Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sleeping in airports

When I booked my tickets to and from Malaysia the only flights arrived at about very late (about 1:00AM). I spent some time online trying to figure out how to get from the airports in KL and Shanghai to the actual towns and where would be most convenient to stay. In this investigation I stumbled upon a great website:

For KL I found that it would be easy and not too expensive to just go to town and get to my hostel (and the ratings for sleeping in the airport there were not good). For Shanghai, since I was actually arriving in Hangzhou (about one hour by train or two hours by bus away from Shanghai center) with the late arrival it would be easier to just stay in the airport. Since the airport was new, there were no reviews, but I decided to chance it. I ended up finding a great spot- padded bench seats with no armrests, quiet, no people and with a power outlet close by. I watched a movie and then put on my face mask and went to sleep for about 5 hours. In the morning I found my way to the train and (after going to the wrong address once) checked in at the hotel where I would meet the students from Denver that would arrive later that night.

I spent a little bit of time adding my reviews to for some of the airports I've been stuck in including Iceland, Amsterdam and Tirana. The website is great for those of us lucky enough to fly standby, but not lucky enough to make it out on the first try. My mom wished she had know about the site before they came to see me- it might have made their overnight in Seoul a bit more comfortable. This time in China was the first time I had chosen to sleep in the airport instead of just getting stuck there, but now with this site, I might be sleeping in airports on purpose more often.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why not Malaysia?

The Philippines allows Americans to stay for 21 days without a visa which meant that I needed to leave by Nov. 9 or pay a big fee. I was meeting the group in China on Nov. 14. I had a few choices- I could go to China early and spend a few more days in Shanghai or I could go somewhere else entirely. With low cost carriers like Cebu Pacific, going from one country to another in SE Asia is pretty cheap and after looking into it I found that heading to someplace like Singapore for a few days wouldn't cost too much more than flying direct to China. But where to go?

When you are traveling, especially when staying in hostels, you meet all sorts of people and in this day and age with facebook and email it is easy to exchange info. It is not uncommon to spend a few days with someone and then leave them with that general invitation, "if you ever make it to Timbuktu (or where ever) on your travels, let me know and we can meet up!" I've given a lot of those invitations myself- "when you come to Denver look me up!". In a discussion with my mom about where to go she reminded me about the girls that we met in the hostel inNorway. One girl was from China and we missed each other when I was in Beijing because of the national holiday. The other girl is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I sent her an email and she would be in KL at that time. With no better reason to go anywhere else, I booked a ticket to Malaysia. Why not?

KL is an interesting city. The skyline is dominated by huge skyscrapers mostly built in the past 10 years. But when you get closer to the ground, you find an interesting mix of cultures, with China town full of persuasive street vendors and family temples to head-covered Muslims and modern domed mosques to barefoot Hindu temples filled with flowers.

After a day in KL with Sum, I headed to the old capital Malacca. Here I stayed in a hostel and almost immediately after I arrived I was offered a bike ride around town. This was by far my most successful bike outing yet, mostly because I had a good bike and someone to teach me how to use it correctly. I have been thinking more and more about my options for when I get home and I think that biking is a better and better option. I really don't want to buy a car and I know that I will not have the money to do so for a while anyway. Anyway, I spent the day exploring Malacca and shopping. The next day I headed back to KL and straight to the airport for my flight back to China.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bad day

Everyone has their bad days I suppose. Here's what mine looks like- me blubbering in the backseat of a Manila taxi. Why? I don't really know. I hadn't had a particularly hard day, but something about the driver trying to charge me 350 pesos for what I know is actually a 50 peso trip (if they use the meter) and I was willing to pay 150 pesos for (since that was literally all the money I had left). It just builds up and gets to you after a while. Part of it is that I can feel the end of the trip approaching and I have less patience for things. I'm over it, in fact I was over it 4 months ago when taxi drivers in Bulgaria were trying to rip me off, but I'm really over it now.

I think I'm ready to come home. My trip is almost over, and the last part, my return to China to meet some of my former students from DCIS is going to be great and different. Because of the nature of the trip, traveling with students, homestay, school visit etc, I won't have to deal with some of the frustrations of solo travel.

I've started counting down the days (25- but there is a good chance that you are reading this much later than it was written) and planning things for when I get home. I have a place to live, I hopefully have work (subbing) and I already have a party to go to on my first night home. This has been an amazing trip, but it will be amazing going home too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Sagada may be the most laid back place I've been- ever. Set high in the mountains of the big island (Luzon) it is the type of place that you could see hippies getting stuck in and living there forever and everyone seems to have that "it's ok" slow paced vibe. When I arrived, unlike almost every tourist destination I've ever been to (and I've been to a lot) no one met the bus trying to sell rooms or tours or pearl necklaces. There seem to be a lot of tourists here, but it is apparently a slow enough season that you don't get the feeling of constantly running into people. In fact I think I might be the only guest in my hotel. The locals all seem to be taking it easy too- don't plan a trip up here if you want prompt service from anyone- I had to wake the tourist center guy from his mid-morning nap to set up my tour. Not that fast service is really a big deal- why are you in such a hurry anyway?

In Sagada I took a tour of some local caves. Not wanting to pay for the guide just for myself (cheaper if you have at least two people to split the cost) I waited in the tourist center for a long time (chill out kid) and finally met a Korean girl that was also alone and wanted to go to the caves. With a local guide, you descended down into to cavern several hundred feet to a few large chambers filled with interesting formations. My favorite was the rice field formation that looked just like the terraced rice fields that surrounded the area. There were also animal inspired formations (bear, elephant and snake) and the king and queen, which resembled certain parts of the human anatomy.

After my jaunt to Sagada I returned to Baguio "the summer capital" to spend one more night with my hosts there- a couple from Colorado that are teaching at an international school. I was able to talk to them about my plans for teaching when I go home- both of them got certified in Denver, Adam taught for three years at South and they lived in my neighborhood. It is always a bit funny to meet people when you are far from home and be able to talk about local politics and reminisce about your favorite places, like the Decker branch library.

I was sad to leave the Philippines- I had a really amazing time there, but I also know that unlike a lot of places I've visited, I have a permanent connection there.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Surfs up!

After my parents left, I headed up to Luzon (the big island) for a bit of couch surfing (with Philippines PCVs) and a bit of real surfing. You know like in the water. I am not particularly good at things in the water- growing up in Colorado and all that (I know, I know, there are a lot of people from Colorado that are good swimmers, I'm just not one of them!). Not that I can't swim, I can swim, I just feel more comfortable on snow skis than on water skis. Also, I learned to swim in a swimming pool, so the ocean is a totally different thing. I've never been particularly good at holding my breath and I don't like it when water gets in my eyes, especially salt water. In Bohol, my mom and I tried a bit of snorkeling- it didn't really take; I kept breathing in water and the flippers were hard to use. Its ok, I just know that water things arenot my sports. But that doesn't keep me from trying . . . I must just be a glutten forpunishment . . .

The thing is, that the Philippines is one of the cheapest places to learn to surf, so if I was going to fail miserably, I might as well be doing it for only $10 an hour instead of the $100 an hour I might pay in Hawaii . . . and it looks like fun, right?

I headed up to San Juan, the home of the Philippine surfers. As a whole, the islands (surprisingly) don't actually have too many good places to surf and the native people didn't
actually do it historically. Surfing is something brought by the Americans and still mostly done by foreigners (except the handful of local instructors that have capitalized on some good waves in this area).
I only had one day and the weather was not so great, but I decided to try anyway- I headed to the beach to seek out my teacher. The waves were big and there were not many people in the water. I finally found an instructor, but even I could tell that the waves on this beach were going to be too much for me. We tried anyway, but after about a half hour of me wiping out in huge waves, we gave up. He told me about a better spot further down the shore that had gentler waves that we could try after lunch- Well why didn't you tell me that before! After lunch we headed down to the "cement factory" where the waves were much better and tried again. After a few more wipeouts, I finally was able to stand up! Then I really got the hang of it and stood up three times in a row! After a couple more wipeouts and a couple more successful rides, I was beat. Surfing is hard! I knew that I would be sore the next day, and I was for sure. I have so much more respect for people that do this well- it is basically like doing push-ups over and over for hours (not to mention the beating you get when you wipeout). I think I'll watch Point Break and Blue Crush with a lot more respect from now on . . .

Monday, November 8, 2010

Would you like rice with that?

According to Filipinos, a meal without rice is not a meal at all. Even at KFC and McDonalds (which are as common here as in Kentucky I'd wager) you can get rice instead of fries or cole slaw. In Cebu i experienced the ingenious invention of "hanging rice" they put the uncooked rice into a pouch made of woven palm leaves, dip it in water to cook and voila! Personal sized portable rice packet!

This abundance of rice is something I've been experiencing my whole life at FACC (Filipino thanksgiving- turkey. . . with rice). Anyway, since I left Denver in August I think (it's hard to know for sure without access to a scale on a regular basis) that I had lost a few pounds. When I travel, I actually tend to eat a lot less and walk a lot more. The walking a lot is easy to explain, when you are traveling (at least the way I travel) all you tend to do is walk. I arrive in a new place and I walk around to get a feel, walk to where ever I'm staying (when I can) and a lot of my favorite travel activities involve walking (long hikes in the mountains- basically walking all day). But why don't I eat as much? For one thing, thinking about food all the time is exhausting when you are traveling- you need to constantly be finding new places, eating takes a lot of time and when I'm alone sometimes I just don't bother.

But in the Philippines with my parents things are different. First, I'm with my parents and it's not good for them to skip meals. Second, we have been staying with friends of theirs- in Davao, with their Peace Corps family and in Bohol and Cebu with family of friends from Denver. They don't let me skip meals- good Filipino cooking doesn't let me eat light . . . lots of rice with every meal. Thanks to my wonderful hosts in the RP any pounds lost have all come back! Talk about lost and found . . .

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Now, about Patring. Patring was a teenaged girl that lived with my parents the whole time that they were in the Philippines, the two years in Davao and the year and a half on Bohol. When I was younger, that didn't seem too strange- that was just how it was. But as I grew up it started to seem more strange- we don't even have a housekeeper now! When I joined the Peace Corps myself, I started to seem even more strange. They had a housekeeper? And Peace Corps paid for that? Of course it is not strange in the Filipino context, I don't think they intended to have a housekeeper, but they did and it became part of their Filipino normal. My mom wrote about how Patring came into their lives (and about the dogs and cats that kept them company too):

So the first thing we did in the morning after arriving in Davao was go and visit Patring. We found her at home, in the house across the road from her clinic. She is not practicing right now since she has been having problems with her eyes lately. Because (I think) of the visit a few years ago, this was not the tearful homecoming that they probably had then, but it was emotional nonetheless. Patring is exceptionally sweet and I can see why my parents loved her so much. She came with us for a few hours and met us again when we went to the beach.

For me, more than any other person, Patring was the one that I had an image in my head about. In some ways, she is the Philippines for me.

And she is beautiful.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A whole new family

(My Filipino cousins)

(Nang Tita, my Filipino grandma)

(my mom with her sisters)
While growing up, I always understood a couple things about their time in the Davao: they had their own house, but they lived in the family "compound" of a family and they had a teenage girl that lived with them as their "helper". These things became a lot more real to me when we arrived in Davao. First, the family, I will get to Patring in a later post . . .

We were picked up from the airport by Tombok, one of the little sisters of the Agton family. When my parents lived there, they were adopted by Mnang Tita and Mnoy Juanito (mnang and mnoy being honorifics for respected community members) who were a teacher and banker respectively who had 7 children between the ages of 9 and 18. Of these children, one has since passed away (along with his father) and one (the oldest daughter) lives in New Jersey. The others all live with or near their mother who recently celebrated her 80th birthday surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But I figured all this out later. Over the nextfew days I would be introduced to a dizzying array of family members (not to mention all of the families of Juanito's brothers and sisters whom we didn't really meet, but occasionally talked about).

Immediately I knew this was a special family when I met Mama Tita. She is everything I would want to be when I'm 80- strong, opinionated and sharp. She is still very much in charge of the family and she has to stay sharp to keep control over the masses.

Jojo, Bobong, Nimrod, Tombok and Nene (in case you are wondering, nicknames are very common- I'm no sure of everyone's real name, but Nene is actually Jane, for example) all welcomed my parents as if they were very a respected Aunt and Uncle. The kids, were a little slower to warm up to me, but soon I had made good friends with my new "cousins" especially KJ and Shingay (also nicknames of course). Over he next few days we were taken all around the city by various family members- up to the Eden nature park with Bok and Nene, to the Philippine Eagle sanctuary and People's Park by Nimrod and to the beach with half the family. Jojo and Bong were mostly busy with their own things- Jojo raises cocks for fighting (a long held Filipino tradition) and Bong was running in the local election (against his aunt and at least one cousin) for the neighborhood council. I get the feeling that no matter who you voted for, they might be related somehow, or at least someone's god parent or something- it's that kind of place and that kind of family.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Ok, not really, I missed the typhoon by a bit and just caught the tail end of it passing over Manila, which meant heavy rains on the day I arrived. I had hoped to only have to stay in Manila one night, but as my parents had to stop overnight in California and Korea in order to get here (standby travel sometimes means sleeping on a bench in the Seoul airport. . . ) I had a full day and two nights.The weather cleared in the morning (no typhoon for you!) and so I went out to explore Manila. As big cites go, it is hectic and crowed. I've found that while I certain cites are visitor cities and certain cities are livable cities and a few are both, some cities are neither (Tirana)and I think this is Manila too. That said I had an ok day walking around. When I was in thepark, I happened upon a rehearsal for some sort of performance that was going on later.

I went to get a late lunch and then came back to watch the show. It turned out to be a festival for indigenous people and there were over thirty groups from all over the country. Some of them had fantastic costumes and beautiful instruments and weapons (I wonder, do spears have to go in your checked luggage if they are part of your indigenous costume?). There was a parade in the park and then each group introduced themselves with a very short dance. This was followed by longer performances by a few of the groups.

After the first group, it started raining and the audience went up on the stage (the only part of the amphitheater covered) and watched the next groups.

If I understand things correctly (which I'm not always sure that I do) this was an opening ceremony and the different groups were going to perform at different venues (schools etc) over the next few days. After he slightly interrupted performance I took my first jeepney ride back to the hostel to wait for my parents. They finally arrived in the morning and we got the frak out of Manila and headed down to Davao.

Sent from my iPod

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the best of both worlds- Chinese tradition, British efficiency. I made the mistake of not really planning ahead for Hong Kong, but unlike most of the places I've travelled this isn't a very good idea- accommodation as a rule, isn't cheap and if it is cheap it's either not so good or can't be booked last minute. . . I was saved from a cockroach hostel (or $30 a night) by Ian, a Brit living on Hong Kong island teaching Spanish at a private school. He had just started his fall break and was leaving to take his vacation in the Philippines on the same day that I was- perfect. Since he was on holiday, he had time to hang out and show me the city. Together we explored the perfectly planned colonies streets and climbed to the top of Victoria peak to see the whole place. Hong Kong is modern and efficient, but still feels just enough Asian to be charming. I'm not defending colonialism, but it sure was nice to have a taxi driver actually use the meter.On my second day there, Ian and I ventured out to one of the smaller islands, had a seafood lunch and hiked around the tiny island to a deserted (but unfortunately very dirty) beach. We hiked back to the other side to swim instead in the immaculately kept public beach near the village.

On my third day I ventured out on my own to go to see "the big Buddha" on Lantau island. The best part was actually the cable car ride up the mountain. Far below the car (you could pay extra for a glass bottomed car- I didn't) you could see a trail snaking it's way up and around the hills. From the cable car you could see the new airport- built to replace the old one that used to jut out into the bay and that required planes to maneuver through the skyscrapers in order to land- my mom described feeling like the plane's wings might get caught on the laundry lines hung off of the buildings as it landed. . . At the end of the cable car journey there was a tourist village (sole purpose- sell souvenirs) a monastery and as promised a really big Buddha up on a hill. It was a very dramatic placement and impressive. Of course in addition to the British efficiency, Hong Kong has also mastered the tourist sell. While the big Buddha was impressive, it also felt a little like Buddhist DisneyLand (and you can visit Mickey and his friends at Hong Kong DisneyLand just one metro stop away from Buddha) there was a multimedia "walk with Buddha" experience and some sort of monkey theater show, neither of which I did. In fact I is kind of incredible to me how so many countries have managed to make money off their religion. Anyway. . .

Random conversation with Ian (now you see why we got along so well): where did he name for turkeys come from? Turkeys are native to North America. We call them after a country in the Middle East, in Russian they are called индюк (indook) thinking they came from India, in several languages it is hindi for similar reasons, in Spanish they are called peru (at least they got the right hemisphere.) In light of this, I think I like the Albanians name the best- they came from somewhere over the seas and they didn't speculate on where, hence gjell deti- the rooster of the sea.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The prettiest part of China

After so many people in Beijing and Xi'an (not to mention all the pollution) the countryside near Guilin was a welcome respite. I had heard from multiple sources that this was one of the prettiest parts of the country. It did not disappoint. From the "dragons backbone" rice terraces to the strange and beautiful hills along the Li river, it was a gorgeous place. I only wish I had more than three days.

On the first day I went with a Dutch girl that I met in the train station (and who saved me from having to sit in a hard seat for 27 hours by letting me sleep in her bed for a few hours on he train!) to the rice terraces. We decided to take the four to six hour (according to the guide

book) hike over the mountain from one side of the area to the other. I imagine that you could make the hike in four hours if: you didn't stop at all to eat or take pictures, you were in really good shape and you didn't get lost. We did not meet any of these conditions. It took us more like six hours. Six hours and fifteen minutes. We started at about 11:00 and arrived at about

5:15. Unfortunately for us the last bus left at 5:00. Darn those extra fifteen minutes! We got a taxi to the next town where we barely (by literally getting out and running to the bus) we did catch the last bus back to Guilin. Even with this rush at the end, it was a great day. The rice terraces were fantastic and nearly empty- just what I needed after the crush of people in Beijing and Xi'an. I had a great time with Soenita, one of the few single female travelers I've met on this trip (in Asia anyway- I met lots more in Europe). We had a great conversation about traveling solo (among many other topics over six hours). Neither of us probably would have taken this hike on our own and it was nice to have someone to talk to.

On the second day I took a bamboo raft down the Li river to the town of Yangshuo. Here, I rented a bike for my most successful bicycle outing yet- a ride in the countryside. I passed bemused (or confused) villagers and almost no other tourists. Unfortunately my time was too short as I arrived in the afternoon and didn't want to be caught alone in the country after dark- especially since I figured out later that I had been traveling down a completely different road than I had originally intended (I apparently have very little sense of direction. I blame this on growing up in Colorado- it was too easy there: mountains=west). If I could go back and replan my trip a bit, I would have spent more time in this area and at least two nights in Yangshuo itself. As it was I only spent an afternoon there and headed back to Guilin in the evening.

I spent the third day taking it easy in Guilin. Like it's surroundings, the city of Guilin is a gem. With the river winding through town, an easy walking center and randomly beautiful hills, the only downside was that you had to pay to enter the parks (I didn't bother).

In the evening, I caught an overnight bus to Shenzhen, the city on the Chinese side of the Hong Kong "border". The bus was interesting- instead of seats, it had three rows of bunk beds running the length of the bus (maybe 24 beds in all?). The beds were not enclosed and left little room for rolling over- a strange experience, but much better than a hard seat!