Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In a Van Down By the River

I'm sure the late Chris Farley will not mind if I steal a line from his motivational speaker on SNL to say that currently, I am living in van down by the river.

I suppose it's a bit more than that as it's a van down by MANY rivers...and mountains....and wee towns....and forests...

I'm currently seeing New Zealand, a country that I can only say has touched my heart even with the portable toilet and the cold shower I endure every day.

And I really can't imagine doing it any other way. Every morning, a new walk or seal watching adventure or horsebackriding through Lord of the Rings territory.

Every afternoon a 3 hour car ride along rodes with the most beautiful scenery that you will ever see in your lifetime.

Every evening, cooking dinner in the middle of nowhere, emerging from our van to turn the gas on and off as we look out up from the valley towards the mountains and see nothing but moonlight, hear nothing but birds.

Getting back to nature is one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's a Little Known Fact

Since we've been travelling, I have come across some interesting cultural differences among the countries we've been to.

I thought, in Cliff Claven style, I would share with you some of the more bizarre and weird laws and customs from where we've been.

MALAYSIA

*As the country is predominantly Asian, you do see many women with headscarfs and dressed in the full Muslim attire. Be sure to look closely, though, as you're more than likely to see some Prada shoes, a top-of-the-line Nokia phone and a matching designer handbag to finish the package.

*You're less likely to have trouble finding a shop open on Sunday then you will on Friday. And if you're around on Friday, be sure to listen for the bells.

*Buses don't have toilets. Most Malaysian food is made up of curries. Now, YOU trying finding something to eat on the days you have to travel 5 hours on a bus. Travel day is starve day.

SINGAPORE

*You cannot own governement housing in Singapore unless you are a citizen. If you are a citizen, you can purchase these homes starting at $100,000. Pretty good, there's just one more catch. You must show your marriage certifcate to purchase. Hmm. And, if you can't find somebody to love, the government will take pity on you and allow you buy one at the age of 35. Brings a whole new meaning to 'I still live at home with my parents'.

*It makes financial sense to move next to your mother-in-law. The government will give you $40,000 to purchase property near your parents. This is to promote YOU taking care of them in their old age, taking pressure off the government to do so. Baby boomers rejoice!

*You can rent umbrellas for a day! If you're out and about and suddenly it starts pouring and your not really inclined to purchase yet another umbrella to add to the 50 you have at home, just rent one. GENUIS. PURE GENIUS.

*There is a height restiction on buildings in Singapore because of the 6 airports that surround the city. You'll see more trees than you will concrete jungle.

*It REALLY IS the cleanest place on earth

AUSTRALIA

*If you don't like going through immigration lines, you'll have to prepare yourself for a double whammy when entering Australia. Not only do you queue up to get into the country, you are then sent into a quarantine section where you must line up again and have your bags go through special xray machines. Forget about smuggling in those tangarines to your old Aunt Mae.

*You WILL see kangaroos hopping around the golf course. So, take up golfing and get real surreal.

*There are some parts of this country that have not had rain for 5 years. 3 minute showers are not just a grandma joke, they are law. And forget running the sprinkler so your kids can run through it in the summer. That's against the law too.

*Plants, clearly adapting to their climate, close themselves in to stay away from the sun, as opposite from western plants, that open up to get some rays.

*Water in toliets DO spin the opposite way, and thankfully, there are toliets available EVERYWHERE including buses, so bring on the curries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

5 Weeks and Counting

It's hard to believe we've been on the road for over a month and yet it feels like a century ago I was going to bed at 10:30, getting up STILL EXHAUSTED at 9:00 to go and teach a full day until 6:30.

My Korean has definitely waned, although, I have to admit the odd time I do turn around when I can hear it in the street. I have to shake my head and look around just to remind myself that I'm no longer in Korea.

Malaysia was everything we had hoped for. Sandy beaches, delicious food, friendly people. So much of what you're looking for when you're on holiday.

It had beautiful beaches, some corally, some sandy, all relaxing. Sometimes we'd see crabs scurrying along at nighttime. Other times we'd find hundreds of dead little jellyfish that had been swept to shore by the tides.

The water was always breathtaking. All those blues and greens you seen in pictures. So remarkable in fact that I did pinch myself one or two times.

Australia has been the "home away from home" we needed. After only just over a week in the country, I feel like I may have never even lived in a far away place like Korea.

The food is so diverse - Thai, Indian, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Afgani, Chinese, Japanese, even Korean - I'm sure you can guess which type we've given a miss, not out of lack of deliciousness, as there is some Korean food I'd be happy to try again, but more out of boredom.

The cities are big and bright, filled with skyscrapers and wide sidewalks and cafes and galleries and shopping malls and toliets with toilet paper, sit down seats AND hot water to wash your hands.

The beaches are outstanding. Since it is winter here, we have not had the privelage of braving the shark-waters with the surfers. But there is just something about looking out at an Australian beach that seems very distinct. Unlike Malaysia. Unlike Korea. Unlike Barbados. Just distinctly Australian.

I'm finding it hard to take pictures here, because minus the beaches, the cities feel so much like home. I never took pictures of me among the streets in Toronto so it seems weird that I would choose to do so here.

Melbourne is especially reminding me of the Big Smoke. Only the streets are wider. And D is convinced it's cleaner. But I'd say it's been that long since we've actually had a good look at the streets at home that we wouldn't be able to tell anymore.

I'm also finding myself back in the 'backpack groove'. There is a certain method to this madness.

Settle into your hostel or hotel - most always a private room for the two of us as we've done this enough times to know what we feel comfortable with. Some people would forgoe the room costs to save the money to go on the piss all night. We prefer the privacy and comfort. Personal choice is all really.

Unpack the important pieces - for me, it's the large make up bag that has everything from Nyquill to my mascara. As long as there is about a metre of space (it folds out very long!) somewhere in the room to unwrap these wares, the places begins to feel like home.

For D, he has a little digital clock that gets set up on his bedside table. If we only have one table by the bedside, it's his. If there's not table, a chair will do.

Suss the place out - usually we can manage an ensuite as the middle-of-the-night-widdle is much easier done in the room than a hike down the hall. We just spent a night in a Melbourne place which was lovely and clean and a 47 second walk to the bathroom. And I had to go TWICE in the middle of the night. Boot strapping, as we'd call it in Korea.

What to do - plan our day around sights, eating and bathroom breaks. This is so much easier in Australia, especially the bathroom bits, and of course, being able to speak English certainly makes things run smoothly.

The Siesta - always at about 5ish until we get ready for dinner. Sometimes we sleep. Sometimes we read. Sometimes we make decisions about adding new places to our list, cutting things out of our list, checking on the pennies to make sure we're staying somewhat on the financial track.

Dinner - we have always loved our evening meals. These are our times to reflect on our day, decided what we liked, what we didn't like and just enjoy some of the culture of the city or town or island we're staying in or on. Sometimes this can be an expense others would forgoe. You can really always find a hostel with a good kitchen to cook in for yourself. Again, personal choice.

And I'm also realising, once again, how different everyone's experience can be. And how, even if you asked me for advice or places to go or things to see, I could never really give you something solid. Something foolproof. Something that would define the 'best holiday ever'.

Because priorites are different. What you want to see, do, eat. Where you want to shower, pee, sleep. Who you want to meet, not meet, push out of the bus. How you want to drive, bus, train to the place.

Most importantly, your mind is always changing. My mind has changed about what I wanted over the next 4 months so drastically in only 5 weeks. How could I possibly get inside anyone else's head when I can't even figure out my own.?

We read a lot and are told a lot about 'must see' places, how 'there's no where else on earth' and 'you can't miss this'.

What I've learned? You can. There are actually places that you can miss. Because you're adding places that no one has talked about and sometimes? They become YOUR must see. YOUR place on earth. YOUR can't miss.

And I think that's the part of my journey that I'm enjoying the most. Those sneaky places that smack you in the face with surprise and quickly become a cherished travel moment.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

So Much to Do, So Much to See

So much has changed since I started ignoring this blog at the beginning of our travels.

It certainly hasn't been because of the lack of things to say. More the opposite.

But the internet connections in Malaysia were not stellar, especially on the islands and now that we're in Australia, we've simply been spending time eating and drinking and enjoy the company of English-speakers that I haven't really had a good chunk of time to sit down and have some verbal diahorrea on this thing.

I think I'm also now in a better place to properly reflect on my time in Korea, one which I do not regret and have come to look back on as a wonderfully wacky and weird experience. Part of me feels like I've gone to the moon and back, that this entire year I've been so disconnected with so many things that everything is new to me.

Take for example, pop culture. I had NO IDEA Christine Aguleria had a new CD out OR that she was pregnant and just hiding it. Ditto that on Nicole Richie! Last I heard she was puking her guts out trying to convince the world that she was NOT anorexic.

There is also food. Do you know how much food you forget exists? Beets. One of my favourite side dishes. And I TOTALLY forgot about them. GREEN BEANS. What goes better with a steak than GREEN BEANS? Those too. Dropped out of the data box in my brain.

And who can forget the VARIETIES of wine? Or sitting down for dinner and knowing that everything on the menu, is ACTUALLY available?

And in remembering and experiencing all these things over the last 5 weeks has actually shown me how far I've come. How well I did (yes, I'll just pat my own back) living somewhere else on the planet that does so many things just do differently than what I'm used to.

And then all the problems that I THOUGHT were a big deal back in Western-land aren't really that big. Because I can turn on the TV and have hundreds of channels to unwind to instead of 2.

And I can walk into a grocery store and find granola bars and green beans and asparagus and 5 different kinds of apples.

I can find a bookstore about 10 minutes from where I am that has more books then I could possibly peruse in a 3 hour session.

I can even find clothes that fit me. MANY MANY shops with clothes that fit me. Thank god my backpack is too small for them or we'd be out of money by now.

And I'm also very aware, that one day I will be cursing the fact that I can't eat a meal for 5 bucks, can't relax in a sauna for hours on end for 4 bucks, can't hire my OWN PRIVATE KARAOKE ROOM for a mere $15 per hour, can't hike up a mountain behind my house and use the free gym facilities available.

Just not today.