Sunday, March 30, 2008

London: it's not the rain, it's the showers

This is my last night here in London, in fact the last night of my vacation...5 weeks - it's been great and I will elaborate on some personal thoughts in another blog once I return. But now - London. First, second, and last, the weather here sucks. I knew it was going to be bad when the local weather lady said "today we'll have some rain in London and showers in the afternoon". Rain and then showers? Great. At least my rain coat that's been idle in my backpack will get some use. I arrived Wednesday night and promptly made it to a pub for a pint of Guiness and a delicious meal of chicken and least the food here is good - especially after trying to find a good meal in Thailand. Thursday morning I hopped on the metro, err Tube, to head to tourist central - Westminster. Since I was heading in during a work day, I quickly discovered that everyone here is a former model - everyone was decked out. So after getting off at Westminster I began to wander around. I walked around for about two hours when I realized that I am never going to see the entire city by foot, so I found an internet cafe, searched for a bike rental store and within 45 minutes I was biking around. I biked around and through Hyde Park, Kensington, Chelsea, Fulham, and finally back home to Hammersmith on the west end.

Later that night I met up with my friend Valerie for dinner near Whitechapel (Val and I met last year - she was doing some research at U Maryland and rented a room from Crick). The food was amazing - indian curry dishes that were just so rich. Afterwards we went to a seedier part of town, just north of Whitechapel...this is where the real fashion took off. Basically, the fashion works like this: find something so crazy, so old, so loud, and so weird and wear them all at the same time...and the funny part is that in their effort to create a uniquie identity everyone ends up looking the same. More on this later with the Hoxton wardrobe.

Friday I biked all around London, from the west end where the hostel is located all the way to London Bridge and the Tower of London, about 8 km one way. Biking is the way to travel around London...the Tube is everywhere, but then your stuck walking. Taxis are crazy pricey, and if you rent your own car, you have to pay a congestion tax to drive into the city. So about mid-day the rain began...and this is when I began to curse the weather. Luckily, the Tate Modern was nearby so I poked my head in to see art from Jackson Pollack, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Mark Rothko (who's art is growing on me and come to think of so is Pollack's).

Eventually I made it home and then out to Hoxton to hang out with Keith. Keith is living the dream here in London - working from home, lives near a park (for pick-up football). We (me, Keith, and his roommate Tony and his gf who's name escapes me) made our way to the local pub. Now this is where fashion took a wrong turn. As a guy here's what you have to where in Hoxton: skin tight pants that are especially tight at the calves, white shoes, a button up shirt and a cardigan. Plus the hair has to be going sticking out in every direction. And the girls where black tights, a cotton dress with a belt around the waist and hair cut with the bangs cut just above the eyebrows...all too cool. This thing is - I am the strange one here: "hey look at the American wearing baggy jeans and a striped shirt"...yup, I'm the dork.

So we all tied one on (got drunk to you yanks), partying until a wee bit past 4. Thankfully, we got some exercise the following morning at the local park, playing some footy for a few hours - and, yes, it rained sideways for about 20 minutes. The rest of the day was spent playing xbox where I proceeded to shoot Chinese army people for a few hours (actually, they got me more than I got them.

OK, time for bed...I will wrap this story up once I get home and in the comfort of my living room. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Trouble in Paradise

It was one of those days that had the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. Sunday was spent rock climbing as I described before - the combination of the challenges, the scenery, meeting new friends made the day amazing...but then once we got home (a 2 hour car ride, mind you) it all came crashing down. Leo, Rod, and I got to the house around 10:30 p.m. and we knew something was wrong once we got to the house. The gate was open and all the lights to the house were turned off. Then once we got to the back patio, we noticed that the sliding glass door was open and the front door was open. And there were plates of food everywhere. Mun, the housekeeper, was supposed to watch over the house while we were away. However, as we put all the pieces together, it appeared that she looted my stuff while we were away. Once we turned the lights on I knew I was in trouble. My backpack was open and my jacket was hanging out. Before I left I put wrapped my valuables inside my jacket and placed it inside the backpack. I opened the pack and discovered that my wallet (containing several hundred US dollars), phone, and watch had all been stolen. I was so pissed...we had put our trust in someone and she stole from us. We found out that it was indeed her...Leo did the job of calling around, starting with Mun. She didn't answer either of her phones. And Leo found the girl who had been helping Mun on Friday and found out that Mun wanted to steal the scooters that we had rented too.

As you can imagine, I was pissed, upset, and any other word that you can imagine. But I had to do my best to find that happy zone...I knew that every minute that I thought about my losses was one minute that I couldn't enjoy myself. I had to really take time to do this. Has anyone else been in this situation? Funny thing happened later at the airport on my way to London - where I am now - I picked up a book called Farang about an Brit who moved to Thailand in 1997 and inside, one of the first 5 chapters details a story about the housemaid who stays for a while and then makes off with jewellry and money. I wish I had read that book before I got to Thailand!

So all's well ends well...just got to raise my personal training rates once I get back!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Railay Beach and rockclimbing

Seriously, this is paradise...we're near a place called James Bond Island since it was where one of his movies was filmed - the one with the cool rock formation right near the beach...I think it was Dr. No or something.

Yesterday, Rod, Leo and I took a taxi from Phuket north off the island and then east to Railay to do some rock climbing. The trip was about three hours and once we got to Railay we met up with the rockclimbing instructors to get outfitted - Judith and Mor own the shop - she's German and hes Thai...she came here years ago and fell in love with the place, and it's hard not to see how. So after getting our gear, we got some feed at a restaurant that Leo recommended. And let me just pause here for a minute to write about Leo - he's the nicest fellow you could meet and he gets on with everyone, so everytime we walk into a place, Leo knows the people and they take care of us. He sent me to a breakfast joint in Rawai and after I mentioned that Leo sent me the bloke who owns the place was good enought to chat with me for a bit. And we all need friends like Leo who take the road less traveled. live in an exotic place, and scope out all the cool, interesting things to do. Even as I write this I am asking myself if I'm the kind of friend that people would want to have? I guess it's all about being selfless.

So today we woke up, got some feed (a new term I picked up) and then were picked up by Judith. She took us to the boat and then Mor took us for a 15 minute long-tailed boat ride to the rockclimbing location. We were joined by Liam, a young fearless lad from England and Rick, a 65-year-old guy that's going on 40. Once we got our gear on we started the climb...these were 6a, 6b, 6c climbs, which might mean something to some people, but I just looked up and saw a sheer wall of rock. Leo's done a bit of climbing, so he was up and down in minutes. Liam tore it too. Rod, Rick and I struggled a bit, but these were hard and neither of us had done much climbing. After about 2 hours at this site, we moved on. This next trek to the other side consisted of hiking through the caves, climbing bamboo ladders, and using ropes top get through. Then we had to belay down a 50 feet to get to the next path.
After lunch on West Railay Beach - a secluded beach accessible only by boat - we took our boat to another set of climbs - higher and ranging more in difficulty. Leo and Liam got up to the highest climb and I almost made it...I got stuck on one particular hold where my hands just gave out and I could not push off my legs enough to get to the next hand hold. I was about 60 feet up, so I was pretty happy with the climb. Funny thing - apparently Rod is afraid of being off of the ground - even climbing a ladder scares him - so he would climb about 20 feet up and insist on coming down. Rick made it up a smaller climb, but still difficult. Finally, I made a climb all the way up (you have to hit the anchor to make the claim). It was quite exhilarating!

We spent the next 3 hours climbing, resting, watching others (there were like 20 people here). The Thai instructors were ridiculous. They could scale the walls barefoot, without ropes, hanging upside-down. Of course, it's a lot easier when (a) you do this everyday, and (b) you weigh 110 lbs and (c) have no body fat. After our last climb, Rod, Liam, Rick and I went for some drinks while Leo and the instructor finished a lead climb (where you climb up with the rope and attach it at the top).

Liam was telling us stories about how on the Cambodia/Thai border there's a guy that lets people shoot chickens or cows with an AK-47 for about $20...and apparently the recoil on an AK-47 is mad, so most people just miss the damn thing. I guess that's why I love traveling - the crazy people you meet, the stories you's really what living is all about.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Life on Phuket

Phuket Island is paradise - for the past couple of days Rod, Leo, and I have been hanging out, scooting around Rawai Beach, partying a little and relaxing a lot. Leo has a woman at his house named Moon that cooks and cleans and generally takes care of us (there's also two other guys visiting here named Gary and Nugget - I'll be hanging out with Gary in London once I get there).

So after the fight Thursday night we went bar hopping in Patong Beach - this was an area devastated by the Tsunami in 2004...but it's back and as crazy as any place I've seen. The main street is closed off and resembles Bourbon Street in people watching, debauchery, drinking, and sex.

Speaking of sex, and more specifically, the sex's alive and well here in Patong. We went to a club called the Dragon the women dance on stage - some dances are choreographed - and the other times they just dance on stage to the bad music. But the interesting part here is that the girls are numbered. Here's how it works: you tell your waitress which girl you like and then she comes over to meet you. If she likes you then she'll come home with you. You have to pay the bar a cut (like 200-400 baht, about $10) and then shell out some cash for the girl. And then you have to arrange her transport in the morning so that she can do this again. But the thing is you have to treat the girls well and be nice to them, or else they won't come back with you. And the whole thing is happening in the wide open, not like the US or any other western country. It's quite easy to see why the industry survives - for $100 you can get a young, hot Thai girl for the night and then send her home the next day...

So after hitting the club (and we is Leo, Rod, Nugget, and Leo's girl) we got a few drinks across the way and kept watching the nightlife unfold.

The taxi ride home consisted of riding in the back of a truck for 35 minutes...first class, baby! Then Nugget and I hit up some bars before I decided to make it back to the hotel room. (I'm staying in a hotel because there are only 2 beds in Leo's home. Leo arranged a room - let's not call it a hotel - at the Stone Inn.) This room is a step up from a prisoner's pad, and not a bug step mind you. The bed, if you could call it that, is hard and sits in the middle of a small room. I was greeted by 2 dead cockroaches on the floor and another one on the way to the bathroom. But it's a place to rest my head and by that time of the night I was drunk enough not to care.

The next day I woke up arond 1:30 - the latest I've slept this entire trip - and then made my way over to Leo's. Moon was preparing a barbecue for the afternoon so we grubbed and watched the Waratahs play the Crusaders...

oh, gotta go, the cars starting...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rawai Beach, Phuket

Rod and Mark emailed me several times where to meet, how to get in touch, what to expext, etc. However, not one for details, all I wrote down was Leo’s phone number (that’s Mark Leo, hereafter Leo) and the address where I thought that Rod said to meet - well, I got everything wrong. Apparently, you have to dial 08 before the cell phone number to get the call to go through (and mind you this is from my cell phone, so, if you haven’t already, buy AT&T stock since the call to Leo is going to cost $400).

So after getting off of the plane from Bangkok, I grabbed a cab to Rawai Beach, where Leo’s house is. The cab took me down and dropped me off in the middle of the Rawai and I had no idea where to find Rod. So I thought it best to find an internet cafe, which was proving to be harder than expected. Now here I am with a backpack loaded with my crap, a smaller backpack with my personal belongngs and I have no idea where I am headed. But, wait, what’s this in front of me?! Yes it’s a scooter rental store - so for 200 baht (like $8 bucks) I can rent a scooter and find an internet cafe! Now I am in luck! So, I hopped on the scooter, drove around and then I saw a sign for a Muay Thai boxing gym - where Leo is working. After talking to the manager, Larry, I realized that finding Leo might be a chore. Larry told me that there are 12 boxing gyms in Rawai, so I soon gave up that thought. But driving on I finally saw an internet cafe. That’s when, after reading Rod’s email, that I had to dial 08 before the cell phone number...and lo and behold, I got Leo on the other line. He promptly me me and we met up with Rod...a few beers later and here I am, wrting this lovely bit while Rod - who, mind you looks like a typical whitey after a few days in the tropics...yeah! red face! - tries to find a plane ride back to Bangkok. OK, that’s as up to the minute as I will get - we’re headed to a Muay Thai fight tonight.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bangkok - hot and humid

I’m staying in Bangkok for 2 1/2 days before I head down to Phuket to hang out with Rod and Mark Leo. I thought that it would be best to check out the city here before I spent 6 days on the beach. It’s funny how alert the senses are when one travels alone...since I have now idea where I am headed and don’t know a soul, I am left with only my senses...I was full-on from the start: the taxi-broker who negotiated my taxi fare ( from 900 baht to 650 baht)n seemed a little sketchy and then the driver, who spoke no English, had a habit of letting go of the wheel to smack at a mosquito that was buzzing around in the car (a volvo - and they drive on the wrong side of the road here), and then I couldnt help but see that the low gas light was on...and we kept driving and driving - I thought that I would end up on the side of the road begging for another ride. And I couldn’t help but think that he was taking me to a place where I would be robbed of my cash and belongings...but the more he drove the more I realized that that probably wasn’t the case since why would he drive so far when he could have robbed me many miles ago. And keep in mind that this is happening at 2 a.m.

Eventually, I made it to my hotel - and what a swank hotel this thing is: The Legacy in Suhkumvit...this thing is better than my apartment: kingsize bed, flat screen TV mounted on the wall, built in closets, leather couch, cool lighting...and all for $70 a night.
So I woke up on Tuesday morning knowing that I had 2 full days to see all of Bangkok - like that’s going to happen! So I read my Lonely Planet and it said that I should go to the Grand Palace where I can see the Buddha and all the temples in the complex (which is huge - it’s like 4 football fields big!) There are temples everywhere, a wall of paintings depicting the history of Thailand wraps around the sacred part (where you have to wear pants and long-sleeves). After spending about 2 hours at the Grand Palace, I went to another temple, this one with a 100 foot long reclining Buddha inside a 120 foot long building...the reclining Buddha is entering the afterlife.

So then I went back to the hotel, relaxed, got some food, and called it a night. The next morning, I decided I needed some more adventure, so I booked a tour on with the Amazing Bangkok Cyclists who take people on tours around Bangkok and across to the river to the greener area (and poorer). This trek took us through markets that the average tourist would never findm through back alleys where people lived, and then to the boat launch. We took the bikes across the river and into a maze of raised, 4 foot wide concrete pathways with water on both sides as well as houses, mini-farms, stores - it was crazy...sort of like the backwater places I’ve seen in the Everglades. At the end of the day, it got me thinking that I should start a bike tour in DC - it would be a hit! 4 hours biking around the city, seeing parts that most tour guides miss, and get exercise along the way!

Ok, time to book a room in London...nothing quite like waiting until the last minute!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Last day in the Philippines - Recap of Boracay and Manila

So here I am in the hotel lobby of the Mubuhay Manor...just knocked off some Chow King noodles and some sesame dessert thing. Let me just say that the fast food workers here are so pleasant. The say hello and goodbye and sir and m’am...seriously, all of us Americans can take a page out of the Filipinos and act a little more polite.

Yesterday the crew (Matt, Portia, Benny, Deng, Martin, Derrick, Rachel, and Paul) went to Corregidor Island, an old World War II post for the Americans and the Phlippines. We learned all about the battles and how the Japanese took the island in 5 months when they anticipated 50 days and that delay cost them the opportunity to take Australia, which would have really tilted the war in the Jap’s favor. The island was filled with bombed-out American buildings. The Japanese had a bomb-field day here on Corregidor. There is also a gian tunnel where the tour guide company puts on a light show. I only think all of this is significant because many US VIPs have visted here, including President Clinton.

Last week, from Monday through Friday we were in Boracay. The week was filled with water-sports: snorkeling, para-sailing, island-hopping, jet skiing, and just lazily hanging out at the pool and/or the beach. Para-sailing was awesome! I had never done this before - and it was funny to me since I have been going to Ocean City, Maryland for my entire life where I could have done it at anytime. But let me tell you, it’s was so worth the wait. We went in tandem - me and Martin - and we got about 400 feet in the air, high enough where we could see to the other side of the island. We were in the air for about 20 minutes - totally worth the 2000 pesos!

The snorkeling was also very good, even though the waves were rough and the visibility was limited at times. There were so many cool fish and sea-life, including a purple starfish! The one thing that was annoying were all the vendors selling the same old things (sunglasses, watches, necklaces and all the water activities). It got a little annoying.

OK - will have to finish later - gotta pack my stuff and head to Bangkok for a short 3 day stay, and then to Phuket to hang out with Mark Leo and Rod for 5 days!


Monday, March 10, 2008

Boracay: Poolside, Barside, SARS is going away

So after contracting the SARS virus I’ve spent the majority of the past week in But now, I’m getting better and I’m chilling at the bar/pool in the hotel in Boracay. It was quite an adventure to get here - plane from Manila to Caticlan, then shuttle bus to the other side of the island, then boat to Boracay, then another shuttle bus to the hotel. But the trip is so worth it - the hotel is amazing - three pools and it’s right on the beach.

So we got here Monday, the day after Matt and Portia’s wedding in Manila - the most elaborate wedding I have ever been involved in. They spared no expense. It included the releasing of doves, Matt and Portia walking into the ceremony under fire swords, a 20-minute Filippino dance performed by elementary school children, plus so much more. And the reception area was in this enclosed garden/fish/bird sanctuary. The whole thing ceremony and reception took 10 hours - wow.

OK - need to get in the pool - it’s hot here at the bar.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday - Manila - got the Bird Flu

So yesterday and whatever part of the day before was spent traveling and getting over a cold...I started to get sick Tuesday after partying too hard Monday night (yeah Lisa, Pam, E, Blake, and Wolf!). The flight from SF to Manila was long - like two work days...and the Hong Kong airport is the most modern looking airport I’ve seen, while the Manila airport needs a little work. In fact, Manila reminds me of Cairo - lots of traffic, lots of cars that are being held together with paperclips, and lots of rundown buildings. But let me go back to Hong Kong for a minute. The airport and the highrises around the airport got me thinkning about how the US is gonna get its butt kicked by the Chinese. We’re like a bunch of fat cats eating Krispy Kremes and drinking vanilla lattes while the Chinese are busy building their infrastructure and manufacturing the electronics that fry our brains.

OK, enough of that - going back to SF, on Monday E had to work so I spent the day shopping and checking out downtown. I needed some clothes for my trip and finally bought my first pair of $200 jeans...seems like everyone is wearing designer jeans, so I broke down and got a pair. Downtown SF is a combination of Baltimore 10 years ago and Georgetown - there are a lot of rundown places and crazy ass homeless people mixed in with high-end stores like Bebe, Ben Sherman, etc.

Later that day, E and I went to a CrossFit class in SF - wasn’t that good to be honest...I can see why our clients pay us good money to train them. The instructor did little more than tell us what to do without any correction at all. After we got home and changed into some fresh digs, we headed to an improv class that Eric takes. I’ve neve done acy acting or taken an improv class, but let’s just say that apparently I am a natural. We did some “warm-up” moves, like the ninja game and the greeting game. Then we did some acts in pairs where each actor had a goal to pursue. The cool thing is that neither person knew the other’s goal or the setting - so you to...drum roll please...improv. 3 hours later I was addicted...definitely going to find a class in DC to join.

Then we went to the divest bar in SF and milked the juke-box for all it was worth...and I learned the diamond dance. You’ll just have to hang out with me sometime to learn it.
Finally, on Tuesday, E and I went to Alcatraz (we got up too early and henceforth, I got sick). Alcatraz was cool - what an amazing piece of real estate in the middle of the bay. One day that place will be condos or a private home.

So that’s all for now - the crew here in Manila are going to the wedding dress rehearsal.


Monday, March 3, 2008

SF - the perfect city

This is my first time visting SF, so pardon while I wax poetic about the qualiites of the city. Yesterday, E, B, and E’s friend Kevin biked from SF to across the Golden Gate Bridge (the most perfect of bridges) to Mairn County and Sasalito (sp?). I’m only familiar with the area from my days playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. Funny how realistic the game is - it’s like I’ve seen all this before, only I was carjacking, killin’ some gangstas, and picking up prostitutes.

So afer the big breakfast that B made we made our way to not 1, not 2, not 3, but to 4 bike shops to finally find a place that had bikes available. Eric and I decided that it would hilarious if we rented a tandem bike. A tandem bike is like those driver’s ed cars where the instructor has a steering wheel and a brake - even though the person in the front of the bike has control, the person in the back can affect the power and the balance. It took us a lap around the shop to get a handle on the thing, but we finally got the thing going forward. Our first obstacle was a hill (this is SF) that basically went up 75 degrees. We didn’t make it the first time - Eric fell off and then we lost it. I decided that we should try again - if we coudn’t get this hill early on then we woud be screwed later. So we went to the bottom of the hill, gathered momentum and got about halfway up the hill before the chain snapped from the brute force of powering up the hill.
So now we head back (I’m changing tenses, deal with) to the bike shop and get 2 regular bikes. Mind you now it’s 2:45 and B (who is a tri-athlete) and Kevin (who was told that we’d be on the trail by 12:45 are losing their minds...finally we make it on the trail and biked across the bridge, to Sasalito and got lunch.

On the way back, while the sun was setting, I realized that SF is strikingly similar to Valpairiso, Chile - where I spent a weekend 2 years ago. Valpo, on the coast of Chile, is situated on a rolling hill. It’s kown for it’s different cerros and funiculars - elevators that take people up and down its steep hills (just like SF). When the sun sets its rays hits the windows of the city and you see a golden reflection...too cool. Maybe I will add a photo on FB to get the point across better.

Once we got back Eric and I went to dinner with his friends and his cuz Emily. There were 8 of us...the food was good, but the group was better...I guess one can’t adequately describe the experience of a great dinner with new friends and great conversation.
ok - time to motivate and get back to work...wait, no I don’t! I can do whatever I want all day!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday in SF

Let’s see, today is Sunday...I’m sitting at the counter in my friend Eric’s girlfriend Breanne’s apartment in North Beach. It’s a beautiful day outside, at least it looks like one - I haven’t been out yet. I just woke up from a night partying at the strangest-slash-coolest club I’ve been to in a while. Eric, B, her friend Angela, and I went to Supper Club last night. E knows the people so we got in for free. Upon entering I see a dude - I think - wearing a white corset (nipples showing), stockings and Marilyn Manson-esqe makeup. So after some Patron (fancy tequila) shots and a Corona I headed to the bathroom. According to the people in line there are two bathrooms - one for actually pissing and one for coke. I wasn’t sure about this but the truth was confirmed about an hour later when I went to the bathroom after shaking it up on dance floor. I walked into the bathroom where I found a girl and a guy in the room (it’s a big room with one toilet and two lounge chairs) endlessly chatting. While I was washing my hands the girl offered me some coke on her fingernail! How could I refuse?! What a tempting offer. All I could think about was Len Bias dying the day he was drafted from a coke overdose. Politely, I said,“Thanks - I already had some” and moved on. Welcome to SF!

Prior to heading to the club the four of us pre-gamed at Eric’s crib in Cole Valley - drinking Patron and Corona’s and freestyle rapping to some beats Eric laid down (Eric goes my MadJack when he DJs). [side note: Breanne just made me an omelette and coffee - how awesome is that!] During the rap session I determined that Eric should teach people how to freestyle rap. This after he taught Angela to rap and she laid down a few lines. Yes, a 6 foot white dude with a blond afro from Minnesota teaching people how to rap.

Before we went to the club E, B, and E’s co-worker Rachel, and I went to Cal-Berkley to see a perfomance of George Crumb (the Exorcist composer) and Dawn Upshaw (some bomb saprano according to E). The Crumb piece was totally what I expected to see at Berk - the musicians were wearing zorro-like masks and the music was eerie.

Friday was spent carving it up on the mountain - my best day on the mountain - mainly because I was so cautious early. I gradually picked up speed throughout the morning and had my best run right before lunch. And Saturday was the travel day from Telluride to SF.