Thursday, March 31, 2011

Down at the crossroads..

Something about long airplane rides always make me contemplate life. Could be the lack of really anything else to do, especially flying freight. Then again, it could be watching the lives coming and going while sitting here. Currently at Hong Kong Int'l, where it's a cross roads of the world as far as aviation. Being a plane junky, or aerosexual, it's exciting to see all the new and varied tails and color schemes lined up. While Cathay Pacific dominates the landscape with it's grey/blue-white fuselages and green tails, there's also the bright yellow of Royal Brunei (Trivia: who knows where Brunei is?) and stylized Union Jack of British Airways mixed in. The red tail of Qantas with the giant white Kangaroo just passed behind a terminal building, giving the impression of a colossal 'roo hopping across the top of the building.

There's the dark blue of Vietnam airlines parked beside the baby blue of Korean ( sorry Grace, looks like it's only an A330 today, not you boyfriend). Immediately in front of me is the worlds largest airlines, a Singapore A380. Which I assume is taking the 3.5 hour flig to Singapore. Seems like a lot of plane for a short trip. No RJs or propellers here, only large sleek jets. I love Hong Kong,

I was thinking the other night if there was any job I could be happy in, especially outside the aviation industry. Judging by my exuberance for random airlines and globe trotting ways, I don't see any options. And as my plan, or really goal, for a new job seems to be foiled by either poor interview skills or an abundance of experience that doesn't involve barbie dream jets, I feel a bit stuck where I am.

But given the recent exploits, it could be much much worse. Maybe it's the American way of wanting more or the upbringing of always striving for something better, I don't think I'll be sufficiently happy until I find that perfect nirvana. The problem is perfection is fleeting, and usually an unobtainable goal for most things in life.

For instance, what is the perfect pizza? There's so many options and toppings and styles that can all be delicious and great, but can one particular pizza be the perfect one... At least for more than 20 minutes? Can that perfect house stay that way forever? Or the perfect job be satisfying, or tolerable, all the time. Doubtful.

I hate the idea of settling, but sometimes you just have to live on Domino's pizza since that's all that gets delivered to your house.

At any rate I'm on my way back to the US. And I feel almost bad for this, but this trip was partially a bust. I left home in a bad mood and feeling indecisive about life in general and the trip specifically. I didn't know really where I was going or what I was going to do. It wasn't really until I got to Vietnam that my demeanor started to improve. Unfortunately, that was three weeks into a 4 week journey. Not to say there wasn't good times along the way, but there were also days I woke up and thought I just want to be home... and for no good reason. I feel like I wasted an opportunity that very few are lucky enough to have.

And then when I woke up and it was actually time to go home, I didn't want to leave. Ironic? I supper life will work itself out, and hopefully the dark funk I've been wallowing in has lifted. Though the idea of returning to cold and icky Louisville doesn't inspire a lack of funkiness.

Well I have about 3 hours of airport appreciation and quality people watching time. I better get busy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I can feel the wave come and crash into me

So there we were, walking barefoot through e wilderness in Vietnam searching for a waterfall...  That doesn't seem all that much of a bright idea.  Back to that later.

Mui Ne seems to be the Vietnam version of a beach resort town.  Judging by the abundance of signed written in the Cyleric alphabet, its a resort town geared mostly towards Russian visitors.  After the grueling bus ride from Saigon, we pretty much just wanted to find a soft place to lay down.  However, being Southeast Asia, it wasn't to be found. The small "resort" we stayed in was a family business consisting of maybe a dozen rooms and four bungalows on the beach.  

The family that kept the inn was amazingly friendly, and their limited menu made for great breakfasts, $.50 beers, and fresh fruit shakes.  But the beds were only slightly softer that the tile floors.  Oh well, for $25 a night we can make compromises. 

The beach that fronted the property was being reclaimed by an angry sea.  Why we thought swimming and boogey boarding in 6 foot swells was a good idea I'll never know.  But we tried, and Grace has some wonderful pictures of us being slammed about.  Pictures as recent as Last year show a beach 20 or so feet wide, but the waves over the last few days had removed most of that beach, and buildings built to the edge of the sand were starting to loose patios and stairs.  Some seemed to think it was lingering effects from the tsunami, or possibly the result of the recent megamoon ( the last full moon was the closest to the earth as it's been in almost 20 years and was believed to cause unusually high tides). Whatever the cause, I certainly hope the beach makes a come back.

On Saturday, we rented a couple jeeps (complete with drivers) to take us on a little excursion to the sand dunes near Mui Ne.  On the way, we stopped to see the Fairy Falls.  In a sort of unexpected bit of fun, we were told to remove our shoes for the hike up the stream.  And that's how I ended up barefoot in the jungles of Vietnam. 

One of the more annoying things about traveling is there some one always wanting to help you, for a fee.  In the case of this walk, an unplanned and mostly un wanted tour guide latches on to you.  And in the end, they expect to be compensated, if only for walking beside you pointing at a plant and saying something about it that's nearly unintelligible. 

So we continued our trek up the ravine, which was mostly red from the sand but also had spots of yellow and white that set up nicely.  Just when I was thinking this waterfall was a myth, there was a sign pointing at a trail up through the trees that proclaimed the falls were 40 meters.  And for some reason, walking barefoot up the trail beside the rice patties seemed a completely reasonable idea.  And thus we found the falls.  

Back at the jeeps, we headed for the white dunes with a quick pull off at the fishing village.  This part of Mui Ne is the more traditional Vietnamese setting.  Hundreds of boats floated out in the harbour, all a very colorful blue and yellow.  

The area inland looked exactly like the way I didn't expect Vietnam to look.  It more reminded me of the Australian bush or the pictures you see of Africa around the serengetti.  Sparse scrub bushes, red sandy soil.  It seems that every movie set in Vietnam involved jungles and rice paddies, no deserts.  But yet, here we are.

(look for pictures when I get back home)

Once we arrived at the dunes, we paid the rental fee for the "sleds" to slide down the dunes.  If you picture the Sahara, or the dunes that C3PO and R2 landed upon on the planet of Tattooine, yu get a pretty good idea.  After the workout of climbing to the top, the small piece of plastic that made up the sled looked like a fun way down.  Unfortunately, it was a bit slow going.  What had to be a potentially life threatening luge down the steep dune was exactly not that.  At the bottom, the thrill for me wasn't sufficient enough to conquer the exhaustive climb back up.

And now that we are covered in sand, and head back to go to the red dunes.  They were less impressive, and having checks the sand sledding of the bucket list, most the group settled to just look upon them from the cafe across the road with a cold Tiger in hand.

Exhausted from upstream hiking and dune climbing, not mention the layer of sand that seemed to cove us head to toe, we returned to the resort for showers and then dinner.  Continuing a theme of eating ocean predators, I had barbecued barracuda with ginger and rice, with a desert of coconut and durian ice cream served in a coconut.  We adjourned to Joe's bar for more music and beers.  But the exhaustive day caught up with most the group, leaving only Evan and I to stay out.  That's when we made a wonderful discovery. 

The bar/club next door was able to provide us with dirty martinis.  We had to convince the bartender that we wanted them really dirty, not just a little scoop of olive brine,  and then some people watching. Again, the bar was populated mostly my Russians.  Some of which were model gorgeous.  One of which seemed oblivious that her halter type dress and shifted and her entire breast was exposed. Her boyfriend seemed to busy necking with her to notice either.  Ahhh cheap thrills.

Sunday afternoon saw the departure of both sets of Lewii, leaving TanJoe, Evan, and I to try to best the ocean again.  Of course, the 3 foot cliff was now a 5 foot cliff and was 2 meters closer to the building than the day before.  And again, we were pummeled by waves, eventually breaking the boogey board the resort owned.  Joe's attempt to buy them a new one were rebuffed, since that one was left by a guest a while back.  

We adjourned to clean up and meet for cocktails before setting off to dinner.  The roadside stand we stopped out was a bit lacking, the food not nearly the quality of the previous nights, and the entertainment of watching rats scurry to and fro along the sea wall was a little off-putting. But the grilled oysters and caramelized tuna steak with chilis and onions filled me up, helped along by the beer steamed shrimp (complete with heads still attached). 

We set off to find the Pogo bar, and it had been read to be lively and fun.  And since we were at number 110, we though number 138 would be a short walk.  Wrong.  Not only to the street numbers on opposite of the road have almost not correspondence (80 is across the street from 121), but there's no way to know how far the next number is.  Often there's a 120A, 120B, and so on.  Fnally we arrived at Pogo to find it without electricity and lit by elephant night lights, which an Australian girl quickly absconded with as her Mui Ne souvenir. 

Down the beach we found some place else, and ordered the largest bucket of rum and coke you can imagine.  It took 4 of us almost 2 hours to get through this thing.  The decision was made that we needed to taxi back to hour home base and try something closer for entertainment.  We stopped by the previous nights bar, but it was a but dead (and lacking the previous nights scenery).  Undaunted, we decided to try one more place.  And we were pleasantly rewarded with a lively crowd dancing away the night.

We quickly joined in and gyrated about the dance floor until roughly 3 AM. After a sit on the beach pondering life, (and a quick dip in the ocean for me.. Which at the time was a little calmer at low tide) it was off to bed.  

The next morning brought a beautiful blue sky, a meter less beach to enjoy, and hazy looks in all our eyes.  After a blah burger, TanJoe and I boarded a bus for the 6 hour ride back to Saigon, and more donna kabobs!  

Tuesday we spent lounging for the most part, and washing the sand form our clothes.  That evening, we met up with some other Air Mekongers for Taco Tuesday and happy hour.  

Now, I'm on my way to Singapore.  I splurged and booked the hotel our crews stay in, which is costing me for one night about the same as all my accommodations in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam combined.  I was able to get a exit row seat on the Tiger Airways flight, which isn't very full anyways, so it a nice smooth comfortable ride.  Tomorrow morning at 9 AM local time, I start my trip back to the US a roughly 30 hour death march.  And it doesn't look like I'm gonna have the planes to myself. Boo!

That's all for the travelogue thus far.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Imagine all the people, sharing all the world...

A couple thoughts floating around in my head. After a couple days on Phu Quoc of beach sitting and motor biking, and unfortunately watching it rain, I took off back to Saigon for an short afternoon.  That night, TanJoe and I boarded a bus for the 5 hour trip to Mui Ne and meet up with the Lewii.  Amazingly, we didn't die in the drive, but I think the bus driver had an affinity for the left lane and driving into oncoming traffic, since that's where we spent most the trip.

Last night we went to dinner and had some unusual, and delicious, food. My sauteed crocodile in lemongrass and sweet chili was pretty good.  Tastes like chicken, just s little tougher to chew. 

Ok, so the small world part.  When I was in Thailand sitting on that small island known around the world for it's parties, I met a woman from Italy who was traveling around the world to kite surf St all the places that are known for such activities.  If you're not familiar with kite surfing, imagine surfing but being harnessed into a parachute size "kite". Sitting in Ko Pha-Ngan, I could see the surfers down the beach occasionally being lifted off the water and sailing 50 feet or so through the air.

So, I ended up having a conversation with the woman from Italy and kind of just being friendly.  She left the islands a day before me for Bangkok, and gave me a name and email to find her...  Which I promptly lost. 

So, I'm sitting on a beach in Mui Ne, Vietnam...  Well sitting may be the wrong word.  I was being pummeled into the sand by 6 foot waves and essentially rolled over and sand scrubbed whether liked it or not.  Good times.  When I was able to pull myself ashore I looked up on and saw some one who looked remarkably like the Italian lady from Thailand. Turns out she was staying in the same resort in the room next to me.  

She was amazed to see me here as much as I was surprised to see her.  She was leaving for Saigon that night, but this time I secured her info and turns out we may be able to meet up in Singapore in a couple days.  That's, in my mind, pretty damn cool.  

The other moment of surreality thats hit me last night was the situation of sitting in a bar in Vietnam drinking in the presence of a large group of Russians.  I have no problem with Russian people, but given I'm a child of the cold war and grew up believing the "Evil Empire" was out to destroy everything I knew, it's a bit ironic twist to life.  Add to that, we were sitting in a bar in a country that was the sight of an American defeat by the communist forces (same Evil Empire) not so long ago. I think we pulled out less that 2 years before I was born.  Suddenly the enemies are just people, and all that blustering by the leaders was just a bunch of crap. No one really wanted to destroy each other, except a few people who thought it would good for keeping their grasp on power.

Enough seriousness, it's time for dinner again.  Look for tails of sand dunes, beach BBQ, and fun with friends to come soon.  Later

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chasing Sunsets

Let's try this thing. Best I can tell I'm facing due west at 1742 and the sun is about to set. Well. In an hour or so.  I love sunsets, so much better than sunrises. If only because a sunrise means I've spent an excessive amount of time awake.  But sunset, that when the fun starts. Truly I am a creature of the night.

I'm back on the solo road again, after a quick rest in Ho Chi Minh.  Let's see what's happened since last I wrote.  I've traded on tropical island for another.  After that all night party in Ko Phangan that resulted in me coming home drunk and arms covered in neon glowing body paint with the sun, I sent the next few days there relaxing.  The little resort there was great and the owners highly amusing, especially when the sun went down and the bar opened.  

After much internal debating, I made a plan to leave the island and head to Bangkok and then on to Saigon.  After a 12 hour ferry and bus ride, I met Adam in the side of an alley for beers and proceeded to drink the night away.  Again, coming home with the sun.  And the fun n Khaosan Road was still going. As I stumbled back to my guesthouse, others were just arriving or departing for parts unknown. After sleeping till about 3 in th afternoon, I was out and about,  having been to Bangkok before I was in no mood to see reclining Buddha's and palaces.  But I did to book some tickets.  Which, thanks to Visa and Bank of America proved to be a real pain inn the ass.  Luckily, Grace was able to work it out for me.

After meeting up with a Brit and spending the night taking in the sights that come alive in the Bangkok night, I finally hit the bed, albeit reluctantly about 5 AM. The street party still going, but morning was co,ing and it brought a plane ride to Saigon.

Saigon was as steamy as I remember it.  This time I cleared customs and was out side climbing into a cab before my scheduled arrival time,  I guess there's a plush to flying a premium Middle East based airline instead of and American one.  

The next few days in Saigon I holed up in the TanJoe condo.  We went out for Irish festivities to celebrate St Patrick's Day complete with Guinness and "car bombs". And we found the best kabob place.  It was zoo good drunk we went back the next day to confirm it was still tasty.  It was.

Sunday found me and TanJoe heading north out of the sity to the Cu Chi tunnels.  These are tunnels cared out by the Vietnamese during the war. There's a park set up to sort of show you the tunnels and traps they devised.  It was quite inventive, and the tunnels that you can climb through are incredibly clausterphobic.  Given the ones are are bored out for foreigners, it really shows how much a bithc it had to be for Americans to get in the systems and find them.  

We returned to Saigon early in the afternoon and met up with Grace and some other Mekong people for late lunch/early dinner.  From there the night really took off.  A Czech beer pub, a bar of Vietnamese bar girls with cleavage (who knew such existed?), a filipino cover band, and bottle service of Jack Daniels...  Pretty much tells you how Monday morning went....

Today I took to the air with Joe and flew down to Phu Quoc. And after a fruitless attempt to find a waterfall, I resigned myself to spending the afternoon sitting on e beach drinking beer. It's tough

Now the sun is going down and I think it's time to forage for food.  Hasta.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Just Beachy

m finally in a mood that I'd consider almost good. I'm really surprised that everyone in my "resort" seems to have a net book, laptop, or some other device for tracking the world. So much for the places where you can get away from it all. Maybe they're still out there but no one wants to find them anymore.

So after my short time in KL and even shorter time in Singapore I'm happy to be back in Thailand. So most cost effective, though I'm kind of reminded this little "toy" I'm typing on costs more than the average person here makes in a year.

So I went cheap this time, a small bungalow with no AC, no hot water, and really white minimalist. I dig it. It's like trying to get back to simplicity. In 3 days I'll be screaming for air con probably, but oh well. I haven't had a "hot" shower since I got here, why start now. Amusingly, the shower is outdoors. Roughing it!

I dig how it's totally normal to just show up on the islands and hope there's something available for sleeping. Invariably there always is. Except maybe next weekend here.

This weekend is apparently the Half Moon festival. Which is only a prelude to the Full Moon party that backpackers made (in)famous with drunken revelry. If you have ever sean the Leonardo DiCapprio movie "The Beach", then you say the huge party scene. Allegedly a full moon party. In my old age, I think maybe half moon will suffice. Though I did feel significantly older than anyone else on the ferry coming over. They all seemed so young and fit and full of life. Lately I've felt the exact opposite. But there's nothing like a mile long beach and a large quantity of use cold beer to change ones attitude,

I initially had plans to stay for about 3 days. Im already rethinking that. Last time I spent 4 days on a island in Thailand, I left after 7. It's easy to do. I may have to change islands, but I can handle that.

The big thing is learning how to relax. Keep in mind I have a pretty leisurely life as it is, but I always want to be doing something, especially on vacation. Stopping to sit and do nothing is so hard. That's a project for the next few days. Me, a beer, a beach, and a book or two. Sounds like a plan.

So. I'm not gong to bore anyone with the logistics of getting here. But it's already worth it. Something about surf makes me feel better. Even if it's forecast to be cloudy and rainy off an on for the next few days. I'll manage. It could be worse, I could be in Louisville. After all the stressing about life changes and tempting thoughts of just canceling this whole thing, I'm really starting to feel better about it all. Now to go work on the 3 day(minimum) buzz.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Singapore slung.

You ever get somewhere and find it exactly not what you thought it would be? Turns out Kuala Lumpur is that. but first... the trials of getting here.

I left Louisville on a dark and rainy night, boarding a 767n bound for Anchorage. Normally I try and catch one of the bigger planes, since they come with a bunk bed. However, everyone else had the same thought and the only open seat left was going to be the ironing board like fold out on an MD-11 or a comparatively spacious and comfortable reclining fold out on the 767. Lucky for me, the other jumpseaters booked on my plane were no shows, so I had extra space and extra food.

Once in the great white (and freakin frigid) north, sat around for a couple hours nd made my Hotel res for Singapore, the final destination for the day. The next leg was and MD-11 to Taipei. Luckily, it being a day flight the crew really had no use for sleeping and I was able to sequester myself in the coffin like bunk for most the flight. Oh yeah, and eat. We were double catered (due to a potential broken oven) so there was hot meals and salads for twice the number of people on board.

Taipei found me being greated with a order form for the next flight to Singapore that left in about 6 hours. I'm pretty much over airplane food at this point but I can never say no to tuna fish sandwiches, I'm making a survey of them worldwide. So far, HNL to SYD about 10 years ago ranks as the best. The ground people there took me over to the terminal to hang out for a few hours and get some food (ironically I was still hungry) and found an airport cafe with Dim Sum and tea. After a brief nap on some airport chairs (woo) I was fetched and met up with the crew. After talking to the captain,, turns out I had worked an emergency landing with him in the past. He didn't complain or kick me off so yay.

Finally, about 29 hours later I landed in Singapore. When I got to my hotel is when the fun started. Singapore is ridiculously expensive. When I got there all I wanted was a hot shower, a cool room, and a soft bed. The hotel had neither. The hotel didn't have my reservation paperwork, and the only rooms available had no AC due to a maintenance problem. Exhausted, I resigned myself to taking whatever there was to be had. The gentleman working the night was helpful, digging out a fan and told me the aircon would be fixed tomorrow. Meanwhile... the room, which wasn't horrible hot, would have to do. Typical of Asia beds, it was slightly less firm than a slab of granite. The shower seemed unwilling to provide hot water (just was well as the cool shower helped with the room temperature). Finally, i crashed... hard. A good drooling sleep.

I woke up the next morning, still warm but not sweaty, yet. Due to the mix up the night before, I had to check with the day staff to sort it out. The night watchmen I think just took pity on me and found me a room with out checking me in. The next morning, they wanted to move me (since I wa sin a standard room but had booked a superior), I told them I would rather stay where I was if the aircon was going to be fixed. She suggested I have breakfast complimentary) while she sorted things out. I was going to complain about the lack of hot water, but that moring I had found the water heater switch (which is conveniently not in the bathroom).

The day was spent out and meandering around Singapore. I obtained my HRC pins from both locations, mastered the MRT (subway), and walked till my feet could walk no more. I even located a bar the pilot recommended for it's cover band, located in the building unofficially known as "Four Floors of Whores". The Lonely Planet guidebook even referred to it by that title. Being early in the day, there were no whores nor band to be found. I was too worn out that night to attempt a return trip. And didn't need the hassle. Lunch was found in a "hawker stall" in china town and was very tasty. After returning to my room, now with working aircon, I took a hot shower and then found a Molly Malone's Irish pub a block from the hotel to continue my Irish Pub tour of the World. I had a couple local favorites from a brew pub next door before heading back to sleep. Beer is prohibitively expensive there, at S$12-15 a pint ($1=S$1.25)

The next morning I was off on a train to KL. I like train travel as you get to see more scenery and there's less hassle than flying. 7 hours later we pulled into KL Sentral.

KL I expected to be more like Bangkok, but it's closer to say Singapore in feeling. Though no where as expensive. I spent the days doing tourist stuff and the nights down the street from my guesthouse boozing it up. Still, the beer is not cheap enough, at about $5 for a tiger, but that's better than Singapore. KL seems to be a confluence of cultures, there's a lot of traditional Muslim mixed with an sort of Chinese vibe. Through in a healthy dose of India and you got it.

Today I'm flying up to Ko Samui. It's island time. No train due to schedule problems and by the time I paid the ticket, and a hotel along the way the plane ticket was cheaper. and saves me 2 days. That's it for now, time for doing nothing and hopefully cheaper beer.