive torch in the center lights it up into the balloon, which is how it gets its lift. Then he uses 2 ropes that are attached to different parts of the inside of the balloon to rotate in opposite directions. He can't really control where it goes, it seems like he could only control how fast he went in the direction the wind was blowing to.

There are 2 more lines that are connected to a circular piece of fabric that is covering the top center roof of the balloon. Once the ride is over, they pull on these 2 ropes and it pulls the fabric circle into the center and creates a huge vent at the top. The lifting gas completely escapes and the balloon comes down. Then they fold it up for the next ride.

The ride was very calm with no wind. We were floating during sunrise and I think that was one way to make sure the wind was reduced.

Maybe if they had let me bungy off of it I would have liked it more. I remember myself sort of wishing that they would. I also wanted to hang off the edge at some point to take pictures too, but I knew that would get me in trouble.

At one point I half jokingly said out loud that the ride was "boring" and one of the other passengers asked me if I was getting an adrenaline rush. The answer was no, I had 0 adrenaline rush except for when I thought we might have a rough landing (I got excited at the thought) or right at the beginning when we took off and I could see the ground falling away from us.

I guess that was my problem. Everyone else was excited because we were high up off the ground. I felt perfectly safe, because I was standing rather than falling down with a cord strapped to my legs. Hehe

The Egyptian kids that came out of wherever they came from to beg for money after we landed was probably the most captivating part of the trip. They came walking and on their donkeys. I didn't see any for most of the ride and then suddenly there were 10 around us, like some zombie horror flick, including little girls in what looked like pajamas nighties (dresses). And the faces they make to look as pathetic as possible so that maybe we'll feel guilty enough to throw something.

Somebody on the bus gave them an uneaten breakfast box and these kids were ripping it apart trying to get a piece of it. It was surprising how violent that scene was because they look energyless when they're begging. I was just secretly wishing that a cell phone rang and it was one of the kids'. That would have been excellently funny, just like what happened at the Great Wall.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Old white ladies

That's who I'd target first if I was a beggar or a street peddler in Egypt, China, or Thailand.

1. They're probably friendly in general while on vacation
2. They probably have money to spare because they're on vacation
3. There's a high chance they'd rather give you money than be bothered constantly
4. They might have some guilt that you could capitalize on
5. You might be able to get on their soft side easier because you're being cute and they're women

Right after old white ladies I'd try old white men, then old ladies of color. Maybe the "I look like you" factor would work? I could be totally wrong, but this is a result of my experience from walking around.

Lightin' it up!

These things are cooler up close!

Going hot air ballooning in an hour!

I just beat my previous record on this trip and woke up at 4:22am to go ride a hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor, Egypt.

I'm eating a box lunch that I received from my hotel as I was heading out the door. That was pretty nice of them to give me.

Wow the mosques are going crazy again and it's only 5am.

Free the Nile!

To control the flooding of Egypt by the Nile every year, the Egyptian government and Russia built the 2nd largest dam in the world, right here in Aswan, Egypt. It holds back a reservoir of 180 billion meters cubed of water. That's quite a lot of water. If the dam broke, I think Cairo would be destroyed. I think the result would be like a Tsunami. They've also set up power turbines in this to provide for the lower half of Egypt. That's pretty efficient and sweet. The guide said today that the largest dam is in China.

It's called the Aswan High Dam and the reservoir is called Lake Nasser.

When they built the dam and the lake depth grew an immense amount, many of the temples that were in the area went underwater. One of these temples, called the Philae Temple or Isis Temple, was underwater for 20 years before the government had enough funding to dig it out and move it to an island nearby above ground. And when they did it, they chopped the temple up block by block, moved it 500 yards to the side, then put it back together.

Isis is the goddess of love, so this temple is about her. I got to see this temple today. It's hard to tell what damage came from underwater and what happened naturally over time and what was destroyed by Christians that didn't like the temple when they entered the area.

The temple was not in terrible condition considering the circumstances. And it wasn't crowded so that was a nice change. The tour guide was this uptight woman with a shrieky voice though, so I had a tough time keeping my mind on the subject.

I took some pictures of the dam, reservoir, and power plant area today as well.

It was only a matter of time

Well it finally happened. I broke my glasses. But they aren't unfixable. I stepped on em in the morning when I got out of bed. I must have slept with them next to the pillow and knocked them off during the night while moving around.

A thin cable that held the lenses into the frame snapped and a lens won't stay in anymore. I'm wearing my backup glasses now.

I think they're definitely fixable, but I need to find a good optometrist somewhere to do it right and to make sure they don't scratch the lense while they're reattaching it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The People's Republic

After visiting the Military museum of the People's Republic, I have a better understanding of why Mao is so respected by Chinese people.

In the years previous to the 20th century, imperialism ruined china. The french, the english, the portuguese, the germans, and probably others came and took over parts of China using opium as a bargaining tool. There were parts of China such as Macau and Hong Kong that were part Chinese and part Western.

Mao helped free China from those European economic and political bonds. I think that's why he wanted to call it the People's Republic, because they wanted their freedom for their people. Too bad he didn't know what the word "republic" really means.

Mao's use of communism to unite the people to overthrow the government that was being held hostage by the foreign nations was key I think. Communism (which is the power of the working class) gave them the unification at the grass roots level necessary to overturn an impotent government and get things in order. For the time when the red revolution happened, it was a great solution.

When I saw the way the Chinese presented their story in this museum, I felt a sense of empathy. I secretly found myself hoping that someday when China rules the world economically, they should just declare the European Union their bitch and just start levying taxes everywhere.

Other things I noticed in that museum was that Taiwan was thought of as a rebel state and that they belonged to China. There weren't very friendly words about Chang Kai Shek and the ruling party of Taiwan. What's interesting is that when you learn world history in the US, you're taught that Taiwan is a (yay good) democratic country while China is (ooh evil) communist. It just goes to show how biased learning can be (both ways).

Horus temple

The cruise stopped today in Edfu so that we could visit Horus temple tour group style. I was never told to meet the tour guide at 9am so I was in the buffet eating until 9:10. When I came upstairs the guide was waiting for me. Somehow everybody else knew to be there at 9am. How did they know? I don't know, but that's the way things work here. Sometimes they tell you, sometimes they don't. I wasn't surprised.

The tour guide turned out to be pretty incomprehensible in English, and he had to speak in arabic half the time to a part of the group. Then there were like a 1000 tourists wandering around the temple with us because all the cruise boats get off at the same time. So the whole experience was pretty bad. I didn't even tip the tour guide and didn't even feel bad. That's how you can tell he sucked, because I don't even feel guilty. I always feel guilty, so this is a good way to judge.

I took a couple pictures, had some laughs with the other tourists who couldn't understand either, and just did a big tour with my eyes. I soaked in some sun too. The sunlight is super hot in this country.

I'm starting to recognize the pictures of each of the main Egyptian gods, and I recognize symbols for life and eternity and ovals where kings names are written, so I'm learning something out of all this.

Horus was the god of the Pharaohs. Why is this temple called Horus temple? I don't know. I missed that part of the tour.

Monday, December 15, 2008

James bond

I did see the new James Bond while I was in Kunming. We had already heard it wasn't that good but wanted to see it anyway. Katja really likes the new Bond guy and I was really in the mood for a movie. We went to see it with Katja's friend Andi and his girl.

The movie was ok. It was about as good as I had expected after what I'd heard. The sideplot of the girl's revenge story was stupid and didn't belong.

The thing I don't like about the new Bond is that his face isn't very attractive (remember this is my opinion, so if you're a Daniel Craig fan don't hate me). I do enjoy the fast action, but these last 2 movies are too much action and too little womanizing. James Bond for me was always about the cool guy with the sweet toys that always got the girl and saved the day. He had to do all of these equally. I can't picture Daniel Craig being a womanizer. :/

I don't hate him, but I don't think he is as good of a balance as some of the previous James Bonds. I still think the Bond movies are way better than the Mission Impossible series though (die first and then be brought back to life lol right..)

I like the Bourne series the most out of the 1 man spy-like asskicking movies. I really should read the books. I don't have the best record with reading action books though. The reason I say spy-like is because if we didn't specify that category, I'd say I like a couple old school Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris or possibly even Clint Eastwood movies that I watched in the 80s and 90s more than Bourne.

Tissues are expensive

Remember how I said that in China you can tell a luxurious restaurant by the fact that it has paper towels in the bathroom?

Well not only paper towels, but napkins and kleenex are usually "extras" in China too. You sort of have to have your own with you at most times or purchase them from the place that you're eating at. They're sold everywhere and only cost like 50 cents for 5 packs of 5 tissues, but you will still rarely see them at restaurants for free. I think it's their method of paper conservation as well as making a teeny bit of money on the side.

Because of this hassle and money requirement, I saw a lot of guys (especially taxi drivers) on the street forgoing the whole tissue part of blowing their nose. They would just lean over, pinch one of their nostrils with a finger and blow out the other. I'd see boogers shoot onto the street like a ball of wet flies, and then they would repeat with the other nostril.

I mean, why waste a good tissue and 3 cents and create more trash if you can just clear your pipes in 5 seconds with nothing to clean up right?

I'm not judging them by the way. I spit a LOT of phlegm on the ground while I was in China. I blame the air pollution. :) I didn't do any open air nose blowing though. It felt too abnormal.

Staring is caring

I traveled most of southwest china with my friend Katja, who lives in Kunming. Katja is german, so her skin color is white.

Because the locals thought I was Chinese and I was with a white woman, they stared at us all the time, everywhere we went. I think mostly it was in awe of me. "Woah did you see that guy? He's got a white girl. How did he do that?"

We'd see people breaking their necks trying to catch a glimpse as we walked by. We'd hear people talking about us at food tables nearby (fortunately Katja knows some Mandarin). Some people would be shocked that Katja could use chopsticks. There was apparently no shame in blatant staring. I guess it was for a "positive" reason anyway. I mean, I'd captured a white girl and made her follow me around, so wow I must be truly amazing. Duh! Haha

I think the most shocking thing was that when we talked to anyone Chinese, Katja would speak to them in Mandarin and I would keep my mouth shut, to possibly reduce the foreigner prices and also because I can't speak Mandarin anyway. I think that part blew their minds. If we walked into a store the employee would approach me first (because I look like the host), but Katja would answer and it would create a puzzled look on their faces. Haha it was seriously great.

Because Katja's chinese is not perfect, if they misunderstood her they would automatically look at me and ask me something or make some kind of motion that they wanted me to clarify. It was humorous watching them turn their head and stare at me hoping I would talk. I would just smile.

Eventually Katja thought up a good story to explain to them when they asked: She was studying mandarin as my student and I was a hardass teacher so I would make her speak in public without helping her.

Make your own dishes

In Dali, Katja showed me to a restaurant that had a full array of vegetables and meats in little bowls lined up near the entrance. She asked me if I wanted to go to a restaurant that where you create your own dishes based on what they are displaying that day.

It was a really fresh idea! You just look at what's there and tell em which ingredients you would like in each dish and how you'd like it cooked and they charge you based on your selection. They also recommend different options too if you'd like their opinion.

If you wanted some pork and mushrooms with lotus root stir fried, you just tell them that and voila! your choice is ready as soon as it's prepared.

How cool would that be to go to a restaurant in the states where they cook everything you want the way you ask for it, and they only use the ingredients you ask for?

There's always a catch

The minibus we found up to Tiger Leaping Gorge was very cheap. The seats were fairly comfortable. The driver was friendly. They picked us up nearly on time. It seemed to good to be true, and it was.

We soon found out that even though all the windows were closed because it was cold, the passengers still wanted to smoke and it was allowed, so almost the entire drive up (5 hours) we were bathing in secondhand smoke.

It sucked. The only good part was that eventually I got used to it and so it wouldn't bother my nose but I knew it was still there.

Southwest China minibus system

When we were headed up to Tiger Leaping Gorge from Dali, we rode a "minibus", which is one of those regular size vans that have extra seats to carry about 12 passengers. (Chevy astrovan is a good example of the size)

We were told when we were booking through the travel agency that there would be "many stops" but I didn't realize what they meant.

After a while of riding, I noticed that what they do is stop on the narrow 2 lane road for literally anyone willing to pay them for a ride (long or short) as long there is room for more people in the bus.

The residents just get their bags packed and wait on the side of the road for one of these busses to come along in the correct direction they are headed and then bargain with the driver and hop on.

The road that we were on really is the only one in the area and it goes one of two directions so it made sense. There are no public busses in this area because there's not enough demand. Sometimes our bus had 5 people and sometimes it had 12 people.

I thought it was pretty efficient as a whole, although if you were traveling a long distance the constant stops and starts would get a bit tedious after a while.

Dinner on my cruise ship

It's a buffet every meal and tastes pretty good. At the very least it's a well balanced meal instead of the same old shawerma (kebab sandwich) or felafel every day. Lots of veggies and fruits.

They're playing Celine Dion's famous song from Titanic right now. It's so inappropriate it's rad.

Jim the strategizing tourist

I've figured out that a good way to get hassled less about buying this or that is to follow a white person whenever possible. I stay about 5 to 10 meters behind and they take all the attention away from me. It's pretty awesome. Saves me from having to say "no" every 5 meters.

I'm lovin' it

I'd be willing to wager that that pharmacy is the most expensive one in town :)

Ticket limits

When I was in Beijing, I visited the museum of the military of the People's Republic. To enter this museum the admission is free, but you still have to stand in line to get a ticket.

The reason as I found out, is that they only allow a certain number of people in the museum per day, because if they didn't, and one day 2 million people decided to go visit that museum (because it's free), chaos would ensue and people would die.

And trust me, finding 2 million people in or near Beijing who want to enter the museum would not be too hard if you wanted to set some kind of world record. It would be almost too easy.

I wish I knew limit was per day so I could tell you. It's probably around 10,000 people.

I had to show my passport to them to get a ticket, and when I askd Yan why she told me it's so that people don't pick up more than 1 ticket to prevent bad people from trying to "sell" them if they run out of tickets at the end of the day.

The lady at the booth just took a quick glance at my picture and then handed me a ticket. She probably is a little more strict about IDs from Chinese locals.

It was my first encounter into the world of "issues" that come about from overpopulation, so I found the event very intriguing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stop touching everything!

I've noticed the people who are viewing the exhibits in Egypt, but mostly the Egyptian people touch the walls of crumbling and unstable heiroglyphics constantly.

They don't have nice little neat border fences up like we do in Western areas. Once you pay the admission and go inside, in most areas there's nothing keeping you from tracing all the intricate drawings and calligraphy with your hands, and the guards don't even stop you!

If the Egyptian government wants to do it that way, that's ok, but I couldn't help cringing everytime my tour guide was rubbing a drawing on the wall with his fingers as he was explaining something to us. Most of the western foreigners that I saw also (since we've been trained all our lives) were able to control their urges and not touch the walls. I did see the occasional tired person sitting on a column base that looked like a seat bench though. It's cause they don't have seating areas set up like we would in outdoor museums in the western world. It's also hard to find an overweight Egyptian if you know what I mean.

I seriously wanted to tell my guide to stop touching! The walls are in half bad condition already. I don't think it needs any help with finger forces and oil off the skin. Nothing in Egypt is in good conditon anyway, and they're not doing very much to keep it that way. The guards at these sites seem more interested in chatting me up for baksheesh (tips) and hanging loose than keeping people off their national treasures.

I got the same feeling on preservation as I did in China at the great wall. Ideally they want to preserve everything, but making money is the most important thing to them. Maybe once it's really trashed they'll fix it or enforce some rules.

My advice to you: go see this stuff before there's very little left!

I have camel ass

2 days ago I rode a camel for 2 hours to wander around the pyramids of giza. 2 kids came with as guides. They were very nice and fun. The ride was $40 and I tipped them $15 and $5 each. I probably tipped them way too much but I felt like making their day.

But the camel ride was tough on my soft ass. And yes I do have a soft ass. I have some scabs where the skin had some tears due to the up/down constant hopping. Also the muscles on the outer cheeks are in pain, probably from trying to flex my butt the whole time so that my balls don't get damaged on one of the downward motions.

I'd like to call this conditon, "camel ass".

So yesterday when I was climbing up and down the tombs, I could feel the soreness directly.

Camels also have to stand up and sit down by the front legs and then the back legs, and not together at once, so when you get it, you better hold on tight because it's like a gyroscope when he tries to stand up. You gotta lean very forward and then very far backwards to keep balance. I never knew that about camels. Horses are *much* easier to ride, even though if he gallops a lot you'll also get "horse ass". I'm sure many of you know what that means. :)


That's how much it costs an Egyptian to get a visa to live in the US without getting chosen in a lottery. I just found out from one of my host tour guides. I wonder if this figure is correct.

That's about 20 years of work for him.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'm going the way of the Pharaoh

I just boarded a train at the Giza station in Cairo. I'm headed for Luxor tonight. It's an overnight sleeper so I'm in a nice compartment. It's like one of those ones you see in movies with 2 people and a bed for each person. It's pretty nice in here actually, so far at least.

My bunkmate happens to be a Chinese guy that is studying in Germany. I haven't asked him yet but he's probably on vacation right now and decided to check out Egypt. He's got some friends from China on the train in another room so he's over there talking to them.

This train ride is going to be 12 to 14 hours long overnight so I'm glad I got the sleeper compartment.

When I get to Luxor I will be getting on a 3 night cruise to Aswan which is upriver a bit, to the southern end of Egypt. From there I will take a train back to Luxor. When I get to Luxor the 2nd time I am going to hitch a ride over the Luxor pyramids on a hot air balloon. That should be totally rad. Did you get that? A hot air balloon!

Then after spending a night in Luxor I will get on a bus to Dahab, which is a backpacker resort type area in Sinai. I'll be spending a couple of days in Dahab before heading back to Cairo and then out to Barcelona!

I plan to find out about diving the red sea while I'm in Dahab.

I booked all this stuff through my hostel in Cairo. The guys (mustafa and mohamed) that run the hostel were really cool. Tonight, one of them drove me to the train station, and since we were a little early, he invited me to some sheesha, which is a flavored tobacco water pipe and a drink, and then showed me all the way to my train compartment before he left.

I was seriously surprised by how much he helped me out tonight. I must have overpaid a lot :):) no just kidding. He's just one of those guys that seems really nice and genuine.

I'm a little loopy right now from the tobacco because I don't smoke. It was an interesting experience for 30 cents. My tobacco tasted like apple.

My balls are expanding

I thought crossing streets as a pedestrian ws crazy in China... until about 10 hours ago. Cairo is so much worse! The cars won't stop or slow down for you. You have to just start walking from where you're standing and assume that the cars will drive to avoid you even if you're in their lane. Of course you need to watch carefully for drivers who aren't paying attention just in case you have to run or jump away, or at least strike a good pose as you get runned over.

If you're smart, you can time your crossing so that if something bad happens, other people will hopefully die before you :) (cross at the same time as a group with them closer to the bumpers)

If Shanghai was Frogger, then Cairo is Frogger pumped up on testosterone.

If you are not willing to do this, you may find yourself standing on the sidewalk for an hour. Cairo has 5 million cars in a small city with small streets and a low number of signal lights, so there's always a car coming to where you want to go.

It's weird but I've never felt so comfortable being inches away from a car, truck, or bus going 30 mph before in my life.

I guess I'm worried about money

I had a bad dream last night that I woke up to in the morning. In my dream I was on the computer looking at my bank account online and the screen showed that I only had $10,000 left and I felt like I had to end my trip early. I was trying to figure out where all my money had gone. I thought about where I had spent it all and whether I'd been hacked. Then I was wondering if that *was* the correct amount and I was just hallucinating.

The other thing I remember was thinking how it was so weird that I had literally $10,000.00 left and not a cent more or less, as if it was somehow set up by somebody or I had planned it. Then I woke up and realized it was a dream. That's when it all made sense to me.

After thinking about it for a while, I thought it was weird that I went through my normal concious thought process that I would have gone through had the dream been real.

Tipping is getting annoying

Being back in a country where I need to tip again is annoying me. It stresses me out because I never know how much I'm supposed to tip. It only makes it more difficult that I'm having to do it in another country with a different currency and a different culture.

I don't want to tip too much and I don't want to tip too little. I want to tip just right and I also want to know up front because I need to calculate that figure into a budget. The advice of "tip whatever you feel" never works on me because then I'll tip almost nothing every single time (yeah I'm a frugal bastard). Ideally I want to tip as little as possible without annoying anybody.

Usually I feel the price I paid for the service was enough to cover the service I received. In the states I would never tip the standard 15% in a restaurant if it was not already expected of me. Usually if I paid $40 for dinner then I feel like the dinner and service was covered by the $40. If they wanted tip then they should charge $46 so that I don't have to decide whether or not I want to tip. Then I can decide up front if I want to still have that meal if it costs $46. That would be ideal for me.

I seriously loved the no-tipping status quo in Asian countries. I had gotten so used to it that now that I'm back in the game it's even more annoying than ever.

I did something insignificant today

Yeah, I just saw a couple of tetrahedrons someone made in the sand.

Friday, December 12, 2008

1 felafel = 20 cents

Wow it's good too.

The police are everywhere

Every 200 meters on the street is a policeman standing around looking out. It feels pretty safe, at least in the open areas in the daytime.

The banks are all closed today because of the muslim festival. The mosques all have a man in a loud voice either sermoning or praying.

I just went through 2 security checks to get into the Egyptian museum. Time to look around and soak in some ancient history.

People who try to hassle me on the street are using English. I pretended not to understand them because I'm asian and kept walking. I think that's going to turn out to be my best excuse to get away from them during these next 2 weeks.

What a warm welcome

Yesterday night I was feeling great as I disembarked my plane to Cairo from London. I had just spent the last 25 hours in the lounge or in a business class airplane seat and was feeling very relaxed.

Then as I was walking down the terminal area after stepping foot on Egyptian soil, I started seeing the first people waiting for arrivers. Apparently in Cairo they let the guides wait all the way until the gate where you get off. So by the time I got to the baggage claim area, I had already passed about 200 people.

Immigration was literally 5 windowed booths next to eachother. There was no subdivision for Egyptians and foreigners. Before the booths were little currency exchange shops selling Egyptian visas. This was where I had to pay $15 usd to buy a visa and enter the country with it.

The problem was that they literally wanted usd, euros, egyptian pounds, or british pounds. They wouldn't accept other cash. The ATMs were all on the other side of immigration. I had only a single $20 bill that I had kept in my security pouch for 6 months and so it was a little ragged. When I tried to use it, they said they wouldn't take it because it was slightly torn (very minor, you wouldn't think twice in the us).

I was surprised by that. But I had nothing else to pay with. I couldn't get any money from the ATMs because they were on the other side. I couldn't get to the other side without a visa. I couldn't get a visa because I didn't have the cash. So I walked to a couple foreigners asking them if they'd be willing to switch $20 bills with me, they said no.

I was basically stuck between the immigration booths and my airplane with nowhere to go. I started wondering if I should just call american airlines and just leave the country on the next plane, but then I remembered I couldn't do that, because for some reason, in Cairo the baggage claim is *after* immigration. So my bag was out there on a carousel floating around and I couldn't even get to it!

I asked some guards who were sitting there chatting. They said to try asking again. I asked the exchange offices if they would take Chinese yuan, Hong Kong dollars, Korean won, or Macau mop, because I had some of those left over in my pouch. They all said no. They said they would take Japanese yen but I had none!

I asked a couple more groups of tourists after apologizing to them. I felt like I was supposed to be scamming people because it was such a weird request. Finally a nice british man who happened to have American 20s traded me out for mine and I was able to get my visa. Whew!

I entered through immigration and I was immediately approached by some guy offering to help me get to my hotel. I smelled a scam coming on so I kept avoiding him. He had a badge and sounded official but after what already happened I felt like everything was superficial. The cheapness of the visa, the fact that they only take certain currencies, shows me that this country is poor, and in places like that you can't trust people who approach you in tourist areas.

I found my bag while he was still trying to talk to me. I told him no and walked outside. That guy wanted $19 for a taxi ride. I was approached by another guy who kept trying to convince me that $14 to downtown was a fair price for a taxi. I didn't believe him so I kept rejecting his offer and gave him a lot of shit about not wanting to be scammed. He told me he wasn't scamming me numerous times but I told him just by the mere fact that he's standing there taking all this crap from me shows that the price he's asking from me is worth it to him, and that's why I know $14 is a lot.

I was searching on the internet at that time (using my phone) to figure out what I should really pay, and I saw a couple webpages from 2003 talking about $9. He told me that that price was long time ago and outdated. I laughed. I told him I'd pay $10 and he said no and that $4 more was not that much and that I should pay it. So I told him if $4 is so little to him then he should not accept it and give me a discount. I just gave him crap for about 15 more minutes until he agreed that he would walk in with me to the hostel and let me ask the hostel if $14 was a good price, and if it was, then I could pay him that for the ride.

At that offer, I decided that I felt better about taking his offer, so I let him drive me to my hostel and led me to the front door. This turned out really good, because the hostel was difficult to find. He asked around in arabic to figure out the exact location. After I got in, the hostel manager told me that $14 was a fair price so I paid the driver and he left.

I was pretty happy that I made it into my hostel safely without getting ripped off too bad, especially at 2am when I didn't have many choices. The streets are chaotic right now because of a religious holiday and I'm in one of the busiest areas of town. My dorm bed costs $8 a night. I slept ok. The sheets on the bed were dirty when I was shown my room, so I had them switch it out for me and he was nice enough to do it. Some bread, cheese and butter were included in the price this morning.

I'm going to visit the Egyptian museum today. It's a short walk from here. The hostel manager tells me this morning that the typical taxi from the airport is between $13 and $15 so I did just fine with my bargaining.

Learning from yesterday's experience, I better get some actual us dollars on me at a bank just in case. I probably will also need them in south america too.

I've been reading a lonelyplanet book on egypt this morning and it says to carry all your valuables with you at all times, so I'll have to use my security pouch it seems.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More internal changes I've detected

I've become a lot better at tuning out the stress of having no idea what's going on or not knowing what to do next. I'm used to that feeling of being in a different world that you don't understand and trying to get your bearings.

Yesterday night when I got off the plane in Cairo, the situation looked pretty bleak to me, but I worked it out. I think at this point I could find my way out of any difficult professional situation without an issue.

I'll tell you what happened last night in the next post.

In Osaek, Korea

As I was waiting for my bus back to Seoul, I saw a bus driver and a parking lot attendant yelling and screaming at eachother in the street. They were middle aged, and I think that was what made it slightly frightening to me. I don't think I've ever seen 2 guys in their 50s fighting eachother and this one looked like it was going to get violent.

The bus driver had parked his bus on the street and the parking attendant was telling him that he was supposed to park in the lot. The attendant wanted to collect money from the driver but the driver was trying to save money. The bus driver got impatient with the attendant's persistence and started getting pissy. The attendant took offense from the disrespect and that's when it was all out cussing and screaming.

It looked like a schoolyard fight and I was a little scared that I was going to have to go over there and pick up the pieces of one of them after a beatdown ensued. At some point the attendant started raising his legs like he was going to kick the bus driver in the chest. The driver kept egging him on trying to get him to hit him first so he could retaliate.

The whole thing seemed surreal until both of them went back to their places. The driver ended up just leaving his bus on the street.

Seats facing eachother

It's a bit funky but I guess it helps them use the space more efficiently because the upper body needs more width than the legs do.

Today was the first time I was in a departing plane as I was faced toward the rear of the plane. It felt weird like an amusement park ride to have to use my back muscles to keep my body against the back of my seat and to feel my legs dangling as they were dangling by gravity.

Another old post about Korea

I was on my way up to the beginning of the Daechungbong trail, I walked past a white couple that seemed like they were lost. They were waiting for a bus at a non bus stop and discussing whether or not they were waiting at the right spot.

I couldn't help hearing their conversation as I walked by. I chuckled to myself and I wasn't going to say anything but then I figured I should build some Karma points so I turned around asked them if they needed help getting around.

When I turned around suddenly and asked them in my so very Californian accent I think they were a bit surprised to hear it. I was pleased by their reaction. After a short chat I ended up guiding them to the bus station and continued heading up to my trail. It felt good to help them out that day.


I remember when I was climbing up to daechungbong in Korea that I was coming down the mountain when a Korean lady saw me go by and said "konichiwa" which is hello is Japanese. I remember being surprised that a Korean person thought I was Japanese while we were in Korea.

I must not have a very Korean look, which I sort of get sometimes but never while I'm Korea and usually I'm mistaken as Chinese, not Japanese.

If you're bored...

Business class was worth it

I feel pretty rested even though I only slept 7 of 13 hours on the plane. I watched 3 movies before finally falling asleep around 6am HK time.

I had my earplugs in and my eyemask on. It looked like it had taken significant effort for my flight attendant to wake me up when it was time to land. I felt a little embarassed because I think she needed my neighbors help in shaking me awake.

The chair folded back almost fully flat with the top half of the chair cradling my shoulders comfortably. There was a fold out footrest that really helped my feet from feeling like they were dangling, which has been a common issue for me on flights so far.

I saw the new clone wars star wars animation movie. It was just ok. I think I only liked it because it was star wars and it was midly humorous. Also i saw "Wanted", which had great effects but seemed kind of excessive in the plot. It reminded me of "the way of the gun"

The movie I really enjoyed was Wall-E. It was a feelgood comedy by Pixar that also had a satirical side to it, which I thought was a great touch because I was only expecting cheesy goodness like Pixar usually delivers. I love robots too, so this movie had an advantage before it even started.

The way the animators instill feelings and emotions in these little robots is so amazing. They do it while not forgetting the fact that they are robots (so they don't do things like smile). But as a viewer you can still tell when the robots are happy or sad, lonely or in love, wishing or cursing. They've certainly studied behavior well enough to do an amazing job with expressions.

Kettle chips!

Haven't seen these in at least half a year!


Going through security right now just to *change* terminals at Heathrow was like a visit to the boot camp of airport safety. My sister must have had a hell of a time last week while she and Shash were here with the baby.

Nearly 1 employee for every 10 people in line. A lady with a loud voice was yelling at us to put all our liquids in a plastic bags and telling us to put our boarding passes and passports away because we won't need them. Her voice was so prominent nobody was talking in line. It was all hush hush the entire time. Some white guy walked past me and accidentally hit me with his bag but didn't apologize. Not that I cared, I just came from the land of no apologies :)

Turned out I *did* need my boarding pass to show them I'm flying business so I could get in the abbreviated line to the side.

Somebody has the British people spooked. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Take off sharp objects??

The emergency procedures on the planes now tell you to take off sharp objects before jumping out of the plane in an emergency. Then they go on and tell you that includes earrings and watches.

Who writes this stuff, seriously? maybe I'm just the only person that listens?

Who in their right mind will be standing at the door prepared to jump 30 feet into the ocean after a crash landing thinking, "oh shit I almost forgot to take my earrings off!" We would just be lucky if everyone doesn't kill eachother trying to push to the door of the plane.

Maybe they should require drug tests more often in airline and FAA workers.

Yummy sandwiches!

In the BA lounge at Heathrow.

I decided on a goal for today

I'm going to find a good haircut. I have been avoiding it for 2 months now because I am picky about how it's cut and I didn't want to attempt trying to discuss it with someone who didn't speak excellent English.

Update: I just asked around and there's no hair place in Heathrow airport. doh

I'm at Heathrow

I've got 9 hours until my flight to Cairo. I'm wondering if that's enough time for me to saunter into London for half a day. :)


My flight to London takes off in 10 minutes. Hot hot hot. The business class seats in this plane sort of face eachother. It's a little funky. I'll show you guys a picture later after I land.

Business lounge? More like Caucasian lounge

I'm flying British Airways out of Hong Kong to London first. I made it to the business class lounge at the airport and I'm eating some snacks. The weird thing is that I'm the only non-white person in here. I am a bit surprised considering I'm in Hong Kong.

Also, the sheer number of children in here under the age of 10 makes me sick with jealousy. Or maybe that's just how English people travel.

Who decided to put the word "asian" in caucasian anyway? I always found that wacky.

Just my luck!

The one day a year that the Ngong Ping 360 cable car is closed for maintenance happens to be the same day I'm in HK and decide that the weather is clear enough for me to warrant paying $11 dollars to ride it.

And tomorrow I'll be in Cairo.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Portuguese on signs

Seeing a whole bunch of signs written in both Chinese and in a non-English European language (Portuguese) was a bit funky when I first saw it. It's not a combination you think of as likely when you're sitting at home in good old US of A thinking the whole world uses English as its standard western method of communication.

I don't think I knew what Macau really was before I embarked on this trip and did some reading on China 2 months ago. How many americans on average do you think would say, "oh Macau? That's the old Portuguese colony turned China mainland next to Hong Kong." I'm willing to bet hardly any.

I bet at least half the american public doesn't even know that Hong Kong has a strong English background even.

I didn't know this was possible

I'm going to use this one as backup next time someone calls me a bad kisser:

Bye bye asia

I'm a little sad to be leaving Asia. I have to admit that I do feel a significant connection with those countries and the people even if we're completely different in most ways other than the way we look.

I've certainly felt like I bonded with China in the last month and a half. Korea seems like a great place to visit, but not live in. Japan, even though I got pissy that they keep speaking in robotic Japanese to me, still felt nice, safe, and welcoming. Thailand (other than Bangkok) was warm and peaceful. Even Bangkok I'll remember forever as that hub city I don't want to visit again. Even in distaste I still felt like it was a good experience for me.

Someday I will be back for Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Tibet. Until then, it's adios amigos.

Meet Canadian Jim

Today I am on the ferry back to HK Island to visit the American Airlines ticketing office and pick up my revised paper ticket for the rest of my rtw trip.

I'm scheduled to board British Airways tonight at 1am to head through London to Cairo. So now I'll be checking out Egypt for a couple of weeks. I can't wait to see the pyramids.

It's going to be a couple of long flights so the business class will certainly be useful today.

From here on out I will be the obvious foreigner. No more hiding behind my pretty asian face to seem like I might fit in and playing mute to get lower prices. No more blaming circumstances for being challenged to meet other travelers. When people see me they will know up front that I'm not from there.

When I speak they will know I'm not from Asia. That's when I'll tell everybody that I'm from Canada. Telling people that I'm from Bush's country is probably not the best idea, especially while I'm in Egypt.

If they ask where in Canada I'll say Vancouver or Toronto. I've met people from both those areas and have noticed similar accents.

I hate McDonalds

I hate it. I hate it. Terrible quality food and super unhealthy, yet for some reason on this trip, the longer I've been away from home the better I feel for a couple of seconds whenever I see the golden arches. I think it's just that it's familiar face.

If I saw a Wells Fargo Bank I'd probably squeak with joy uncontrollably like a mouse that just found a Dutch goude factory.

Damn you Ronald McDonald, damn *you* and your seduction techniques. <shakes fist in the air>

(On a side note, I've noticed that these other countries rarely use Ronald's face in the advertising. I think it might be because asian countries aren't into clowns and it would probably just freak everyone out)

Would *you* take a chicken sandwich from a clown in China? I didn't think so.

Kun Lam Temple

I just went into a temple here in Macau and I saw some very different things compared to any temple I've seen before.

There were 3 rooms of worship, one *behind* the previous and each with it's own altar for Buddha.

The people who were lighting incense would carry the lit incense through each of the halls praying with them in their hands. The cushions that you pray on are covered with ash litterings because of this.

There were what seemed like large upside down hanging flower arrangements from the ceiling in front of Buddha.

The last Buddha in the 3rd room looked like he was wearing an ornamental wedding dress. It was very poofy. I have no idea what that symbolizes.

They have these huge coils of incense burning all over the place near doorways, dropping ashes everywhere. In fact, In the 3rd room it's hard to see or breathe through the incense ash drifting through the air.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ductapology 101

Since I happen to have a Phd in the art of duct taping things together or apart (don't ask), I decided to do some surgery while I'm waiting for my hotel room to be cleaned.

It's amazing the things you learn in boy scouts. I'm good with knots too of course. :)

I went out back to the street and found the plastic part that had broken off and then taped it back on. So far it seems to be able to hold the belt on. We'll have to see how long it lasts.

Because it's not a moving part nor an area that needs to support sudden forces, I think it will be sufficient for a good period of time. Translation: I'm desperate and I hope it holds or else I'm screwed.

Goddamn taxi driver

Didn't want to wait til I was completely out of the car and ended up running over the plastic buckle of my big bag. Now my hip belt won't stay closed. I want to murder him.

This is a HUGE problem. Time to pull out the duct tape.

One thing about football (soccer)

I've wondered for a long time why they don't show the actual game clock that the referee is keeping track of in his pocket to the audience. Why do we still use a straight 90 minute running clock today?

It's obviously not due to lack of technology. I find it annoying that after the 90 minute clock hits 90 nobody knows how much time is left. I think I'd be even more annoyed as a player.

I guess one good thing that might come from it is that only people who really want to win will go 100% after the 90 minute mark. You should be able to see who's really motivated.

Never seen this one before

Check this out. I found a set of urinals in a hotel where there's running water below the urinal, so that all the missed drops get cleaned into the drain as well!

This bathroom also had auto opening doors too. You walk near the door and it welcomes you in.

Corked thermosi(?)

I don't even know what the plural for thermos is. Is it thermoses or thermosi? How's that for a "are you smarter than a 5th grader?" question?

The hotels that I've been staying at in China have been providing these corked thermoses 24/7 that have hot water in them. They're different from ones I've seen before because you flip open the top cover, then pull out a small cork top (part of the thermos) and pour out the water into a glass.

I think what's great about them is that they work really well for holding in the heat. They give you a thermos and more than 24 hours later the water is still really hot.

When I was staying at Katja's, she had a thermos that she boiled water into and we were drinking hot tea from there for a full day. I had no idea these things were so efficient.

Tic Tacs

These little sugar free monsters are around 50 cents here for a little pack, so I have been filling up on getting them down my system while they're cheap. I don't think I've ever told anybody but I really like these suckers. Maybe I feel more compelled to be more public with my semi-addiction after watching the movie Juno. Who knows?

"Special" sucks

If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that if you're a foreigner and you ever get told something is "special" in China (and probably any other country that's not English speaking), you can assume that you're getting ripped off, cheated, or lied to.

They love overusing that word because it can apply to everything and it's an easy one to remember. They know in our home countries "special" actually has a positive connotation, so it turns heads and piques interest in a good way. I'm sure it works to fool a lot of foreigners who don't care to argue either.

The olympics for diabled people is called the Paralympics and not the special olympics. That was probably a fortunate coincidence.

Hardened street habits

After being in China (and other asian countries) for so long I've noticeably changed:

1. I no longer really look or flinch when I accidentally hit or tap people on the road or in stores or on the subway. I don't even think about saying sorry unless I hit them pretty hard or hit someone in the face.

2. I start crossing the street from wherever I am after I make sure there's no cars coming in the lanes adjacent to me. I'll cross 1 lane at a time until I make it across. I barely flinch when a bus goes by in front of me about 2 yards away. Crosswalks barely exist to me anymore. I only look for them as a possible safety net to make it easier to cross.

3. I don't say hi to anybody when I walk into a store anymore. I just walk in, find what I need, give them money, say thank you and walk out.

4. When I walk into a store or restaurant to strictly see what they're serving and someone says hello I don't even look at them. I just ignore them while I get the information that I came in for. If I need to see the menu then I will ask them for it.

5. If someone is trying to get my attention on my street I just ignore them. Even if I can tell they're trying to talk to me I don't look. Sometimes if I feel like it I'll wave my hand horizontally without looking as if to say "don't bother me".

6. If anybody says the word "special" to me I know it's a ripoff and immediately ignore them.

7. I'm more aggressive about everything in general, from talking to people to buying something to looking for something to eat to standing in line. I will take much less bullshit from general people and my patience has dropped a bit.

8. If I see somebody digging through trash I don't flinch anymore. I just offer them any recyclables I'm carrying.

9. When I see random chunks of flesh including heads of chickens, snakes, eel, crickets, pig heads, cow ears, chickens with their heads intact
staring at me I sort of chuckle and move on. I've seen a lady pull a fish out of a pail of water and slap it in the head with the flat side and descale it while it's still flipping around. Funny how I considered that "fun" when I was a kid but now it seems like it's torturous. I used to stare at these things for a while when I first saw them but now it's like, "oh look it's just another pig head chopped in half and you can see the brain" and I move on.

I still have a softer spot for foreigners though. I'm still more gentle with people whom I can tell are not from the area because I feel like they will treat me the same way.

Anybody hanging out with me after I get home in June is going to be in for a pleasant surprise (laughs) or a major public annoyance (anxiety). :)


While Hong Kong feels like Chinatown in San Francisco, Macau feels like little Portugal in mainland China.

The difference being that Macau is really small and the Portuguese influence seems minimal, at least today while I've been walking around. The English in Hong Kong is prominent, and there's quite a few more obvious foreigners there.

Very little English is spoken here but I also hear little Portuguese as well. It might be a result based on my untrained ear or because English is just so much more prevalent in the world anyway.

I've been walking around the old town area where I've been staying and looking at the buildings and sights of European influence. I've not seen anything that's really wow'd me yet.

The Ruins of St. Pauls is just the front facade wall standing up with everything having been destroyed. It looks pretty with the open windows of skylight and city behind it.

I do see some people of spanish or portuguese color but most people look very Chinese and speak Cantonese or Mandarin. I can't figure out which is which too easily.

I walked the width of the island in about 1.5 hours walking at a medium pace, so you can conclude from that how big the island is. The other island is a little bigger and I'll check out that area tomorrow when I take a bus there over the bridge.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Massages that hurt can still be ok

I got a massage yesterday while I was still in HK and I think they hurt my muscle a little bit. It's really sore today, and it's a little bit annoying. You know that muscle that is inside the shoulderblade that people like to push and pop constantly during massages? (I don't like to, but I've met quite a few people that seem to enjoy it)

Anyway, the guy was pushing on that part pretty hard and it's tender a bit. I'm sure it will go away after a couple of days though. Every other part of the massage was great. He squeezed my hip bones (butt cheeks) super hard and it was painful yesterday but today they feel nice. :)

The massage cost $18 for an hour.

Skipping India

Thanks everyone for the suggestions on countries to head to next instead of India. I've decided on just skipping India and moving directly to Egypt instead and saving the time for later if I need it, or just heading home earlier than expected if I don't use it.

I'm currently in Macao hanging out because I had to turn in my paper ticket to American Airlines in Hong Kong so that they can re-issue it for me. The cost was $125. I should have it by Monday or Tuesday so I will be leaving for Egypt later this week. I have to fly through London to do it, so I'm pretty happy that I purchased the business class ticket because it's going to be a long couple of flights. :)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

To my Seattle friends

Haha there's an AMC Pacific Place in Hong Kong too!

Features to improve blogspot

Anyone out there work for Google? I have some suggestions to improve the ui.

1. Allow people to subscribe to all responses to their comments automatically using control panel settings rather than everytime a comment is written
2. Allow me the ability to respond to a comment from the email I receive that tells me I got a comment
3. When adding pictures after having written text, don't make the pictures create line breaks throughout the post
4. Also when adding pictures, allow us to insert pictures at the specific location of the cursor instead of dropping them in at the top and requiring me to drag them all the way down to the right spot

I'm on top

I just took a picture of Chinese people taking a picture of Chinese people taking a picture of a xmas decoration in a mall. I felt like a superhero because I was at the top of the photo ladder.

As my friend Victoria likes to say, "That makes me the epitome of awesome."

Don't ask me how I know they were all Chinese, just assume I did because I have asian sense ESP skills.

In China you can recycle and litter at the same time

Katja told me that while I'm in China I can just deposit my recyclables like empty plastic and glass bottles near a trash can or just on the side of the street out of harm's way because people who collect that stuff for money will come along and pick them out of the trash anyway.

It's almost like you're doing these people a favor by leaving your item in plain view! Gosh how *nice* of a person am I? Seriously!

I don't have any conclusive proof of this but I trust Katja (she'd *never* lie to me :) ) and since it allows me to be super lazy I said "hey why not?"

Cantonese sounds so different

After being in the rest of China for a while and coming back to Hong Kong, I can hear a major difference between mandarin and cantonese.

Cantonese sounds like the stereotypical bouncy dropping a coin down a well joke that ignorant people (like me) used to use when we were kids to make fun of the asian tongue.

Mandarin is believe it or not, much smoother sounding (and more french-like) with more held tones vs. the choppy Cantonese.

I'm going to get laughed at by Hway for saying it reminds me of French but oh well, I said it. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cutting is an art

If you're in line for something in China you need to keep a watch of your place in line like a bloodhound. This is true even in trivial places such as McDonalds or KFC.

You could be in line and looking briefly at the menu to decide what you want to eat. Before you looked at the menu you had 3 people in front of you. After deciding on spicy chicken wings you look in front and see 6 people. What happened? Did they clone themselves?

Many a first time tourists have wondered the same thing.

The slightest hesitation by you when the line moves forward (even if it's not getting shorter, it's getting pushed forward) will cause somebody next to you to assume that you're not waiting in line. They won't ask you or motion, they'll just get in line in front of you with or without you noticing. They'll leave it up to you to say something if you're not ok with it.

Sometimes as soon as they are near the front they will push their money to the employee and start ordering verbally. They do this faster than you can say "excuse me" to get them to notice they just cut in line. If you say something, chances are they'll pretend not to hear you (or maybe they really can't).

To get them out of cutting position you have to cut in front of them physically. Just walk around them and get back in your place in line or use your whole arm to push them backwards gently. There's no need to say anything or give eye contact because it's just not expected. Think of it like "what would a farm cow do?"

I don't get the impression that these people are trying to be rude. That's just how line waiting is done in a competitive world. They'll take every advantage they can get. And as you can recall from my one airline check in wait story a week ago, cutting in front of even 1 person in line has the potential to save you a remarkable amount of time.

Travel alert for India

I got my travel alert for India this week, 2 days after the Mumbai incident. Here's an excerpt of the 2nd one I got in case you ever wondered what a travel alert reads like:

"November 29, 2008
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens about heightened security concerns in India, and advises U.S. citizens traveling to or already in India to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Travel Alert issued on November 28 and expires on December 31, 2008.

There are heightened security concerns in India following the November 26 terrorist attacks on hotels, a Jewish community center, a railway station, restaurant, hospital, and other locations in Mumbai frequented by westerners. Over 195 persons are believed to have been killed and hundreds more injured.

While terrorist attacks are not new to India, the November 26 Mumbai terrorist attacks in part targeted American citizens and other westerners for the first time and tragically demonstrate that even in five-star luxury hotels, security is not equipped to deter such attacks. U.S. citizens should take into account this new reality and exercise caution when visiting India. Prudent security measures include maintaining a high level of vigilance, avoiding crowds and demonstrations and keeping a low profile by not calling attention to one's nationality.

The Department of State advises Americans planning to travel to Mumbai in the aftermath of the November 26 terrorist attacks to recognize that it may be some time before all public infrastructure and services return to normal. Emotions are running high and there are possibilities of demonstrations which could turn violent.

Americans throughout India should be vigilant about security at all times. The Embassy and Consulates are actively assessing the countrywide security environment. Americans are advised to monitor local news reports, vary their routes and times in carrying out daily activities, and consider the level of security present when visiting public places, including religious sites, or hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues. If unattended packages are spotted, American citizens should immediately exit the area and report the packages to authorities."