Arun is Bringing You...Your Daily Remedy

Monday, July 19, 2010

Adventures in New South Whales, Australia

Ahhh…I never thought the sound of English would be so amazing – especially when it has an Aussie accent attached to it.

Spending a month in non-English speaking countries definitely wears on you for awhile, and it’s surprisingly refreshing to be able to communicate fluently with everyone. I’m also FINALLY the “guy with the accent”.

I’ve always wanted to be the “guy with a cute American accent” ;)

Interestingly, I was hanging out with some Aussies who not only said I have an accent, but "You've got a pretty major accent there mate!" How is it they don't realize that THEY'RE the ones with the cool accents?! ;) Regardless, I'm loving the fact that English is everywhere again.

Now don’t get me wrong. I would LOVE to live in a foreign country for a year or two and learn the language, culture, and tradition. But nevertheless, I still love me some good ol’ fashioned, finger-lickin good, English.

So right now I’m sitting on the train at Central Station in Sydney waiting to leave up to Gosford – a small coastal town about an hour North of Sydney. This is where Frederico lives…well, until Monday that is.

Conveniently, my stay in Australia just so happens to coincide with Frederico having to move up to New Castle…not so fun for me, but especially convenient for Freddy who now has a freakishly strong friend around to help him move.

So far though, my stay has been filled with touristy activities and nightlife.

AND, by an amazing stroke of good-fortune, my friend Kelly happens to be in Sydney with a couple of her friends. So today, I left Freddy up in Gosford to pack while I waltzed around Sydney with Kelly and my new friends.

There’s nothing like a little waltzing around new turf.


Ok, I generally write posts in one go, but when I start getting sleepy, my usual wit and charm starts to dwindle and typos abound. So now, I'm continuing the post some three days later. I'm now sitting in a Mall up in Gosford. Frederico, my friend who lives here, is at home cleaning for his final inspection before we head up to New Castle.

Tomorrow, I'm flying down to Melbourne for a week. I'm hoping there's a spot down there where I can go and hold a Koala (not quite as cute as baby Panda's, but they will suffice ;)

When I get back to Sydney, I'm actually looking into maybe hang gliding (it's a tandem glide with with an instructor...don't worry Mom) and canyoning!

The adventures continue mates!

BTW, my Australian accent that's oh so convincing in American is not quite as much so here. Go figure.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shanghai Shananigans

Shanghai, China...

The business capital of the country. A huge metropolis of skyscrapers, lights, and fancy restaurants...yet pretty much NO ONE speaks English.

Luckily, my fluent yet slim knowledge of Mandarin consists of four words...Nee-hau (Basically - "hello"), Shi-Shea (thank you), La-wai (foreigner) and Yo-gwai (right turn).

As you can imagine, doing things can be a little challenging, but at least I can get places provided I figure out a route consisting of only right turns ;)

It is a MAJOR bonus having my friend Gina living here though. For starters, her company has her living in the Marriott Executive Apartments in Union Square. Upon my arrival, she has been staying with her boyfriend downstairs, so I have a whole, huge suite overlooking downtown Shanghai, all to myself. This is easily the nicest place I've ever stayed at.

Not exactly "backpacking" around China, but I'll take it ;)

Then there's the added bonus that, since Gina and Aaron have lived here for almost two years, they pretty much know all the best places to eat, shop, etc.

I also conveniently met a girl on the plane over to Shanghai that showed me around for a couple of days. It's amazing to get the history and Chinese perspective on different things from a local!

For the most part, you can get things for dirt cheap around here. Now, things aren't necessarily of the same quality, and you have to haggle quite a bit to get a fair "Chinese Price", but still, when you can have a seven course dinner for 10 bucks and get a personally tailored shirt for $12, you're doing pretty well.

And speaking of food, I've had a lot of it. I know what you're thinking..."Gee Arun, BIG surprise that you're eating a lot, but I want to know if you've had anything CRAZY!??"

Good Question. So far, my friends have made me try Duck Brain, Chicken Heart, Chicken Cartilage, Octopus, Jellyfish, and Beef Stomach.

I wouldn't necessarily order any of it on my own, but they were actually NOT repulsive.

And what are these "Shananigans" that I speak of? I'm glad you asked.

- Yesterday we went to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park. But this is no ordinary zoo. If you pay 20 Kuai, you can ride this bus through the tiger, lion, cheetah, and bear reserves...but there's a catch.

The bus doesn't have walls, but rather a cage. When you go through, the animals basically start climbing up on the sides of the cage/bus/deathtrap. Why are they climbing onto it? Because on the sides are these little shoots that people drop live chickens through.

Basically, passengers buy a chicken from the driver, dangle and tease the lions/tigers/whatever with it, then drop it down the shoot for them the tear apart and devour.

Awesome to see in real life, but also a little scary, being nose to nose with and smelling tiger breath. Ironically, HE was the one roaming free, and WE were in the cage.

Oh, and in typical Chinese form, while we were bussing around, someone left one of the gates open one of the cheetahs almost escaped into the deer/camel/wildabeast habitat. Can you imagine the carnage that would've taken place? After a long delay in which the cheetah was salivating across the last ditch safety barrier, he was shoe'd back across and the gate closed.

Oh and we got to see 10 baby Pandas too. Seriously, is there ANYTHING cuter than baby pandas???

- Massages are really cheap in China...but sometimes you have to work to find a "decent" place.

And by "decent" I don't mean "good", I mean a place that won't try a sex you up.

I walked into one the other day to check it out. Some very attractive women opened it. I took a look at the "massage menu" with the different types of massages and the prices. The receptionist pointed to one and said "this best!" I read the English description:

"We take you to deepest realms of pleasure with three therapists working on you. One dressed as nurse, one dressed as student, one prepared for body to body ecstasies..."

I can't remember the rest, but for some reason, I had a feeling that this place wasn't on the up-and-up. Suffice it to say, I left and found a place that didn't describe what the therapists are wearing on the the menu ;)

- The Fourth of July was interesting. You see, although "technically" illegal, you can still buy fireworks in the city, and $300 goes a LOT further in China than it does in the United States.

So, on Independence day, we found a nice little courtyard in an upscale apartment complex, and let em rip. The stuff we bought was basically enough pyrotechnics for a professional fireworks show.

Apparently, the apartment residents weren't so stoked on our amazingly bright and noisy fireworks display exploding feet away from there windows ;)

We were kicked out by security afterwords, but it was WELL worth it.

So today, I'm leaving for Australia. I'm going to make sure to get to the airport EXTRA early, because we all know what happened in Beijing ;)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Bumbling Beijing Adventure

I had no idea a stop in Beijing, China was on my itinerary...But, apparently my trip was going a little too well, and an adventure needed to happen.

Although my flight itinerary was technically a straight shot from Paris to Shanghai, there was a little asterisk that noted a "technical stop" in Beijing. Ok. No big deal. We stop in Beijing. I'll chill on the plane. Maybe hop off and grab a quick snack, and jump back on.

That would've been too easy.

When I de-boarded the airplane in Beijing, there was a Chinese lady asking passengers in a thick Chinese accent "transfer Shanghai?"

Me: "Ah, that's me!"
Agent: "Ok, go up through immigration and come back. Hurry!"
Me: "Ok, but should I go through domestic or intern-"
Agent: (now yelling at me and shoeing me away) "CHA-CHI-BY-BOW!!"

I have no idea what that translates to, but I assume it meant "You need to move your ass you amazingly good-looking man!"

She then put some special transfer sticker on my shirt. I thought this sticker would assist me in moving through the airport quicker and facilitate everything (silly Arun), so I hustled my tushy up the stairs. This is where I started getting confused. I had to go through either the International transfer area, or the domestic transfer area. I asked around, and I'm not sure if they understood me, but I was pointed towards the domestic transfer.

Makes sense since Beijing to Shanghai is a domestic flight, but then again, should I really be transferring anywhere since I'm supposed to be on the same flight?

I proceeded as told, went through immigration and asked somebody else where to go. They pointed me towards the tram. Hmmm...this didn't seem right, but if that's what they say...

I took the tram, and when I get off, I realize that I'm now in the baggage claim area. Wait...why am I at the baggage claim?

I go to the information desk and tell them I'm supposed to get back on my flight...and FAST. She had no idea what I was talking about and pointed me to another employee all the way across the baggage claim area.

And the dominoes begin to pick up speed.

At this point, I'm starting to get a little nervous because between immigration, the tram, and now not knowing where to go, this is all taking awhile, and the gate agent yelling at me in Mandarin to hurry is still reverberating in my mind.

This person tells me that I need to wait for my bag, then re-enter the gate through customs. I thought my little bag was checked through to Shanghai, but she insisted I have to wait.

So I waited...and waited...all the while praying that my plane doesn't leave without me. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 20 minutes. No bag.

I jog over to the Air China baggage claim office and ask them what I'm supposed to do because my plane is about to take off. I show them my ticket stub and confusion breaks out. Three people are looking at each other talking in VERY animated Mandarin.


The guy goes back to check on something and comes out exclaiming, "What are you doing here!? Your bag is going Shanghai!"


They are confused and say I need to go through customs right now and get to my plane. Now I'm booking it across the terminal over to customs. Good thing I'm wearing running shoes.

I get to customs, hook slide under the line rope, plead with everyone to let me get to the front of the line, and try to explain the situation to see where to go. Of course, the customs official speaks little English and needs to get help. All the while I'm pleading with people and pointing at my transfer sticker to explain an apparently confusing situation.

The transfer identification sticker the gate agent gave me is doing NOTHING.

Finally, a lady comes to try and help me (I found that during this whole ordeal, the female Air China employees were much more helpful and sympathetic to me. I'm sure it helped that I was putting my hands together and desperately pleading with people to help me.

She ran with me out and up to the Air China ticket counter took me to the front of the line (much to other customers chagrin) and dropped me off. I made her stay because she seemed to be sympathetic to my cause.

This ticket agent, after about ten minutes of me pleading and my new customs official friend yelling at him to hurry up, told me my plane is about to take off.

Discovery of the century Sherlock.

Then he said I have to go back to the baggage claim and get my bag, then come back to the counter to get a ticket.

"YOU SON OF A !@&^%$ MOTHER #&%*@!! NO GOOD %$#&^!." Ok, well I didn't say those words exactly, but I was thinking it.

I sprint downstairs, but the problem now is, you have to be on the other side of security to be in the baggage claim area. I plead with the security official randomly pointing to my ticket stub and transfer sticker (now barely holding on to my sweaty shirt due to all the running) and he lets me through.

I never knew someone could actually go backwards through security!

Still no bag.

I run back to the baggage claim office, sure that I've missed my plane, and the guy looks at me like I'm the biggest idiot in the world, running around the airport for 40 minutes, ending up back here.

"What you doing here?!?"

He sees my expression, and realizes and should stop asking me questions. He grabs my ticket stub, types on the computer, writes down a gate number and tells me "J Terminal! 51C! RUN NOW!

Here we go again.

I confusedly run around, looking for the terminal, FINALLY find it, and book it over to security. When I finally get to security, I have to go through another passport checkpoint. They won't let me through though because I only have a ticket stub and not an actual boarding pass (which they ripped off when I initially boarded the plane in Paris).

What else can go wrong here?

After more pleading, and people calling managers, somebody finally escorts me through. Now I'm at security, and unloading all of my crap onto the x-ray belt. Of COURSE, every time I go through the security screener, I set it off. Once. Twice. Third time. (this NEVER happens!) Now I have to stand on the damn pedestal and get radar wanded. Once that's through (and because I have SO MUCH time to spare) they also decide to search my backpack.

I've lost all patience at this point.

Then, this very important looking lady shows up (an angel) and tells me she is escorting me to my plane. Thank GOD.

We hop on this cart-thing, and cruise though the airport, siren and lights on, bobbing and weaving through traffic. We get to an elevator, and I INSIST that she comes with me. I finally found someone who seems to know I have a plane to catch and LATCH ON!

I finally get to the secondary gate where she leaves me with a guy who I made promise to get me on the plane before she could leave. He looks at me and asks me for my transfer ticket. I tell him all they gave me is this sticker. He looks at the other agent, says something in Chinese, and they both erupt in laughter, looking at my sticker.

I am not amused.

They escort me on to another tram which drops me off on the actual runway area where I climb the stairs into the plane. Luckily the plane was delayed due to mechanical issues, which is the ONLY reason I was able to make the flight.

Good Lord, no one should ever have to go through that. All in all, I think no fewer than 20 different airport employees were involved, and I spent about an hour and a half running around Beijing International.

I would love to see the airport security cameras of me running all over place, pleading with everyone, jumping up and down, frantically pointing at my dumb useless transfer sticker (damn that first gate agent!).

But, in the end, I made it to Shanghai, and it all worked out.

Just another adventure ;)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tripping Within Trips

Bon Voyage Paris.

Now before you go getting carried away with the title of this post, NO I did not do acid or any other hallucinogenic drug while in France. I did however tour the entire Northwest region on a vacation within my vacation.

I think I made it pretty clear last week that I love Paris. Who wouldn’t? Beautiful art, beautiful architecture, beautiful people (which obviously went up during my stay ;) I mean, what’s not to love?

Welp…along with all of that, Paris is a big bustling city that is, as is any big city, highly commercialized. That’s why it was amazing to get out of Paris for a week to tour the Northwest Coast and Countryside.

Now, getting out of Paris was no easy feet. For the amount of traveling we were doing, we had to rent a car, and driving in Paris is absolutely insane. I mean, it’s not quite “India Insane”, but it’s close. Once we got out of the city (which, to drive like 4 miles, took an hour), the driving was relatively smooth sailing (especially for me in the passenger seat ;) Some interesting things we noticed about driving in France though.

Apparently, the French don’t believe in traffic patrol. In all of our travels, we saw not one single highway patrol or traffic police ANYWHERE.

Instead, they apparently have radars on the highways the somehow catch you if you speed. Despite the signs and warnings, we didn’t see one camera or radar. Maybe they’re hidden? Maybe they’re bluffing? Who knows?

They also don’t believe in using many traffic lights. Instead they have roundabouts. Lots and LOTS of roundabouts. I went through literally 20 times more roundabouts in the week of traveling, than I have in my entire life.

If you plan on driving in Paris, GET A GPS. There are so many side roads and little alleys that you would just as well miss that you actually have to drive through to get places.

Apparently, on these one lane roads, it’s ok to stop, throw on the hazards, and take your sweet time loading crap into your truck while traffic accumulates behind you. This happened numerous times. This had me audibly cursing the French.

When I first turned on the radio, I was happy to hear a mix of French and English hits. Joke’s on me! They don’t believe in variety in France. I heard the same 10 U.S. hits, and the same 5 crappy French songs every damn minute. I had seven stations I was shuffling between and they ALL played the SAME DAMN SONGS. One can only take so much Lady Antebellum.

But aside from the driving weirdness, the trip was amazing. Our stops included: Giverny - to see Claude Monet’s house, garden, and museum, Rouen – saw the sight where Joan of Arc was burned and indulged in the best chocolate of Normandie, Honfleur – to enjoy the amazing harbor, Mont. St. Michel, Dinan, Cancale, Aboise, and Vouvrey.

This all covered three provinces: Normandy (where we saw the D-Day beaches, specifically: Gold, Utah, and Omaha), Britagne (amazing crepes!), and Loir Valley (where we toured castles and drank lots of wine).

My French also improved mightily on the trip as English speakers aren’t quite as abundant in the country as they are in Paris. During our wine tour in Loir, none of the wine people really spoke English. We met Aurori, Laetitia, and Bresson. We spent an hour chatting with Bresson, the owner of a winery we visited who didn’t speak a word of English.

Outside of Dinan, we stayed at possibly the most amazing hotel I’ve ever stayed at. It was basically a huge converted barn out in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere. It was owned by an amazing French couple, Patrick and Ann-France, who ran it more like a bed and breakfast. They cooked homemade French Dinners and Breakfast for us, and showed us around there amazing property.

So in a nutshell (well, I suppose it’s too late to really nutshell this post, but oh well) the Northwest countryside of France was AMAZING!