Stuff I Know

Just stuff by me about me and my life, such as it is.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cambodia Part II

I'll just post the next set Siem Reap pictures without babbling on about any of them.

Have a look and let me know what you think if you have time.


Since I am in India, Let me just jot down a few thoughts while I am at the computer.

Here you always have to be careful and watch where you walk. It can be kind of difficult because your desire is to look up and see all the things going on around you. But it certainly is necessary to keep on eye on where you step. You never know if you are going to step into an open sewer, into the sewer overflowing on the street, on a beggar, or in a pile of shit- be it of the dog, cow, or human variety. After a while you a kind of get a sixth sense about walking and your eyes don't have to be pointing down all the time. Be careful though, from time to time your sixth sense may fail you. Luckily for me it hasn't lead me into an open sewer. I have stepped into something overflowing onto the street, but I am wondering if it might have been safer stepping into a pile of shit.

The place I stayed in Pondi was rather dreary. Peeling paint, yellowed bathroom, spotted sheets. It is certainly not a place I would stay if I was traveling with someone (unless they were as nonchalant about things as me), but it was just a bed for two nights, cheap, and I didn't feel like wandering around anymore in the heat of the day. One bright spot, though, was that just off the balcony, I could see a pair of eagles nesting in a coconut palm. When I was at the room I could hear them screech to each other and watch them fly in and out. So maybe every dark cloud does have a silver lining. You just have to look hard enough to find it.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007


The temples and ruins around Siem Reap are truly amazing. But I have to say, Angkor Wat was not quite as impressive as I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong. I still thought it was incredible; but having wanted to see it for such a long time, I think I built up a certain image of it in my mind. And when the actual buildings didn't quite match what I had imagined, I was a bit, just a bit, disappointed. In actuality, to me, some of the other temples/complexes there were more impressive than Angkor Wat.

Of course, the one temple all the guides said I "must see" was further away than the rest and thus cost more to go to. it was small but nice, especially the carvings, but "must see"? eh ... That one temple being further away than the rest brings up a problem with touring the area around Angkor. You can either buy a one-day ticket or a three-day ticket.

A two day ticket would probably be better for many people since the drivers or guides tend to make your forays to the temples end rather early in the day if you started out early in the morning. This is to give you something to visit on that third day. With a two day ticket, you would stretch those day out longer to get to the more distant temples instead of wasting the afternoons and spending the last day visiting only one or two temples, just so you don't waste the third day of your ticket. And, you wouldn't have to pay for a third day of driving. Sounds a bit complicated, but I think it would work.

Of course I am looking at this from a skinflint's perspective. If you have the time and the money, then definitely take your time and enjoy the temples. There is certainly enough to see there, and you may want to spend some time contemplating some special place.

One other thing that was interesting, when heading out to the temples, you certainly know when you are within the Angkor Archaeological Park. Outside the boundaries of the park there are hardly any "real" trees. Palm trees and a few young trees here and there, but nothing like you see when you cross that invisible line which means you have entered the park. Within the park, all the trees are protected and some of them have been there for a long time. Huge, stately, giant trees. Real trees. Maybe you can tell I have a penchant for the large and incredible in the natural world.

There is not much more I can say about the area. It really needs to be experienced. My pictures certainly won't do the area justice, but perhaps they can give you a taste of what you could expect to see. But let me warn you. I took a lot of photos, and I mean a lot. And when going through them it was difficult to toss any out. I am sure there are some that I kept that I shouldn't have, but to me, any that weren't blurry still said something special. I did toss some out though. I wouldn't want you to get too bored. Don't feel obligated to look through each and every one. Nothing is worse than having to sit through uncle Joe's travel slides. You are better off clicking the link and looking at the gallery view of all the photos. Then you can pick and choose the ones that strike your fancy and that you want to take a closer look at. Oh, and remember, they are geo-coded, so you can see where they were taken on the Google map, in satellite view.

I hope you find something you like. Here is the first set. (Yes, first... of three.)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Oughtta Be In Pictures

Maybe I missed my true calling in life. Perhaps I should have become an International Movie Background Actor. Then again maybe not, but life sometimes conspires to send things your way that make you wonder.

About twelve years ago, on my last around-the-world trip I was in Singapore and acted as an extra in a movie. It was three days, (nights actually, since that was when they were shooting) of a lot of sitting around and a little acting. It was an interesting experience, and I got paid for my time which made it even more worth while. The name of the movie was "Bugis Street" or something like that. I never saw it, so if you happen to track it down, let me know what you think of my acting. I was the one in the sailor suit. Well, one of the ones in a sailor suit.

Yesterday in Chennai, India, I did it again. They needed westerners to fill up a club scene they were shooting. We, several others from the guest houses, were taxied up to Chennai from Mamallapuram and spent about twelve hours doing a lot of sitting around, standing for the cameras, and very little reacting for shots. We also got a free lunch and 600 rupees ($15 US).

India's movie industry pumps out hundreds of movies a year, but I have to say, after sitting around and watching how things work, I wonder about the quality of those movies. Today, they certainly weren't to concerned about continuity in this movie, especially considering many scenes were shot previously before today's group of westerners even showed up. In one scene I was running out one door, and in a different angle shot of the same scene I was told to run out a different door. Extras, props, and actors were moved around willy-nilly without much concern for what had gone previously.

What we shot that day was a fight scene inside some kind of space/computer themed nightclub. I didn't plan it at all, but I am pretty sure I appeared in about 75% of the scenes shot. The camera happened to be looking right where I was standing each time. That doesn't necessarily mean I would be recognizable in the film, or that the takes I was in would even be used (though there were so few actual takes shot, they will almost have to use each one). But keep an eye out for a goofy-looking guy in a gray t-shirt and light green pants. That will be me.

The movie is called "Kurubi" which means The Sparrow. It is an Indian (Tamil) movie about drug runners. It stars a very popular Indian movie star named Vijay.
So on January 15th, run to your nearest cinema (If you
are in India anyway. The rest of you will have to wait.) and see "Kurubi" staring... me!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Incredible (?) India

Apparently I do have a few people who read my blog. So I thought I would just let you know that Internet access in India may be a bit harder to come by, so my posts here may be a bit longer in coming. I promise I will post when I can, though.

Oh, and just to let you know, if you have never been to India before, Chennai (Madras) may not be the best introduction to the country. It was certainly cheap from southeast Asia, but arriving here gave me one of those "moments."

Some of you may know what kind of moments I mean. As I ride through traffic in the auto-rickshaw, fearing for the lives of those around us (I have already given up on my own life. You kind of have to do that when you make the decision to ride in one of these in India. If I go, I go. Not much I can do about it.), the stench/smells, the noise/sounds, the pollution/ uh...pollution, the arguing/haggling with the driver, everything just makes me think, what the heck have I gotten myself into.

Still it is all part of the journey, and as they say, the journey is the reward. But sometimes you just have to wonder why the reward for this particular event isn't any higher. It does get better, though. And just being here is a reward in itself.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ah Diversity

Korea is a nice place. China is a nice place. But I have to say, it is certainly nice to be in a more cosmopolitan city again.

(From the peak on Hong Kong island.)

It's nice to see people who look different, dress different, have different skin colors, different religions, different mannerisms, and look at the world from several different points of view. It is even nice to be in a place where people speak several different languages even if I don't understand any of them, OK maybe I understand English. Hong Kong may be Chinese in origin, and largely British by design, but it does stand as a city of the world.

(And they aren't afraid to put art installations like this.)

I have been to Hong Kong a few times now, so it is all pretty much old hat to me now. OK, slight exaggeration, but I didn't have to worry about much. I was in Hong Kong as the end of my China trip and as a jumping off point for more of Asia. The next stop would be Cambodia. The travel agent booked me some pretty cheap tickets that went HK > Singapore > Siem Reap (overland) Phnom Phen > Singapore > HK. I didn't actually want to come back to Hong Kong. I was hoping to go from Singapore to India. But the travel agent said I should just take the booking and throw out the last ticket because it was cheaper this way than one way tickets. Fine by me. Cheaper is always better. I would later rue that decision to not come back to HK, but that is another story.

There wasn't really much I wanted to do in HK since I have been here before, the last time about three years ago. But in all the times I have been to Hong Kong, I never visited Macau. In fact I always used to think that Macau was to the east of HK.

Ahhh, not so intrepid but not so geographically smart world traveler.

I figured I had better go this time since who knows when I would be back this way again. So I hopped on a ferry headed west. Macau is like the poorer cousin of Hong Kong. Not as big, not as shiny, not quite as modern, but it is still interesting, especially because it is not as modern. Oh sure there are several large shiny buildings, most of them casinos, but it is the smaller, older architecture that makes going to Macau worth while, for me at least.

It is interesting to see the mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture as opposed to Chinese and British culture. The older houses and churches make for a nice mix as you walk around the city. The fact that they have kept a lot of the older buildings, and incorporated them into the modernization of the downtown area, is certainly a plus for the tourism industry.

That is if people actually venture outside the casinos. Being one of the big draws of the city, I am not so sure how often regular tourists actually leave the air conditioned comfort of those dens of sin (Look who's talking. I grew up in "Sin City."). I noticed that several big name casinos from the ole' stomping grounds have a presence in Macau. In fact one of them, the Wynn, looks like a scaled down copy of casino in Las Vegas.

However, I don't know if the casinos are the same inside. In Las Vegas, the casinos have large open doorways where swarms of people can file in and out at their leisure. In Macau though, the entrance to the actual casinos is usually a small hallway where you have to go through a metal detector and a bag search. I was intimidated by the big burly men in tuxedos. Slightly embarrassed due to my dress of shorts, sandals, and sweaty t-shirt. Concerned that they might look down or scoff at me when they would have to rummage through my dirty backpack only to find my lunch of peanut butter, crackers, and fruit. So I didn't venture inside an actual casino.

But then I thought about it for a while. However I looked, my entering would be paying their salary. Who are they, working peons, to scoff at me, the international world traveler. Be afraid of entering casinos? Ha! I scoff at them. I grew up in the real casino city. The city that all other casino cities hope they can be. I have been inside casinos probably from the time I was 10 years old, or maybe younger.

I still didn't go inside one, though. I just didn't feel like it.

Most of these pictures are from Macau. Hope there is something that strikes your fancy.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The (4th) Happiest Place on Earth

I lived for many years in Korea just across a small sea from Japan and Tokyo Disneyland, and I never went. Maybe some day in the future.

I was recently in Hong Kong, and I decided I had better visit Disneyland Hong Kong now, so I don't have to come back later.

I wasn't first in line, and I didn't run to get this picture.

It was a really nice day. I got there early, to beat the crowds, only to find out that the park opened one hour later than I thought it did and that there was no crowd. It was a Wednesday so maybe that is why.

Disneyland HK is very nearly a copy of the early original Disneyland. But I did notice that everything is smaller. And I don't just mean smaller in land area. The buildings on MainStreet are smaller in scale. Sleeping Beauty's castle is much smaller than the original. And some other things just struck me as being not quite right. Maybe everything is smaller in scale because Asians are generally smaller. Ha ha, that's a joke ma' boy.

Actually, a combination of the park being smaller and me arriving on a week day meant that I really only would have needed the afternoon and evening hours to see everything. As it was, I did see everything, including all the shows, and rode several of the rides twice. The whole day was rather leisurely paced, which was nice for a change.

Everything was very familiar, but it was a bit disconcerting hearing Mickey and the other characters speak in Cantonese. In Hong Kong, Mickey's name is pronounced "my-ee-kay". And not that I can understand Cantonese, but Donald Duck was completely unintelligible.

Even the western characters spoke Chinese during the parade.

The whole park was decorated for the Halloween holiday and two of the rides had a slightly Halloween theme. Also at night, they had a special Halloween parade.

Yes, that is a "white" pumpkin for Donald and I don't know what his bill is supposed to be made of.

Wooo, Spooky!

One highlight of the visit had to be the firework show. Disneyland sure knows how to amaze.

Enjoy the rest of the photos.

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Crap, crap, crap!

This trip seems to be turning into the "Bad-luck-hurry-up-and-wait" trip.

The last time I went around the world many years ago it was the "Near-disaster" trip. Back then, I missed several big problems by just weeks or months early or late. In Egypt, I arrived after a major train fire. In southern India, I missed the bubonic plague by only a couple of weeks. In Southeast Asia a kidnapping and killing changed my plans about going into Cambodia, and the volcano erupting put the kibosh on my visiting it in Indonesia. I arrived in Japan about a month after the Kobe earthquake. And there were a couple of smaller scale incidents after I left several places. None of these timings were planned. It was all just coincidence.

So far on this trip I have had to spend extra days in Beijing, had to leave Tibet in a rush because my visa was expiring and could only get a ticket to Xiamen which meant I had to pay for a whole new visa rather than an extension. I got stuck in Louyang because of no ticket out due to the holiday. I stopped in Singapore only to find out that I couldn't get the India visa there.

Now in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the visa process is only supposed to take five days, but there was no joy for me today at the visa office. This means I have to spend extra days in Kuala Lumpur (At least until Monday. Please, please let my visa come Monday.), and I have to change the date of my ticket to India for which I have to pay a penalty of 250 Rupees (Sure, it is only six bucks, but it is still a pain.)

Not a very auspicious start to the trip. Yes, it has been a good trip, but these little niggling incidences of bad luck are sure a pain. And they cost money. Yes, I have the money to spend, but I would rather not have to spend it like that.

I sure hope my luck changes for the better, and soon!


Monday, November 12, 2007

Not Quite Fantasy Island

But still a nice place to spend a couple of days.

From Hangzhou I headed south to Xiamen and the island of Gulangyu. The town on the mainland isn't much, but the island is a nice place to visit and relax a little. No private vehicles are allowed on the island at all, not even bicycles. But then they really aren't needed. You (meaning I) can easily walk around the island in about four hours or so. But, for those who would rather, the tourist services on the island have some electric carts that can be ridden to most places of interest.

What people go there to see actually, are the small beaches and parks and some of the architecture around the island. I contemplated taking a swim on one of the beaches. The water was a bit cool, but the heat of the day made it oh so very tempting. I ended up just wading, though. I had a twelve hour train ride the next day and I didn't fancy hauling around wet clothes.

(Actually not on the island, but it looks very James-Bond-Moonraker-ish, doesn't it?)

(I rather like this picture, as long as the monitor is not too dark.)

From Xiamen it was on to Guangzhou. My last stop before I left China. Well the real China. Technically Hong Kong is China, but it doesn't much feel like it. Anyway ...

Guangzhou is a OK place. There are a couple of interesting things to see and nice places to visit. Unfortunately, as per how my luck seems to be going this trip, my time there coincided with a big wholesalers convention which meant all the room prices were nearly doubled. Even the dorm beds. That was certainly a bummer.

(You can get all kinds of things from the markets in Guangzhou, even things you would never expect someone would want to buy.)

The river is maybe the best place to be based. Most of the things to see are rather scattered around the city, though. They are not really too hard to get too, but some walking is involved.

Walking along the river is nice, but be careful. Don't assume, like I did, you can just walk along the river from one point to another. I had crossed a bridge at one point along the river and could see where I needed to go up river, so I just started walking. Unfortunately, at one point, access to the riverside was closed. No problem I thought, I'll just turn inland a bit, follow some roads and then walk back to the river. After a rather circuitous route I ended up back at the river only to walk a little more and find out access was closed again. So it was back out to the city streets. This time my route to find access to the river kept taking me further and further from the riverside, especially since the river started to bend the other way. It was getting dark. I gave myself 30 more minutes to find the river, and I did. Only to find that riverside access was blocked yet again. I started to go back out to the streets and find a new path, but it was getting late and the further I went, the further I would have to go back. It was time to admit defeat and head back. Hopefully I could remember the way I came.

Luckily I found my way all the way back to the bridge, crossed it, and went back the subway station from where I had originally started. What I thought would be a 30 minute walk back to the hotel, what should have been a 30 minute walk back to the hotel, turned into a nearly 2 hour adventure wandering around the streets of Guangzhou in the dark. It would have been nice if there was something to see, but it was just a dusty city.

One other thing, if you plan on running your own retail business, then you should certainly visit Guangzhou and set up a few business connections. Guangzhou is wholesale heaven- everything from holiday decorations, to toys (be careful which toys you choose, though), to ceramics, to buttons and beads, probably anything for any type of shop you would want.

Before I leave China, I have to make one more comment. It pertains to something that every country does, but some more than others. While living in Korea, I came to believe that Korea and Koreans were very good at it. But after visiting China for only two months I have come to realize that China is the master of Self-Congratualtion. In China, especially as a tourist, you get the impression that nothing bad ever happens there, and if it does, it is due to some other nation. China has the best of everything and does the best at everything. China can do no wrong, and if something does seem maybe a bit wrong to you, it is because you are probably looking at it from the wrong perspective. The Chinese view is the only view.

Enjoy the photos. Most are from Gulangyu, a couple from Xiamen (the temple shots), and the last third or so are from Guangzhou.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007


I thought I would post these pictures now since they are of a timely nature. I am in Cambodia at the moment, in Phnom Phen. (I'll get the pictures from previous places up as soon as I can.) I happened to be touring the royal palace as the same time as this man.

If you are not sure who it is, take a look at the hair. Second clue, he is an official from a country near where I used to live. Nope, sorry, it is not brother Kim, Jong Il. This guy is way too tall. But he is some top-vice-chief-premier or something or other from North Korea. Sorry, his name eludes me at the moment.

Ah, his name is Kim, Yong Il and he is the premier of North Korea. He certainly got the royal treatment while he was there. They closed galleries to regular tourists, rolled out a carpet for him to walk on, and had ice cold water wherever he might stop for a minute. I was on my way out of the palace when suddenly someone just pushed me back. Apparently I couldn't exit that way while the official car was waiting to receive his premier-ness.

So there you have it. My latest brush with greatness. Or at least semi-important-ness.

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